A protagonist who mercilessly pranks characters primarily for his own (and the audience's) amusement. This is sometimes over a minor slight where the character is annoyed that the perpetrator doesn't even acknowledge it.
Many writers of original animated shorts felt it was more difficult to sympathize with an obviously clever lead doing this kind of thing too often. A famous comparison is the early "Tex Avery style" Bugs Bunny, who was zany on sheer principle (or better yet, Bob Clampett's take on Bugs, which portrayed him as a manic, short tempered egotist who breaks down when met with someone of his own wile). Chuck Jones turned Bugs into a Karmic Trickster. He was paired with bombastic or life-threatening antagonists who deliberately threaten or mistreat him without provocation. Given that he responds only in retaliation or in self-defence, Bugs was more easily excused for his behavior, and even then he tended to play on the stupidity of his enemies rather than outright aggression. A problem with this moral logic of the encounter was that it is always incredibly one-sided, since Bugs is obviously almost never at any real risk. It shades into Why Did You Make Me Hit You?.
On the bright side, this kind of character will rarely, if ever, cause any permanent or serious damage to their victims, mainly due to the downtoning of this trope. Modern examples of this trope will usually result in a Jerk with a Heart of Gold, who, while causing other characters a lot of annoyance, at least can manage to notice when they have gone too far even for them. They are trying to amuse themselves, after all, and some levels can flat out be disturbing even to them. Writers also frequently took pleasure in showing the odd occasion where such pranksters to have absolutely no sense of humor when it is they who act as the butt of a joke, often leading to a Humiliation Conga. If they have a favorite victim, on the other hand, they will usually be very protective of them should another similar-minded prankster show up and do the same on them, reasoning that it is only he or she is allowed to treat the victim in such a manner, which often leads up to a Hypocritical Heartwarming moment.
If the Screwy Squirrel is an otherworldly being, the character may also be an Amusing Alien or a Great Gazoo. A Troll is the online version of this trope.
Media Watchdogs for Saturday Morning Cartoons in the 1980s came down heavily on any remaining Screwy Squirrels, citing them as bad influences on children; many revivals of them tend to be toned down considerably.
Not to be confused with Crazy Awesome, or Nutty Squirrel (for actual squirrels).
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Anime and Manga
Suiseiseki of Rozen Maiden appears at first to be as aloof and proper as Shinku, but in actuality she loves nothing more than tormenting Hinaichigo with tricks and pranks.
Really, her "properness" is about as deep as her paint job. She's more like a spoiled and immature royal who is more than willing to smack around her "subjects." She only sobers up during life and death situations. She acts like this during common situations, she is easily the most caring of the dolls anyway (it says something when she is the only doll who never even tried to become Alice out of fear of losing her sisters). When she snaps out of it, she snaps out of it hard. There's even one instance in the drama CDs when she tries to rectify her behavior after realizing that she had gone too far.
Janitor in Scrubs torments J. D. to an insane degree. His own amusement is at least one of the possible reasons. Other interpretations include him honestly feeling just as tormented by JD (which is sometimes the case, though not because JD wanted to) or that he actually see's him as a friend but is too screwed up and socially awkward to properly show it (Something his actor believes).
Dr. Gregory House. Has been known to ruin people's lives for no reason other than that he found them annoying. The fact that the majority of his victims wouldn't be alive were if not for him is the only thing saving him from complete Jerkassery.
The Sesame StreetMuppet character Harvey Kneeslapper had some of these qualities, and parental concerns about this were one reason (along with his loud voice, which was hard on Frank Oz's vocal chords) why he was eventually dropped from the show.
Jim Halpert from The Office US can verge into this. He tends to play pranks on Dwight and Andy out of boredom, but occasionally because they're driving him crazy and pranking them allows him to turn their insanity into comedy. How sympathetic Jim is depends a lot on how funny his pranks are and how much the victims did to deserve them that episode.
He takes this from his counterpart in The Office UK, Tim Canterbury, who played pranks on Gareth to try to cope with the soul-crushing boredom of working in the office environment.
In one episode Dwight discovers a box full of his grievances against Jim for this that he thought Toby had been sending to corporate. As Michael read through the list, Jim commented that these didn't sound nearly as funny back to back. Since then, he has occasionally been shown being nice to Dwight, or having his pranks backfire, or even being the victim of the occasional prank by Dwight. He takes it better than most Screwy Squirrels do.
Older Than Print: Loki in Norse Mythology comes off as this, since his motivations are rarely explained. Why did he cut off Sif's hair? Why did he kill Baldur? Nobody knows.
Cirque du Soleil's Mystere has Brian Le Petit, the principal clown, who is explicitly described in the backstory as an intruder of the Magical Land the show takes place in. He constantly teases the pompous emcee (at one point successfully tricking him into stepping off a high ledge), pretends to lead audience members to their seats only to lead them on a roundabout path, steals their popcorn, and in the long climactic scene tricks a man from the audience into climbing into a crate, which Brian locks so he can woo the man's date. Nothing toned down about him, and most audience members love him for it. Once his plan starts falling apart, his increasingly absurd efforts to save himself edge him towards Crazy Awesome status. In the end, he's tossed out of the show and doesn't appear in the curtain call.
Launcelot Gobbo, the clown in The Merchant of Venice, seems to genuinely love Old Gobbo, his aged, blind father. Which doesn't stop him from practicing deceptions on Old Gobbo's blindness when the poor guy doesn't recognize him, finally informing him that his son has died.
Comes up occasionally in the Commedia dell'Arte, although with so much of the plays Depending on the Writer, it varies who it is—usually either Harlequin or Pulcinella. Any clever zanni, really.
Tewi Inaba from Touhou Project. Despite leading most of the youkai rabbits in Eientei, she is said to have a deceitful personality (this is later shown when Reisen Udongein Inaba arrives at Eientei, and Tewi often pulls pranks with her as the victim). Fanon takes it so far that she pulls pranks on everyone (mostly the lower-leveled girls), though canon and semi-canon shows that this isn't far from the truth, with her victims in both Bohemian Archive in Japanese Red and Inaba of the Moon and Inaba of the Earth having included Aya, Meiling, Eirin, Kaguya, Mokou, Suwako, and Yorihime. Strangely, her power is to give good luck to humans...
Bun-Bun from Sluggy Freelance can often be like this. Oh, he'll usually claim that the people he torments did something to piss him off, but for Bun-Bun sometimes just existing in the same room as him is enough to do that.
The Black Hat Guy of xkcd, being based on the aforementioned Aram, also fits this trope.
Unless Word Of God says so, Black Hat Guy was probably based around the old black-hat/white-hat notion of hackers. Black-hats (as in the bad guys from cowboy movies) were the ones that hack maliciously; white-hats are out to test security systems (and occasionally rob the rich to give to the poor).
Elijah And Azuu has Fraja's Mom, who has actively antagonized every character she's interacted with at least once simply for her own amusement. She actually helps her son get through a romantic crisis by helping him realize that, as a demon, being impulsive and doing whatever you want is part of life.
The romantic crisis only came about because she herself seduced her son's boyfriend.
In Freefall, Sam Starfall is all about pranking and generally causing trouble for others, though none of his plans have involved the intent to cause real harm.
A bunch of other historical figures and fictional characters were also depicted as Screwy Squirrels in the Downfall parodies, like Mikhail Tukhachevsky, Lt. Werner from Das Boot, and Felicity Merriman from the American Girl series.
Tom Foolery of the Global Guardians PBEM Universe is a psychotic, sadistic clown who enjoys messing with people just to mess with them. Add in his scary makeup, his spine-chilling laugh, his weaponized toys, and an urge to see the whole world go down in flames, and you have a really sick Screwy Squirrel. But then, he is the setting's Captain Ersatz of The Joker.
Screwy Squirrel, a Tex Avery MGM character from the '40s for whom the trope is named. He at least had the excuse of being, well, screwy: One of the shorts starts with him escaping from an asylum and tormenting the asylum's guard dog while wearing a Napoleon hat.
Perhaps best encapsulated in 1997, when Screwy Squirrel, on April Fool's day "took over" Cartoon Network and refused to show anything but a repeat viewing of his short Happy-Go-Nutty while demanding his own animated series.
Screwy Squirrel is so completely demented a character he came to scare his creator. There were only four or five Screwy Squirrel shorts made - and already the Fourth Wall was in smithereens - before Tex Avery decided to stop using the character; the unlimited potential for utter insanity and chaos unnerved the animation team.
Incidentally Screwy did gain his own animated series in the early nineties (segments placed alongside Droopy: Master Detective), albeit renamed "Screwball Squirrel". Similar to Bugs, his sadism was toned down somewhat and made more karmic, he still had obvious sheds of this trope however.
The earliest incarnations of Looney Tunes characters Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny were "screw balls", a character type that, along with Porky Pig's everyman, put Warner Bros. animation on the map.
Before Bugs Bunny turned into an agent of righteous reprisal, his personality largely depended on his adversary's intelligence: when facing Elmer Fudd or Yosemite Sam styled dumbasses, Bugs could only be a screwball tormentor; paired with certain gremlins or tortoises of equal wiles, however, Bugs was the tormented.
Daffy, who became a star by stealing the show, used screwiness to grab attention, and, in fact, may have been the first recurring example of this type of character; as various writers and directors learned, however, watching a screwball get his just deserts could be just as funny. A decades-long process of Flanderization turned him into the greedy, egotistical, self-righteous Jerkass we know today.
Foghorn Leghorn was an interesting take on the Screwy Squirrel: in his cartoons, clueless outsiders would be drawn into an ongoing prank war between Foggy and Barnyard Dog; as such, both characters, while low-key, were relentless tormentors with no stated motivation.
Sylvester the Cat, usually a hapless foil to such characters as Tweety, was utilized as a "screwball" type to good effect in Back Alley Op-roar, in which he drives a sleepy Elmer Fudd to distraction with his late-night singing. Kitty Kornered similarly played a prototype Sylvester (and three similar cats) as zany hecklers against Porky Pig.
Ironically Sylvester himself also fell victim to Screwy Squirrels on a few odd occasions, (eg. Canned Feud, Scaredy Cat). Granted since most of his tormentors were mice, we were possibly meant to enterpret some Offscreen Villainy on Sylvester's part, after all Cats Are Mean, but based on the short alone he played an unprovoked victim rather straight.
The Roadrunner is an odd example. While he does occasionally tease the Coyote who's trying to catch him, the Roadrunner very rarely has to actually do anything to thwart him. He'll just keep running around and, wherever he goes, the laws of physics will re-write themselves so the Coyote gets tormented.
In 1941, Tex Avery directed The Crackpot Quail, the title character of which bore a very strong resemblance to his early Bugs Bunny. Crackpot was paired up with Willoughby the Dog, who had previously tanged with Bugs in Avery's The Heckling Hare; he had a voice that sounded a bit like Bugs'; he even addressed Willoughby repeatedly as "Doc"!
Other examples of this type in the Looney Tunes world: Charlie Dog, the Goofy Gophers, the mice Hubie and Bertie, and the Do-Do in Porky in Wackyland.
Charlie Dog may also count as a somewhat twisted Loveable Rogue, in that his antagonism was usually motivated by a profit of some kind, usually a roof over his head. This also applies to Hubie and Bertie and (occasionally) Daffy. That said, it's not as if they weren't shown to take sadistic enjoyment in driving their foils crazy a lot of times.
And, of course, Bugs got his comeuppance in Rabbit Rampage, when the artist was Elmer Fudd.
Woody Woodpecker, whose merciless, skull-splitting cackle begged for comeuppance he seldom received, is a good example of why Screwy Squirrels get toned down. By the '50s the character was considerably more laid-back.
Although usually depicted as personable, Donald Duck's famous temper is usually catalyzed by Screwy Squirrels, most often Chip 'n' Dale.
Huey, Dewey, and Louie actually debuted as this type of character in the 1938 short Donald's Nephews. For most later instances, however, it was actually Donald who started the fights, and they retaliated with some Disproportionate Retribution. Chip 'n' Dale were also similarly retaliators or Loveable Rogues a lot of occasions. In contrast, the little orphans common in the Classic Disney Shorts were always Screwy Squirrels against Donald, and sometimes Mickey had to suffer as well.
In the early shorts Goofy can be as much of a victim of Screw Squirrel-types, due to his simple nature.
Possibly a reference to the former character, this was the profession of the fictional retired cartoon "actress" Slappy Squirrel on Animaniacs. Slappy occasionally followed later laws regarding violent retribution, but always favored overkill and knew that her enemies were harmless. An obvious subversion, Slappy rarely excused her actions and frequently commented that modern cartoons take themselves too seriously.
She can almost be seen as an inadvertent deconstruction: she takes the undeserved torment aspect so far as to be a borderline Heroic Comedic Sociopath.
The most extreme, yet also epic, demonstration of this is when she tried to throw away a can of soda into a neighbor's trash can. Said neighbor, politely, it must be mentioned, asked Slappy to remove said can, then place it in her own trash can, about five feet away. Said neighbor insists, and is admittedly a little bit overly chipper and annoying. After clarifying that the neighbor did indeed want Slappy to remove the can she just discarded and place it in her own trash can, the neighbor asked, "Do you have a problem with that?" Slappy's reply? "No, but now you do." The rest of the episode is Slappy driving said neighbor completely and totally insane over the course of several months using that can. This is not exaggeration or hyperbole. The subject was rendered insane to the point that she believed the can was her baby, and prior to that, she attacked a group of charity collectors who held a similar can. Slappy had quite literally ruined the neighbor's mental state to a point where it was unlikely she would ever recover. Over being asked to throw her garbage in her trash can.
The Warners were a less-lampshaded but more prominent example. They typically act as hyperactive Constantly Curious children who ask questions, glomp and kiss every Hello, Nurse! in sight, and perform gags whenever it strikes them, But otherwise, they're generally harmless until someone acts like a real Jerk Ass, at which point they label him their "Special Friend", and turn into Karmic Tricksters.
One episode depicted them being forced to contend with an overly nice Maria Von Trapp-type character. They realized that they couldn't justify tormenting her when she hadn't been cruel to them like most of their foes, making them more Bugs Bunnies than Screwy Squirrels. Their solution? Summon Slappy, who had no problem with violently dealing with anyone.
In another episode they tormented a television anchorman who refused to tip them for delivering his food. The episode established the anchorman as a supreme Jerkass before the Warners appeared but he only didn't tip the Warners because they arrived late, got the order wrong and then ate the food anyway. It came across as Laser-Guided Karma (because he was cruel to his co workers) but technically he didn't do anything to or in sight of the Warners themselves to deserve becoming their target.
Itchy and Scratchy. The entirety of the Simpsons' show within a show within a show's purpose was to take this trope to the nth+ 1 degree, where Itchy is a violently psychopathic mouse that revels in repeatedly murdering Scratchy the cat in unbelievably graphic and gory ways. Interestingly, the supposed wrongs that Itchy is paying back are never shown or implied in the slightest. Itchy is merely portrayed as being an unrepentant psycho.
Likewise, virtually all of the Simpsons characters react to Itchy's horrific cartoon sadism, by screaming with laughter.
Bart Simpson himself is one of these, mercilessly pranking everyone from the local minister to the elementary school principal to even his own father. That said, Bart's main interest was merely to drive authority figures crazy, rather than cause any serious harm. On the occasions when his antics go too far (the episode where Principal Skinner gets fired and rejoins the Army being a good example), Bart generally feels remorse and tries to make up for what he's done.
Bart: There are times I almost feel sorry for them, but then I remember, they're trying to teach.
The Aracuan Bird first introduced in The Three Caballeros seems to be like this. It steals Josť's cigar while he's still using it, and then later draws false train tracks that cause all the individual cars of a train to separate. When it shows up again in the Melody Time short Blame it on the Samba, it cheers up an incredibly depressed Donald and Josť, apparently just so that they'll be in a better mood for messing around with them. It also stars in a Classic Disney Short, a similarMickey Mouse Works sketch and stars in an episode of House of Mouse where it is torments Donald in various ways in all three.
The three rodents in Big Buck Bunny, the most virulent of them is a squirrel.
Pocahontas: Meeko the raccoon repeatedly steals food from anyone at any opportunity, although the hapless victim is generally Percy. It's gotten so bad that Percy is never shown eating more than a bite of food on-screen.