Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Jackie Vernon (comedy)

Wikipedia Entry

Jackie VernonAs a kid, I used to watch The Ed Sullivan Show every Sunday.  I was no fan of the highbrow and the circus stuff, and the musical acts ranged from great to uninteresting.  But the one thing I always looked forward to were the comedians, and my favorite of them was Jackie Vernon*.

Vernon worked his way up from strip clubs to becoming a TV headliner with by creating a persona that always brought laughs.  He was a short, dumpy man, and Vernon worked off that by using the deadest of deadpan styles.  His voice was always a monotone, and he would do his routines without showing any noticeable expression other than hangdog.

My favorite was his "vacation slides" routine. Vernon would come on with just a little clicker and would pretend to be doing a slide show of his trip to the Everglades:

  • <click>Here's the guide I got. His name was Guido. Very famous guide, in fact he was known as Guido the Guide.
  • <click>Here's Guido the Guide leading me around a bed of quicksand.
  • <click>Here's Guido the Guide from the waist up.
  • <click>That's his hat right there.
  • <click>Here's the rescue party rushing to his aid.
  • <click>Here's the rescue party from the waist up.
  • <click>And here we have a lot of hats and ropes and things.
  • <click>Here's my next guide, Son of Guido the Guide.
  • <click>
  • <click>
  • <click>That's his hat.
This was all delivered without the slightest expression with Vernon's high-pitched voice.  I also loved the way he'd imply what was going on without saying it.

Vernon did record a couple of albums, A Wet Bird Never Flies at Night and A Man and His Watermelon, which sold adequately but didn't make a big splash.  He also never managed to break into films, other than a few bit parts.

But he did make one indelible mark.  The team of Rankin/Bass chose him to do the voice of the main characters in one of their perennial Christmas classics: Frosty the Snowman.  I'm not a big fan of Frosty,** so I rarely watch it, and it is hardly representative of Vernon's comedy.

Vernon was very successful on the various "Celebrity Roasts" of the 70s, his style making the most out of all his material. 

Vernon continued his career in clubs and nightclubs, but by the 70s, with the death of the variety show, he was seen less and less on television.  He died in 1987, leaving behind memories of great comedy.


    *Not to be confused with Jackie Mason, who was banned from the show, supposedly for giving Ed the finger on air, though he denies it.

    **Rankin/Bass were very uneven and usually awful, with the exceptions of Rudolph and The Last Unicorn.


    Tom said...

    The only thing I remember him from is from the movie Amazon Women on the Moon in the Funeral Roast sketch. I think his bit was cut out because the other comedians got more screen time.

    Anonymous said...

    I remember Jackie Vernon when my family went to New York to visit him and his family. I was just a kid but had a great time when he took me to the Worlds Fair in New York. Why would we visit him? He was my uncle. I tell everyone that Frosty The Snowman is my uncle since he did the voice.

    Anonymous said...

    Jackie was a hit in the mid 80's at the Marina's "Babes Ahoy" and Riviera "Comedy Club" in Vegas. Always laughed till I hurt. Great humor is difficult to find.

    Anonymous said...

    I remember best a poem he recited on the Ed Sullivan show, which contained the line, "You're a better man than I, Kubla Khan" which was a take off of Rudyard Kipling's "You're a better man than I, Gunga Din." Jackie Vernon was a very obscure comedian, but I couldn't look away.

    Barry Marshall said...

    I loved a man and his Watermelon. I got pretty good at telling Jackie's story of the Indian maiden and the brave who swims (almost) across the lake to be with his true love. LaKe stupid was the punchline and it always got my fourth graders laughing uproariously. I preface it by saying it was a story of an old California Indian tribe (which is what we were studying). Great memories of Jackie and his watermelon. I, too, have never been able to find the neck.

    Anonymous said...

    I, too, was a kid who loved seeing Jackie Vernon on the Ed Sullivan Show.

    He had me laughing for days with his deadpan delivery of this line, worthy of any guru on a Himalayan mountaintop:

    “Scratch a man who looks like a turnip … … … and I’ll show you a man who looks like a scratched turnip.”

    Henry R. Kujawa said...

    The other night, I was re-watching a 1980 PBS documentary, "HUNGRY I REUNION", about the famous San Francisco nightclub. A lot of famous people got their start there. Of the various comics, Jackie Vernon was the ONLY one who really made me laugh. (It was 3 in the morning.) That quicksand story was a riot. I think the fact that there were no vacation slides, just a light on a blank brick wall, and you had to imagine what he was talking about, made it even funnier.

    I didn't catch his name. But I typed in the line about the quicksand, and sure enough, up popped your blog. THANKS!