Jerk with a Heart of Jerk

    Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
    "So you're saying that I only write poetry to show that beneath this mean, callous, heartless exterior, I just want to be loved...? No, well you're completely wrong. I just write poetry to throw my mean callous heartless exterior into sharp relief."
    Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz, The Hitchhikers Guide to The Galaxy

    Penny: Sometimes people are layered like that. There's something totally different underneath than what's on the surface.
    Billy: And sometimes there's a third... even deeper level... and that one is the same as the top surface one.
    Penny: [confused] Huh?

    Billy: Like with pie.

    Someone in the main cast discovers a shocking secret about the past of the resident Jerkass. Apparently, difficult as it may be to imagine, he may actually not be that bad a guy. Somewhere, buried deep inside, there's a Pet the Dog moment that shows he's really a Jerk with a Heart of Gold.

    Well, yeah, turns out that isn't really true. There's a perfectly logical, selfish explanation for why he saved the busload of burning orphans—they're his secret team of kid snitches. And now he's going to get a good laugh at your expense for ever thinking he could be so noble. Welcome back, pal.

    This trope subverts Hidden Heart of Gold. Compare and contrast Bitch in Sheep's Clothing. For the more malicious, see For the Evulz.

    Examples of Jerk with a Heart of Jerk include:

    Anime and Manga

    • D.Gray-man's Yu Kanda may have a superlatively depressing past involving being used as a guinea pig by the Black Order and being forced to fight to the death with his best friend, but he's still a Jerkass. Informing him that said best friend is not dead gets very little reaction.
      • While Kanda may have been this for the vast majority of the series so far, he subverts it towards the end of the Alma Karma arc. And with his return to the Black Order in chapter 207, his newfound Jerk with a Heart of Gold status is further reinforced.
    • Katekyo Hitman Reborn: Hibari Kyouya. Half carrying Gokudera to find Tsuna in Kokuyo Land, how nice of him. Not. He literally throws Gokudera aside afterward, and it turns out he only helped the latter so they could be "even".
      • Let's not even get started on the countless times he turned up to kick enemy butt and then says 'They were crowding'.
    • Dark example in Fullmetal Alchemist. The audience already knows that Bradley is a hommunculus, and when Mustang finds out, he calls Bradley on a seeming earlier Pet the Dog, in which Bradley was shaking with emotion at Hughes' funeral. Bradley reveals that rather being sad, he was actually shaking with rage, because he was disgusted at Hughes' daughter making a scene. Ouch.
      • In the 2003 anime version, the Elric Brothers discover Psiren the Phantom Thief's Secret Identity to be a nurse. The brothers decide to let her go when she tells them she just steals to keep the hospital from closing down. Some time later the hospital is torn down anyway and Psiren is now a nun claiming to steal to save a church from closing down. After that is demolished she's claiming the same thing as a teacher at a school, after which even Al won't deny that she's just stealing for herself. This is later subverted, as she is a thief for a good cause, just not the ones she told them before: the town she operates in has an incredibly poor economy, and her acts are such a spectacle they've been drawing tourists in, helping keep the place afloat.
    • Neon Genesis Evangelion: A question constantly asked about Gendo Ikari is if he's this trope, as he has his Pet the Dog moments but is otherwise a complete prick. The anime and films run with the Well-Intentioned Extremist angle, revealing he thinks he's doing what Yui would want and is regretful of his actions when he realizes otherwise. The manga is much less ambiguous: in his Kick the Dog moment Gendo tells Shinji he loves him, only to turn around seconds later and claim that even if he says it, it's only to motivate Shinji to help him, in reality Gendo hates him and blames him for Yui's death.
    • Prince of Dogra doesn't even try to hide the fact that he does all that entirely For the Lulz. He is generally well-meaning, but NOTHING comes before his amusement.
    • Viper Snakely from Kimba the White Lion. Just when was about to give up hunting and retire for the sake of his daughter (in the manga version), he finally earned a crumb of sympathy from the audience... and then proceeds to lose it entirely when we learn what his job was before he became a safari hunter; he was an SS Officer posted in an internment camp.
    • Ryoki of Hot Gimmick was already established as a Jerkass due to the cruel and abusive way he treats his girlfriend/slave Hatsumi. It seems like he's not so bad when he saves Hatsumi from being raped but his Jerk with a Heart of Jerk status is reinforced when he immediately forces a kiss on her afterwards and habitually sexually assaults her.
    • While there are a few instances that might border on true Jerk with a Heart of Gold status in the anime (definately not the manga), Yoshitaka pulls these moments all the time.
    • Fei-Wang Reed from Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle spends the entire series manipulating the main characters and making their lives a living hell, all while preparing to rip all of space-time a new one to further his plans. Then it's revealed said plan is about bringing somebody back to life. With a motivation like that, he probably has some kind of tragic, sympathetic backstory, right? Nope. He just wants to accomplish something that Clow Reed couldn't in order to prove his superiority.
    • Dragon Ball: Vegeta acted as this at first, using an Enemy Mine with the Z-Fighters only to pursue his own interests. This changes eventually, though, and by the time of Super, he's a straight up Jerk with a Heart of Gold.

    Comic Books

    • The graphic novel Exit Wounds. Koby Franco is a curmudgeonly cab driver who expresses indifference at the possibility that his estranged father might be dead. After spending much of the book with his father's girlfriend who insists that he was a good person (not to mention his other relatives, who think Koby is too hard on him) and finding out he may very well be dead, Koby softens up a little. Only to discover that his father isn't dead- the handmade scarf the girlfriend made that they found at the scene of the bombing was a gift from him to another girlfriend. Koby realizes to his disgust that the reason for their poor relationship is because his father has always been a serial philanderer who doesn't care about how his actions affect the people around him. Which extends to the present day- his new wife, a devout Orthodox Jew, thinks he's out at night so often because of "prayer meetings".)
    • Nick Fury claimed this for himself in a comic roughly 20 years ago. He'd done something that seemed kindhearted, and someone (possibly Captain America (comics)) said, "Fury, under that rough, unshaven exterior..." Fury interrupted, "There's an even rougher, unshaven interior!"
      • Another case of a legitimate Jerk with a Heart of Gold being described like this is in one of the Spider-Man guidebooks: J. Jonah Jameson is described as "Under his rough, crusty and rude exterior... You'll find that he's even worse!" Justified in that the Heart Of Gold is very much Depending on the Writer in his case.
    • Marshal Law: as stated in one story, when you first look at him he appears to be a brutal thug. But when you look under his tough exterior, you see that he's really... a brutal thug.
      • Marshal Law is actually full of examples. At another point in the same story, when he's in a cemetery full of the bodies of his victims, he points out that he used to come there once a month to "gloat," bringing a flask and a sandwich and "making a day of it."
    • Isidoro Cañones from the Argentinian comic Patoruzú falls in this trope, when he isn't a Jerk with a Heart of Gold.
    • Often played for laughs in Iznogoud, where the titular character, an Evil Chancellor trying to overthrow his Caliph and possessing seemingly no redeeming qualities, often willingly saves his assistant Dilat Larat from certain death, only to reveal when thanked by him that he did so because he required his help for things such as carrying important files or cleaning his shoes. In contrast, he often is willing to use Dilat as a lab rat for his various plans.
      • A Hilarious example is used in "Iznogoud's Childhood", when Dilat asks him his motivations for being Caliph in the place of the Caliph:

    Iznogoud: "To make reforms! For example, this law to cut off a fruits thief's hand is totally absurd! That will never stop him from stealing fruits: we need to cut off both of his hands!"

      • The biggest example is during "Who Killed the Caliph", where Iznogoud seems to actually care for Dilat and saves him from execution after he has been mistaken for a spy. He catches the Executioner trying to get Dilat to pay him for mercy, and angrily states that mercy should not be bought. He then notices a tortured prisoner and orders the Executioner to release him, causing Dilat to wonder if he's having pity after all... then he appoints the prisoner new Executioner, and orders him to torture the former one.
    • Empowered: Oyuki-chan is a ninja who owes a debt to Ninjette, and has helped her more than once. She had to be blackmailed into helping further, and a brief Imagine Spot shows her gloating over Ninjette's "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation.


    • In The Help, Skeeter is set up on a date with an alcoholic, rude, arrogant soldier. After coming to her house to apologize for his behavior, they discover they have a lot in common. Their relationship goes well until Skeeter's book is published and he dumps her for supporting the rights of African-American maids and disrupting the status quo.
    • The 2012 movie Chronicle manages to do this with Andrew's father, all in a single scene.
    • Cal in Titanic, who saves an abandoned, crying child for his own selfish purposes.


    • In the Discworld series, Death's manservant Albert claims to be one of these: "It's no good thinking you can appeal to my better nature under this here crusty exterior, 'cos my interior's pretty damn crusty as well."
    • There goes Mr. Humbug, there goes Mr Scrooge.
      • Scrooge, as it turns out, is really more of a Jerk with a Heart of Gold, though it takes a lot of thawing to get him to that point.

    Live Action TV

    • Locke's dad from Lost. He's nice to his son just long enough to snatch his kidney, and let's not mention the whole Sawyer incident.
    • Dr. House. Just when it looks like he's about to Pet the Dog he'll add a moment of unbelievable jerkassery. Some people in (in story and out) believed that his crankyness is because of his leg problem. And then we see get to know that he was a Jerk even before that. He has recently gone through therapy, gotten clean, and has become slightly but consistently less of a jerk who even starts subconsciously manipulating others to their own benefit, rather than his own.
      • Aside from the fact that he has Pet the Dog on several occasions, and he does have an excuse for being bitter besides his leg.
      • He also knows that Wilson is looking for proof he has a heart, so as often as not his Kick the Dog moment after what should be a Pet the Dog moment is him screwing with Wilson (and/or his team), and under that layer is a relatively... less jerk than the jerk he's- Look, the point is Jerkception.
    • Often invoked by Barney in How I Met Your Mother, and usually it's Lily who temporarily thinks he's done something caring. For example, the time he's detailing all the subtle signs that indicate that a nearby girl at the bar has been recently crying, and he seems sympathetic at first, but it turns out he's just analyzing her vulnerability to being manipulated into sex.
      • There's a particularly good example in one Thanksgiving episode. Ted and Robin decide to help out at a homeless shelter on the holiday, where they find that Barney is the model volunteer there in his spare time. They spend the entire episode completely dumbfounded by the fact that he is capable of good deeds until they discover that he's there as part of court-mandated community service for drunkenly urinating on a church.

    Ted: You are evil!
    Robin: All is right with the world again!

    • On Deadwood this was, perhaps, the crucial difference between Al Swearengen and Cy Tolliver, both jerkasses capable of incredible cruelty. Al might not have qualified as a Jerk with a Heart of Gold, but little moments sprinkled through the series suggested that he really did care about Trixie, Dan, Jewel, etc. Cy, on the other hand, even when he tries to seem caring, comes across as faking it so people will continue to do what he wants. His Jerk With A Heart Of Jerk qualities lead to disloyalty among some of his people.
    • Discussed in Blackadder's Christmas Carol:

    Ebenezer Blackadder: My what a jolly fellow.
    Baldrick: Looked like a fat git to me.
    Ebenezer Blackadder: Yes Baldrick, but if one peels away the layers of a 'fat git' you'll probably find a...
    Baldrick: Thin git!

    • When Peter Dragon, the Jerkass protagonist of Action, finds out that he might have cancer, he gives a touching speech to God about wanting to see his daughter grow up and wanting to go out on a hit, and promises to turn his life around. He also throws out a tobacco executive who wants to use product placement to market cigarettes to teenagers. After he finds out that his mole is benign, Peter tracks down the executive and makes the deal.
    • In one moment of The Middle, lazy teenage guy named Axel is dateless on Valentine's Day. He says he doesn't care because he's with the woman that means the most to him, his mother. His mom is so happy, and then he bursts out laughing and says he can't believe she believed that.
    • This is Dr. Cox's view of most people, himself included:

    Dr. Clock: Oh, Dr. Kelso's all bluster. I bet underneath it all he's a sweetheart.
    Dr. Cox: Oh no, underneath it all he is pure evil.
    Dr. Clock: Perry, no one's pure evil, I mean yeah some people have a hard outer shell, but inside everybody has a creamy center.
    Dr. Cox: There are plenty of people here, on this particular planet, who are hard on the outside and hard on the inside!
    Dr. Clock: So they have more of a nougaty center?
    Dr. Cox: Lady. People aren't chocolates. Do you know what they are mostly? Bastards. Bastard-coated bastards with bastard filling.

    • Finch on Just Shoot Me In one episode, he admits to Maya that he has to hide his sensitive side in public. She gives him a hug and he takes the opportunity to feel her up. When she looks shocked, he just smirks and says "it's me!"
    • Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory held a grudge after Wil Wheaton snubbed him at a convention in The Nineties, and was determined to get back at him in a Mystic Warlords of Ka'a tournament. During their match Wheaton said that he couldn't make the convention because his grandmother had died and he had to be with his family. Sheldon forgives Wheaton and throws the game, then Wheaton tells him he made the story up just to get Sheldon's guard down.
      • He comes back, too.

    Wil: What, you think I'd break up a couple just to win a bowling match?
    Sheldon: Well, I guess not...
    Wil: Good. Keep thinking that.

    • More often than not, the eponymous character of Call Me Fitz.
      • Several others even moreso, especially Fitz's dad.
    • Wil Wheaton again. His character on Eureka, Dr. Parrish, is a jackass and a half; if he can possibly say something to get Fargo's goat, or try to sleaze his way in between Fargo and Dr. Martin, he'll do it, and if he can do it in a way that makes it look like he was about to say something Jerk with a Heart of Gold-y, he'll enjoy it.
    • Sunny Capaduca on Fifteen Love. Occasional Pet the Dog moments aside, anything decent that Sunny did was inevitably revealed to have sinister motives, while her usual persona was half Spoiled Brat half Creepy Child.
    • In the Waking the Dead episode 'Waterloo' shady property developer Martin Barlow becomes foster father to an orphan and then raises him to be a mole inside the police force.


    • Count Gregor in Fools
    • Demetrius in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Sure, he goes back to Helena and repents of the inhuman way he treated her—but that's just the love potion talking.
    • In A Streetcar Named Desire just when it seems that Stanley might not be as much of an asshole as he seemed to be at first he goes and rapes Blanche to insanity and then lies that he never once touched her afterwards.

    Video Games

    • Ambassador Udina in Mass Effect is perfectly happy to compliment Shepard on a job well done right before he gets back to the backstabbing. However, he stops being this in Mass Effect 3 when ironically enough, he becomes downright villainous.
    • Eric Sparrow from Tony Hawk's Underground. Just when you think he'll have a change of heart, he'll leave you behind once more for the sake of his career, which he puts above all else.
    • Caius from Frozen Essence. He initially appears to be a typical Troubled but Cute Loveable Rogue who claims that he's helping the protagonist Mina just because it benefits him and doesn't care if she gets herself hurt or not only because of his Dark and Troubled Past. Except that in most paths, it turns out that he wasn't lying about looking out for only himself and killing being the only thing he cares about after he joins the enemy's side and attempts to kill his former companions without a shred of hesitation or remorse. He does prevent the Big Bad Oryon from recapturing Mina and Rune in Rune's path, but only because he wants revenge on Oryon and to be the one who kills Rune in the end.
      • Even in his path where he takes Mina to a safe place and nurses her back to health after she saves him, he makes it quite clear to her that he's keeping her alive as a "hostage" to deter the White Order from killing him and mocks her for believing that he would thank her for saving him. And even when he seems to be developing genuine feelings for her after becoming frantic when she's severely injured and having a heartfelt conversation with her about their similar situations, he immediately begins plotting to use Mina's power to kill people more effectively the moment he learns about it and comes close to crossing the Moral Event Horizon when he begins draining her of her life essence while taunting her and ignoring her screams of pain. However, in his Light path, he does become a Jerk with a Heart of Gold at almost the last minute when it looks like Mina is going to die partly because of what he did.
    • Ryder in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is one of the more troublesome members of the Grove Street Families, often high, always sarcastic, and excessively rude to everyone, especially CJ. However, there's little doubt that his loyalty lies with his friends and gang, which is, at the beginning of the game, going through a tough period. And then it turns out he had betrayed the Grove Street Families along with Big Smoke, had a hand in the death of Sweet and CJ's mother, and has been arming the gang's enemies the entire time.

    Web Original


    Penny (confused): "What?"
    Billy: " with pie."


    Penny (earlier): "I thought he was kinda cheesy at first-"
    Billy: "Trust your instincts."


    Billy (later): "So how are things with Cheesy-on-the-outside?"

    • Super Kami Guru from Dragon Ball Abridged. At first, he seems like a jerk. Then, when Freeza threatens to kill Nail, Guru passionately stands up for Nail (even if Nail initially doesn't want him to) and psyches him up, telling him he's The Paragon of the Namekians and challenges him to kick the crap out of Freeza. Nail, psyched up, challenges Freeza to a fight, only for Guru to reveal via Internal Monologue that he knows perfectly well Nail hasn't got a chance in heck of winning, and furthermore that Guru knows a technique that would let Nail have a chance but never taught him it because... Guru's a jerk.

    Web Comics


    "Worth is obnoxious, crude, abrasive and borderline disgusting, and underneath his grungy exterior and antagonistic behavior he really still is actually just a dick."

    • In Homestuck, Vriska was often thought to be The Atoner and was shown to be genuinely helpful a few times, but soon enough, this was Jossed when she proceeded to brutally murder one of her teammates that she had previously tortured. Eridan takes this to the next level when his crossing of the Moral Event Horizon is completely unforeshadowed.
      • The Jerk with a Heart of Jerk was there all along, though; he's completely remorseless about his countless failed attempts at genocide, and his desperate attempts to strike up a love-romance with Feferi, and a hate-romance with anyone and everyone else, only serve to illustrate that the guy is a complete and total wiener. Vriska, by contrast, is still raising questions as to where she falls on the moral spectrum (even by the standards of her own species), and between this trope and Jerk with a Heart of Gold.
      • And now it's pretty clear that Vriska is basically what a Jerk with a Heart of Gold would look like in a Crapsack World. She does many awful, terrible things without showing any remorse, but that's because, as a blueblood, that is precisely how she would be expected to behave, and is precisely how her idol, Mindfang, acted. It doesn't help that Kanaya, her Morality Chain and only real friend left, stopped talking to her shortly before their session ended. After she kills Tavros, she finally does show genuine remorse, seems receptive to John's encouragement to be good, and flies off to battle Jack in the hopes that this act of sacrifice will make up for her past deeds. This does not succeed.
    • Played straight, and then subverted, by the highly sarcastic King Marcus Quimby in the semi-canon forum game. In describing General Esteban, he says that "underneath that loud, grouchy exterior is another angry person. Underneath that is a kitten though."
    • Mike Warner of the Walkyverse. Although fans would like to think otherwise, Word of God insists that he's just an asshole with no justification. This is somewhat muddled by the fact that he becomes nice when he's drunk.
      • Played with when Ethan quits the store and walks out. Mike calls after him to wait, making it seem like he wants him to stay...then simply kicks him in the nuts. "Okay, now you can go".
      • Malaya is a bitch through and through, and she's a Scrappy because of it. Mike's assholishness is at least so over-the-top that it's funny (most of the time), but Malaya's just rude to everyone, and she doesn't have many redeeming qualities to make up for it.
    • BLACK MAGE. Seriously, he would be a Complete Monster had the series not been a comedy. He subverts any and all attempts to redeem himself.

    Western Animation

    • In Futurama, Zapp Brannigan is revealed to be one of these in his first appearance.
      • Bender genuinely has a heart of gold in a few episodes, but just as often, the helpful things he does are part of a selfish Zany Scheme. A lot of times when Bender is doing something genuinely nice, he's still doing it for selfish reasons. Like when he helped the turtle.
        • Generally, the only person he'll do genuinely unselfish things for is Fry.
      • In "I Second That Emotion," Professor Farnsworth realizes his empathy chip had broken, meaning Bender honestly did feel sorry for Leela after she lost Nibbler. He then looks again and realizes that the chip had been working at above its normal capacity ("And I STILL barely felt anything!")
      • It's probably most exemplified in Into The Wild Green Yonder, in which he rats out Leela and the Feministas to Nixon and Zapp for two reasons: money, and because they're at risk of breaking his record of most felonies, causing them all to be arrested and imprisoned. THEN he breaks them all out of jail, solely to put a further 15 felonies on his record, cruising waaaaay ahead of Leela. Bender's kind of a dick.
    • In Family Guy, it seemed Connie and the rest of her friends would warm up to Meg after she did them some favors and treated them nicely despite them pulling a mean prank. However, they then just decide to pull another mean prank on her.
    • In The Spectacular Spider Man Norman Osborn spent the entire series portrayed as a Jerk with a Heart of Gold regarding his behavior towards his son Harry. In season 1 he asked Spider-Man not to reveal the (apparent) identity of the Green Goblin/Harry, as his enemies would seek retribution. The Grand Finale of season 2 reveals that Norman was the real Green Goblin and had gone as far as to damage his own son's leg and stuff him into the goblin suit to keep his secret. Peter was furious.
    • Plankton in the SpongeBob SquarePants episode "F.U.N". SpongeBob tries to befriend him thinking that if he had at least one friend, Plankton wouldn't be so mean. Plankton goes along to try and get a Krabby Patty, but he appears to turn around and become friendlier. Then SpongeBob finds out about Plankton's plan and confronts him. Plankton tears up and confesses, adding that "then you showed me friendship, and I realized... that's all I ever really wanted." "Really?", goes SpongeBob, but then Plankton takes the Krabby Patty and says, "No, not really! Being evil is too much fun!"
    • A Buzz Lightyear of Star Command episode featured Buzz Lightyear and his Evil Counterpart Warp Darkmatter being kidnapped by aliens who wanted to study good and evil. During their escape attempt, Warp seemingly leaves Buzz behind, but then returns to rescue Buzz, saying that he just couldn't leave without him. This is because he doesn't know how to fly Buzz's spaceship; hence, he literally couldn't leave without Buzz's help.

    Warp: I can't drive a stick.

      • However Buzz doesn't buy it.
    • South Park's Cartman seems to always have an ulterior motive for any good actions, despite what he has led the audience or other characters to believe. Althought he did a Pet the Dog moment in "Major Boobage" when he actually doesn't have any bad intentions, he actually just wants to save the town's cats from being taken away. It was so bizarrely charitable that it felt like a Meta Twist.
      • Stephen and Linda Stotch have both treated Butters pretty shoddily. Then you see times when they obviously love Butters. Unfortunately these displays of affection never last, as Stephen's authoritarian nature tends to bounce back before the episode even ends.
    • Roger of American Dad frequently teases a sympathetic depth to his usually sociopathic self, the large majority of times it is complete lies (eg. a convoluted scheme in which he claims to have a shy crush on a girl, this reverts to him being attracted to Hayley and Francine instead, leading to a violent feud, that Roger tapes for a competition to get a free T-shirt). He does show Jerk with a Heart of Gold moments on rare occasions however.
      • Stan flip flops with this. There are times he will give pretense that he has learned from his mistakes, only to genuinely learn it later on. There are also instances he learns an Aesop at exactly the wrong moment.
    • The aptly named "Magic Man", from Adventure Time. He's a one-shot character, but he apparently just goes around the world turning people into giant body parts simply for not "appreciating" how much of a jerk he is. Also he turns a bird inside out for no readily apparent reason.
    • Ed, Edd 'n' Eddy, as a Sadist Show, has a lot of Jerkass characters, with some entering scrappy territory, yet no matter how bad they acted, they still showed redeeming qualities that kept them from becoming this trope. Then The Movie gives us Eddy's Brother. Eddy built him up as the Cool Big Bro everyone respected and liked, and he seems to fit his brother's description at first, agreeing to protect him and his friends. Not even a minute later, he reveals himself to be a sociopathic Big Brother Bully who has been abusing Eddy for his entire life, and follows this lovely act by knocking out Edd with Eddy for standing up to him. It becomes clear he was actually feared and hated, and Eddy practically made it all up in a misguided attempt to gain friends.