Jackie Vernon (comedian)
March 29, 1924
New York City, New York, U.S.
|Died||November 10, 1987
Hollywood, California, U.S.
|Cause of death||Myocardial Infarction|
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 modern sardonic stand-up comedians such as Steven Wright and Mitch Hedberg. His signature opening line was, "To look at me now, it's hard to believe I was once considered a dull guy."
Early on in the 1950s, according to Dick Brooks, Vernon bounced around the country working whatever jobs he could find, mostly in strip joints. Even then he had a unique style, often cracking up members of the band with his inside humor. He decided to give New York a try, and hung around Hanson's Drug Store, a place where small time comedians and acts in the theater section of New York would meet after making the rounds of agents who had their offices in the area. Brooks says, "I saw the original draft of the 'I used to be dull' routine that was written by Danny Davis, a hang around writer, who was later killed in a freak car crash while he was in a florist shop." He was picked up by manager of comedians, Willie Weber. Jackie tried out for a comedy TV talent show that was popular at the time, and his career went into overdrive." Brooks says, "As I recall, he was married eight or nine times." Brooks then went on to open two successful venues, The Magic Towne House in New York City, where he also published Hocus Pocus magazine, and the Houdini Museum in the Pocono area of Pennsylvania.
In the 1960s, Jackie occasionally worked as the opening act for Judy Garland and was a regular fixture on the Merv Griffin show, where he informed the host that his original stage name had been "Nosmo King," which he had seen on a sign (i.e. "no smoking"). He would take up a topic like prisons in 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 watermelon into 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.
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.
A typical joke of Vernon's: "We lived in a small town built on a one-way street. If you miss it you have to drive all the way around the world to get back"
Vernon was once a trumpet player and often carried a cornet with him as a prop during his stand-up routines. As with Henny Youngman and his violin, it was seldom actually played. When he guested on a summer variety program hosted by Al Hirt in 1965, he came on with his cornet and said, "I play like I'm Hirt." He 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[disambiguation needed] 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!"
Vernon also memorably starred in Wayne Berwick's 1983 cult film Microwave Massacre, in which he plays a lascivious builder who kills his wife for bossing him around and making him too many microwaved "gourmet" meals.
Vernon said that for the first few years after starting standup, he would write letters to his hero Charlie Chaplin, 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 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, "Of course, Jackie Vernon. Tell me: why did you stop writing?"
Frosty the Snowman
Despite Vernon's reputation as a raunchy comedian, he is perhaps best remembered today as the voice of the title character of the popular Rankin-Bass television special Frosty the Snowman (1969), which has been broadcast annually on CBS since its debut. He later voiced Frosty in two more Rankin-Bass specials; Frosty's Winter Wonderland (1976) and Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July (1979).
- Jackie Vernon — A Wet Bird Never Flies at Night (1964)
- Jackie Vernon — A Man and his Watermelon (United Artists UAL 3577), recorded live at the Blue Room of the Shoreham Hotel, Washington, DC (1967).
- Cerf, Bennett (17 April 1967). "Try and Stop Me". The Dispatch (Lexington, KY). Retrieved 21 December 2014.
- "Lovable Loser Image : Jackie Vernon, Stage and TV Comedian, Dies at 63". Los Angeles Times. November 11, 1987.