- Jackie Vernon (comedian)
Jackie Vernon (
March 29, 1924– November 10, 1987) was an American stand-up comedian, actor, and voice artist.
Born "Ralph Verrone", Vernon was known for his gentle, low-key delivery and self-deprecating humor. He has been hailed as "The King of Deadpan." He was obviously a major influence on current sardonic stand-up comedians such as
Steven Wrightand Mitch Hedberg. His signature opening line was, "To look at me now, it's hard to believe I was once considered a dull guy." In the 1960s, Jackie occasionally worked as the opening act for Judy Garlandand was a regular fixture on the Merv Griffinshow, where he informed the host that his original stage name had been "Nosmo King," which he had seen on a sign. He would take up a topic like prisonsin a monologue and begin with, "Hello, prison fans."
Vernon was also known to perform unique and darker sketches, such as his ultimately tragic attempt to turn a
watermeloninto a housepet. Plagued by strange occurrences and misfortune, Jackie would tell of traveling all the way to see the Grand Canyon, only to find it was closed. Then there was the time he went to see a fistfight, and it broke out into a hockey game.
Vernon liked to quote an ersatz philosopher named
Sig Sakowitzwith the unexplainable motto, "A wet bird never flies at night." There actually was a Sig Sakowitz, a Chicago-based radio talk show host.
One of his early bits was the "Vacation Slide Show." There were no slides visible; they were presumably offscreen as he described them, using a hand-clicker to advance to each "slide"::(click) Here I am, tossing coins at the toll booth.:(click) Here I am, under the car, looking for the coins.:(click) Here I am, picking up a hitchhiker.:(click) Here I am, hitchhiking.:(click) Here's the hitchhiker picking me up with my own car. Luckily, she didn't:recognize me.
He also told this story, an inspiration to scam artists and "phishers" everywhere::One day I saw an ad in the paper that said, "Send me a dollar and I'll tell you how I make money." I sent the guy a dollar. I got a postcard back that said, "Thanks for the dollar. This is how I make money!"
Jackie was once a
trumpetplayer and often carried a cornetwith him as a prop during his stand-up routines. As with Henny Youngmanand his violin, it was seldom actually played. When he guested on a summer variety program hosted by Al Hirtin 1965, he came on with his cornet and said, "I play like I'm Hirt."
Vernon was a popular figure on "
The Ed Sullivan Show" and other variety shows, where he often ended his act by blowing a cornet and saying, "I think I hurt myself!"
He often appeared on the "Celebrity Roasts" that were a staple of 1970s television, as well as being a fixture on the dais at the original live Friars Club Roasts before and after the televised versions. Vernon's signature "deadpan" expression and delivery often had the roast audiences laughing hysterically, long before the punch line of the jokes. Vernon's X-rated story-style jokes about people engaging in extreme sexual depravity became legend, often with the added tag line, "and I thought to myself... what a neat guy!"
One joke that will live forever in the memories of veteran Roast attendees (and that should definitely not be repeated here) involved a sincere but not entirely aboveboard attempt to help an ailing woman (news anchor
Connie Chung) throw up. Vernon is featured on more than one "bootleg" recording of the X-rated Friars Club Roasts, available through comedy recording specialty retailers such as laugh.com and others.
Vernon once quipped, "I became a comedian because I couldn't find a job in my regular line of work: I'm a Druid."
Vernon said that for the first few years after starting standup, he'd write letters to Charlie Chaplin—his hero—although he never got a reply or any acknowledgement of his letter-writing. After Vernon became famous and was making TV appearances, he eventually stopped writing Chaplin. During an appearance in Las Vegas, management told him that Charlie Chaplin would be in the audience that night; Jackie asked if he could meet Chaplin. He was told, of course, that Chaplin was eating dinner right then in the restaurant. Vernon walked up to Chaplin's table, and as he started to introduce himself, Chaplin interrupted him, saying, "Yes, Jackie Vernon. But tell me: why did you stop writing?"
Despite Vernon's reputation as a raunchy comedian, he is perhaps best remembered today as the voice of the title character in the
Christmas televisionshow "Frosty the Snowman", which has been broadcast regularly since its debut in 1969.
Vernon also memorably starred in Wayne Berwick's 1983 cult film [http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0085937/ "Microwave Massacre"] (Reel Life Productions), in which he plays a lascivious builder who kills his wife for bossing him around and making him too many microwaved "gourmet" meals. The film makes good use of Vernon's comic abilities, and is celebrated for his one-liner upon preparing to cut off a prostitute's head with an axe: "I'm so hungry, I could eat a whore!"
Like Frosty the Snowman, Jackie was a portly man. He died at age 63 from a heart attack and is survived by his wife, Hazel Vernon.
He released at least two comedy LPs:Jackie Vernon — A Wet Bird Flies at Night (1964), and Jackie Vernon — A Man and his Watermelon (United Artists UAL 3577), recorded live at the Blue Room of the
Shoreham Hotel, Washington, DC(1967).
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