#ReadAnFnBookFridays: The Importance of Being Ernest: The Life of Jim Varney (The Stuff Vern Doesn’t Even Know)

Jim Varney was consumed by the desire to perform, and over time he proved to everyone he was damn good at it. He could have done anything, and did in his early days, but he eventually became the integral part of a marketing machine that not only made him a wealthy man, but made his face one of the most identifiable in show business for many years.

For many actors, this might sound like a dream come true, but when you are a multi-talented performer, who is trapped in a part that is a cultural sensation like Varney’s Ernest P. Worrell character, it can be a blessing and a curse.

Varney’s nephew, Justin Lloyd, explores this conundrum faced by his uncle, in the book, The Importance of Being Ernest: The Life of Jim Varney (The Stuff Vern Doesn’t Even Know). LLoyd’s familial connections opened the door for him to get to the heart of the real Jim Varney, which is something very few were seemingly able to do.

The book begins before Jim does, with a peek into his family’s origins in West Virginia and Kentucky, and then follows Jim as he struggled to find his way as a performer before Ernest was ever conceived. Then it covers his big break, the massive wave of popularity it started, and Jim’s sudden crash right when he was finally starting the get the roles he’d wanted throughout his entire career.

Justin Lloyd paints the picture of a man without pretentions, who was humble, and loyal to a fault. He also shows us Jim’s battles with depression, alcoholism, and relationships. These are the kinds of things he was able to put out of his mind while harassing his neighbor Vern during commercial shoots, or mugging into the camera with his jaw moving like a swinging bridge in a wind storm and saying, “Eeeeewwww.”

The following is what I took away from reading Jim Varney’s life story, so you can stop reading now, and just go buy the book and read it yourself if you want, and avoid my blatherings altogether. You can find links to the book and associated social media channels at the bottom of the page. Fair warning.

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From Ernest Goes to Jail.

While I love Ernest, and appreciate the fact there are so many movies, thousands of commercials, and a tv show, I also wish Varney would have gotten the opportunities to take off the Ernest costume and play roles beyond the physical comedy he was known for, even though I know that opportunity would have probably been the death of the character, and I wouldn’t have nearly as much Ernest footage to watch today.

Even though I grew up watching Ernest, I didn’t know his real name until I was an adult. He was always just Ernest to me. I never imagined he could do, or be, anything else. In that respect, I, like everyone else, was guilty of putting Jim Varney into a cage, and then standing outside the bars watching intently to see what he would do next. While Jim Varney played a character, who some might consider to be the equivalent of a dumb animal at the zoo, he was most certainly not dumb. He knew he was in a cage, and he wanted the opportunity to get out and walk around for a while. He just couldn’t reach the keys so he could unlock the door.

I have had jobs where I was so good at specific aspects of it, I believed I would never be promoted to a higher position because I was so much better at it than anyone who had the job before ever dreamed of being, that promoting me to another position would be detrimental to the company. It was the kind of situation that made want to bang my head against the wall after a while, and it was a job I didn’t even really like all that well to begin with.

I eventually just quit and walked away. It took the better part of five years to eventually find a gig making the same amount of money I left behind.

Jim Varney lived in that kind of job for almost his entire career. Even though he made millions, and that’s not speculation, it’s in the book, I can only imagine he felt the same way I did, but walking away from that kind of financial security is much harder than leaving the average job.

I had a lot of respect for Jim Varney when I started reading the book, but now that I’ve finished it, I’ve got even more respect for the man.

It wasn’t easy being Ernest.

Until the next #ReadAnFnBookFridays post comes around why don’t you turn off the TV, the computer, and the phone for a while, and read a fucking book or something. Know what I mean?

Right now on Amazon, The Importance of Being Ernest: The Life of Actor Jim Varney (The Stuff Vern Doesn’t Even Know), is available for Kindle ($7.99) or paperback ($10.40).

You can also find The Importance of Being Ernest on  Facebook and on Twitter @JimVarneyBook

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Jim Varney, How Do We Love Thee, Let Us Count the Ways

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If there was such a thing as the Acid Pop Cult Hall of Fame, one of the biggest busts in it, aside from Uschi Digard’s, would be the bust of actor/comedian Jim Varney. 

Varney had the good fortune, or misfortune depending on how you look at it, of finding an iconic character that audiences loved. He appeared in eight films, nine if you count a TV, as Ernest P. Worrel, the lovable loser with a heart of gold and fingers you can’t believe aren’t real butter. He even parlayed the character into one season of a Saturday morning TV show called Hey Vern, Its’ Ernest.

The Ernest character was an all-ages delight. Ernest still has the power to delight kids today if you give the films a chance. That’s why Ernest Scared Stupid made our list of movies that define the concept of Halloween movies on Episode 82 of the Acid Pop Cult Podcast.

Of course, Varney was much more talented than what he displayed as Ernest, unfortunately, like Paul Ruebens and Cassandra Peterson, most people only saw him as his most popular character. It wasn’t until he was given the opportunity to play Jed Clampett of the Beverly Hillbilliles near the end of his life that he got the chance to prove his talent to a large audience.

He shined in the movie, even though the movie itself wasn’t very good.

Ernest

Perhaps some of his best performances were as the character Virgil Simms on Fernwood Tonight and America Tonight, along side Martin Mull and Fred Willard.

Simms was an occasional guest on the fake talk show, and every time he appeared he stole the show. Simms was a greasy-haired, leisure-suit-wearing, mechanic and instructor at the local community college, gas station owner, and high school teacher, in the fictional town of Fernwood, Ohio. During his appearances, he usually presented an invention, idea, or tips for truckers or car maintenance, all of which bordered on the outrageous.

These performances alone are enough to get him a nomination in the fictional Acid Pop Cult Hall of Fame. You can find quite a few episodes of Fernwood Tonight YouTube. Even when Jim Varney is not a guest on the show, it’s entertaining as hell. Fernwood Tonight is one of those classic shows that doesn’t seem to receive the attention it deserves.

In this clip, Virgil Simms introduces us to the country song If I’d a Knowed That You’d a Wanted to Have Went With Me I’d Have Seed That You Got to Get to Go, in his Tips for Truckers segment.

In this clip, Virgil Simms describes his attempt to jump three motorcycles in a fully equipped mobile home. He also explains what to look for when buying a used car.

Little known fact: Virgil Simms created the first electric car.

We miss Jim Varney dearly. RIP, brother. RIP.

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Episode 25: Acid Pop’s Ready For The Summer

Lee, Roxy, and JMo prep you for summer with the flicks The Burning, Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland, and Ernest Goes to Camp (you’re welcome)! Chris J. Michalek comes IN STUDIO to say hi to the gang!!

Episode 25: Acid Pop’s Ready For The Summer