Simply put, a character who is clearly established to be a jerk or all around nasty person, but whose entire existence is centered around being humiliated for laughs. Entirely a comedy trope, which loses it's luster in different genres.
Note that this character does not necessarily have to be a villain or an antagonist - and usually isn't. The character only has to have a personality that the audience can identify as negative. Ultimately, the intention is to create a character whose misfortune the audience can always laugh at without guilt, regardless of whether they've necessarily done anything to specifically justify it at the moment.
Often, it's clear these characters can clearly improve their lot in life if they would just act a little better, but they always fail to learn their lesson.
This kind of character comes up quite a bit in animated shorts - the typical formula would have this character be the protagonist, or at least have the plot follow them, while the "hero" is a secondary character that chances upon this character and ruins their day. In this case, the audience roots for this character's downfall because they've shown themselves to be so nasty, but doesn't necessarily root for the hero who - depending on the plot - might not even know what they're doing.
These are the perfect foils for Screwy Squirrel
heroes - who especially come off as incessant forces of karmic destruction when put up against these characters.
Contrast Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist
, where this kind of character is supposed to be rooted for instead (and often doesn't get a comeuppance). Compare Laser-Guided Karma
. If the audience ends up sympathizing with this character too much, they can become a Jerkass Woobie
- Donald Duck is the most well known example of this kind of character. This eventually formed the basis of his entire character in the shorts, which loved the formula of "Donald reacts poorly to something bad, which only makes things worse." It is used back and forth in other interpretations and adaptations, but is played razor straight in Mickey Mouseworks and House Of Mouse.
- This drives the Running Gag of Eustace dying at the end of each Courage the Cowardly Dog episode.
- Hollywood in 2 Stupid Dogs.
- Tex Avery loved these kinds of characters: slimy, immoral and often all around nasty, these characters would be the center character in cartoons that were actually about someone else. These characters - usually played by a wolf - would spend the entire episode being stricken by karma, sometimes in the form of a single protagonist.
- Droopy usually went up against one of thses - again, usually played by a wolf or some kind of big dog.
- Warner Bros. Cartoons used this less than you might think, due to having jerks being more often very clearly fit into villain roles (whose misfortunes are always brought down by antagonizing the hero), and most of their jinxed characters being of the Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain type, but it still cropped up. Chuck Jones in particular painted Daffy Duck this way in cartoons where he wasn't actually going against anyone particular - like Robin Hood Daffy.
- Sokka before character development seemed to have been tending towards this sort of character - particularly in episodes like "The Fortune Teller" where his role consists mostly of "act like a miser, be constantly unlucky."
- The caricatured human characters in the The Pink Panther shorts generally either fell into three categories: innocent folks the Panther didn't know he was crossing, villains who the Panther had a direct vendetta against, or this: a good example being a brutal hunter whose hunting trip is ruined by a totally oblivious Panther.
- The Twisted Tales of Felix the Cat - likely homaging the use of this character in classic animation - plays it straight with Bet-A-Billion Bill: a greedy Born Lucky jerk of a gambler who has his life inadvertently ruined by Felix - who happens to be black cat.
- The Whitest Kids You Know takes advantage of this with the "Instant Karma Bigot."