A fictional character created by Nashville, Tennessee-based advertisers Jerry Carden and John Cherry and played by the late Jim Varney, originally for use in television commercials. Ernest was a dim-witted but good-natured Southern man who would address his "ol' buddy" Vern (from whose POV the commercials were seen) and deliver a soliloquy on the product. Ernest advertised just about everything from milk to soft drinks to amusement parks to regional stores.The Ernest character first appeared on film in 1983 through the direct-to-video release Knowhutimean? Hey, Vern, It's My Family Album. A series of five theatrical releases followed between 1987 and 1993, with four more direct-to-video films after that. Varney died in 2000, but Carden & Cherry briefly revived the character in CGI form for other commercials.
Hey Vern, It's Ernest! (1988) CBS, 13 episodes. Jim Varney won an Emmy for his performance on this Saturday Morning Kids Show produced by DiC Entertainment, but it's all but completely forgotten today. Despite this relative obscurity, it got a complete series DVD release in 2011.
Almighty Janitor: Ernest's janitorial skills almost always come in handy in the climax part of the films.
Breakout Character: Chuck and Bobby originated as commercial characters (like Ernest), and later went on to appear as supporting fixtures on Hey Vern, It's Ernest!. They were also the only characters from the show to migrate into the movies.
Ernest himself counts as one: he was "discovered" by Disney execs after he stole the thunder of Mickey and Minnie Mouse while riding in a parade.
Butt Monkey: Ernest in the movies, Vern in the commercials.
The Cameo: A year before Ernest Goes to Camp came out, Varney starred in the Cherry-directed Dr. Otto and the Riddle of the Gloom Beam. Varney played the title character and various others, but Ernest shows up at the end as part of the twist ending.
Counting to Potato: In Hey Vern, It's Ernest while preparing for a baking contest, Ernest reminds Vern of three basic principles (while holding up four fingers): "Number one - always use plenty of sauce. B - always squeeze yer tomaters. And three - don't forget to thump your melons, knowwhutImean?"
Creepy Doll: When Toy Story came out, Disney Adventures interviewed Varney (he played Slinky Dog). When asked if he ever had nightmares about toys, he said: "Never...until they made the Ernest doll. It's eerie to have a doll that looks like you. I have one at my house...I keep him tied up."
Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: In the movies. As big of a dope as he is, Ernest is surprisingly capable of being an effective - while still dopey - hero.
Deep South: Where Ernest is apparently from. (Jim Varney himself was a native Kentuckian.)
Drop-In Character: With the exception of Chuck and Bobby (who already pre-existed in commercials of their own), all of the recurring characters for the TV series fall into this trope for the Ernest universe... then, they're all Put on a Bus in the movies.
Though many of the actors have parts in the movies.
Epic Fail: The hallmark of Ernest movies; the poor guy is a walking disaster. In Ernest Goes To School, all he has to do is conduct a marching band, and he winds up getting his head stuck in a tuba and setting much of the football field on fire.
In some commercials in which Ernest hawks sweet acidophilus milk, the combination of his accent and mannerisms of speech lead many a viewer to hear him say, "Sweet ass dophilus".
From Ernest Goes to Africa, Ernest and Rene are held captive by a native tribe, and Ernest asks the High Priest to marry them (as part of his supposed escape plan); while the women of the tribe take Rene away, Ernest is pinned down, while the High Priest whips out a machete...
Ernest: What's that for?
High Priest: Fertility rites.
Ernest: (Eye widened) Uh... oh, I already had that operation... when I was really little!
High Priest: Think of it as a booster shot.
From the same movie, Rene is kidnapped and forced to work in a harem for a secondary villain... Ernest sneaks into the harem, in full disguise, only to find himself the object of desire of said villain, who personally selects "her" to pleasure him; after hand-feeding "her" different pieces of fruit, he becomes aroused, and rips "her" face veil for a kiss, only to discover that this harem woman is actually Ernest.
Genius Ditz: Whatever Ernest's job or hobby was at the start of the movie, it becomes his greatest asset later on. Like the box turtle in Camp, the taxi in Saves Christmas, the floor buffer in Jail, the garbage truck in scared stupid, the yo-yo in Africa, and the golf cart in Army.
Girl of the Week: Invoked in the movies, as most of the movies feature a leading lady, who turns out to be Ernest's current love-interest.
Good Ol' Boy: Ernest is a sympathetic version of this trope. Although he's not real bright, he's so optimistic, enthusiastic, and good-hearted that he's hard to dislike.
Hard Head: Ernest has a case of this in some media. Best illustrated in Ernest Rides Again when the "hard part" of his head protects him from a nailgun and a cranial bone saw.
Iconic Outfit: Khaki baseball cap, blue denim vest, grey t-shirt, blue jeans, and brown work shoes. The hat and vest tend to stay on even when Ernest is showering and in the swimming pool.
Iron Buttmonkey: Ernest wrote the book on this. At least once a movie he endures some ridiculous accident that would kill any living human. In Ernest Rides Again he acknowledges this by saying that he's "This close to being an actual cartoon."
Jive Turkey: Ernest plays this straight with his unsuccessful attempt to communicate with a Zulu tribe in Ernest Goes to Africa.
Lethally Stupid: Ernest is this in the movies, though nobody's died around him, he's completely oblivious to the harm he does to both himself and others, and he never admits fault, even when another character would really like him to.
Man Child: Ernest. Not so much in the original commercials, but definitely moreso on Hey Vern, It's Ernest!, and in the movies.
Vern falls into this somewhat too, whenever Ernest mocks the teddy bear he sleeps with, or the rubber duck he uses in the tub.
Negative Continuity: Every movie finds Ernest in a new place, with a new job and new friends, and no one acknowledges the (remarkable) events of Ernest's past (though Ernest does mention being a camp councilor once in Ernest in the Army).
Word of God is that this was intentional so that Ernest, as a character, could easily be sequeled in new movies, similar to James Bond.
Never Say "Die": From the Billy Boogey Worrell segment from Hey, Vern! It's My Family Album, Billy Boogey coaxes an elderly couple onto the Scrambler, but the lady resists, citing she and especially her husband have heart conditions. When we keep cutting back to the elderly couple, we see at one point the two of them are freaking out during the ride, another cut shows the lady using electric paddles to revive her husband, then finally we see both of them flopping around lifelessly in their seats.
Ernest likes to evade the word "die," preferring instead to launch into several colorful metaphors instead. An episode of "Hey Vern It's..." is the closest he ever came, when he told a butterfly-collecting Vern that "THIS Honey-Wunny ain't gonna be Deady-Weddy for your Collection-Wection."
Nice Hat: Ernest always wore a baseball cap in the ads.
Even in the shower, the pool, and underneath crash helmets.
Only in the ads? That cap follows him everywhere. In Ernest Rides Again it'd even make a cork-popping noise whenever he took it off.
It follows him so much that his supposed abandonment of said hat in both Ernest Goes To Jail (as Felix Nash refused to wear it) and Ernest Rides Again (where the Nice Hat is abandoned by his kidnapping while the Crown of England was stuck on his head) serve as a plot point in both movies.
Overly Long Gag: Many of the sight gags in the movies are like this, at first it was the result of doing slapstick on a Disney budget, but it followed Ernest into the direct-to-video films as well.
P.O.V. Cam: The commercials (and certain sections of the TV series) were shot from Vern's POV. Sometimes this was used in the films as well.
Put on a Bus: Chuck disappears after Ernest Goes to Jail, for seemingly no reason, while Bobby continues to be paired with other, somewhat similar, characters for at least two more movies.
Recycled Set: The "Me and My Brother Bobby" commercials are obviously shot in the same houses and neighborhood as the Ernest commercials were; in fact, in one such episode, Chuck and Bobby drop in on a lady as her suitors, and she clearly is living in Vern's house.
Vern in the movies, with the exception of Ernest Saves Christmas.
Repeating Ad: A somewhat unique case: the ads were actually for different products and different markets, but still used the same scenery, dialogue, and jokes. Some of the ads were re-made later, and some of them were re-used in the films.
One has to wonder how many Ernest ads the people in markets, like Austin, Florida, and California had to endure at the height of Ernest's popularity.
In the original commercials, as well as the TV series, Ernest is married - his first wife had died young, but there is constant mention of his second wife, Edna, who is often referred to, but never seen (like Vern); in the movies, however, Ernest is apparently single, and has a different crush or love interest with each movie.
Likewise, in the original commercials and TV series, Ernest lives in a typical ranch-style home (Jim Varney's real home doubled for Ernest's), with a only a few toys and childlike items placed on shelves as set decorations; in the movies, Ernest's house seems, as pointed out by Nostalgia Critic, "On loan from Pee-wee".
In the original commercials, Ernest was occasionally seen with a pet dog named Shorty, who often gave birth to puppies in Vern's pickup trucks (Shorty was always a different breed, and the puppies were never the same breed as Shorty); in some of the movies, Ernest's dog is male, and named Rimshot.
The Unseen: Vern, obviously, but also his wife (Vernette) and son (Lil' Vern); both were named in a series of Christmas commercials.
Vocal Evolution: A rather unfortunate, Real Life example, given Jim Varney's habit of heavy smoking over the years; when listening to Ernest's voice in one of his earlier commercials from The Eighties, compared to his voice in one of his later movies, you can sadly hear quite a difference.
Why Do You Keep Changing Jobs?: Chuck (Gailard Sartain) and especially Bobby (Bill Byrge). But even Ernest fits this description, having been a camp maintenance man, a camp counselor, a taxi driver, a bank clerk, a garbage man, the King of England (for several seconds), a basketball player, a golf-ball collector at a country club, and five or six varieties of janitor.note He also would have been a pirate, but he passed on before that could happen.
The Wonka: Ernest (though differing from The Wonka in that he's not his own boss) has his own particular brand of logic that he tends to follow. An example is that in one of the movies he carries around a bullet with his name engraved on it so no one can shoot him with it.