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Film / Ernest P. Worrell

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Hey Vern! I got my very own trope page!

I'mma let the tropers take it from here, knowhutimean?

A fictional character created by Nashville, Tennessee-based advertisers Jerry Carden and John Cherry and immortalized by actor and comedian 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. Jim Varney died in 2000, but Carden & Cherry briefly revived the character in CGI form for other commercials.

Ernest films:

Ernest TV Series:

And no, The Importance of Being Earnest has nothing to do with him. Nor does Ernest et CĂ©lestine, or any other work with "earnest/Ernest" in the title that doesn't have Jim Varney's big goofy grin plastered on the cover.

Tropes present:

  • The Alleged Car: One commercial for John L. Sullivan Chevrolet saw Ernest mocking "one of these little foreign jobbies" that Vern had purchased (and was presently sitting in). Ernest laughs so hard at him he ends up having to kneel next to a tree.
  • Almighty Janitor: Ernest's janitorial skills almost always come in handy in the climax part of the films.
  • As Long as It Sounds Foreign: Ernest-o had a habit-o of adding "o"s after word-os (a la El Spanish "-o") in order to sound "cultured-o" and "wordly-o", comprendo?
  • Audience Surrogate: Vern.
  • Bank Toaster: Ernest did commercials for regional banks involving this trope. While toasters weren't mentioned specifically, other appliances were featured such as a television and a Weber brand grill.
  • 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.
  • Character Action Title: Most of his works follow this theme.
  • Character Catchphrase:
    • KnowhutImean?
    • Hey, Vern!
    • Golly-bob-howdy!
    • Shoulda talked to your ol' buddy Ernest first, knowhutImean?
    • Lots of imitable mannerisms too: Ernest's mug when he's grossed out "eh-heuu", Ernest getting electrocuted, and his "Eh-heh-heh-heh" laugh with sideways smirk.
    • A few lines repeated between the commercials, TV show, and films:
      • "If you don't pitch your part, and I don't pitch my part, they won't have a part to pitch in."
      • "You know what they say about preferred rates: You might prefer 'em, but you ain't gonna get 'em."
      • "Pancakes on Parade."
      • "Or the groundhogs will be bringin' you your mail."
      • "See that little wire right there? Looks like it's got a little sh-ho-hosh-ho-ho-hort in it... my daddy used to work on them."
  • Characterization Marches On: While the core performance remains consistent across the commercials, television series, and movies, Ernest's character changes rather dramatically. In the classic commercials, he was referred to by the production staff as "Ernest the Jerk" and was envisioned as an amalgam of every Nosy Neighbor and Know-Nothing Know-It-All they had ever encountered, with the unseen and long-suffering Vern intended to serve as a stand-in for the viewer when made to interact with such people. The movies remove the Vern character entirely and turn Ernest into the one the audience is meant to sympathize with; portraying him as a down on his luck but well-meaning Manchild who constantly finds himself stumbling into absurd adventures.
  • Chewing the Scenery:
    • Ernest loved making weird facial expressions into the camera.
    • Done literally in Jail where he chews on an ink pen so much the ink leaks into his mouth.
  • Classically-Trained Extra: Jim Varney was an acclaimed Shakespearean stage actor before taking on the Ernest character.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Ernest is only vaguely grounded in reality, and it either charms or annoys people.
  • 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: Ernest got one, and it is not easy on the eyes. When Varney was interviewed by Disney Adventures about his role in Toy Story and asked if he ever had nightmares about toys, he replied "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." (Kimya Dawson even wrote a song about it, believe it or not).
    • A recurring character in Hey Vern, It's Ernest! is an wooden ventriloquist dummy who looks exactly like Ernest. He/It pops up periodically in cutaways to make bad puns or poke fun at Ernest.
  • 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 and jokingly referred to himself as a "hillwillaim" (ie, a more sophisticated version of a hillbilly)
  • The Ditz: Ernest.
  • DIY Dentistry: In a commercial for Purity Milk, we see Ernest is apparently trying to help Vern pull out a bad tooth, which Ernest blames on Vern's lack of dental hygiene.
    Ernest: You should'a talked to yore ol' buddy, Ernest, first. If you'd only brush after ev'r meal, floss ev'r day, eat the right kind of foods, and of course, drank plenty of Purity milk, all this here wouldn't be necessary, would it, Vern? Ready? A-one... a-two... two-and-a-half-three! [Slams the door, Vern's head yanks forward] Ready to try it again, Vern?
  • 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.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Read the titles of the Ernest movies above. Any guesses as to what they're about?
  • Fish-Eye Lens: Used to make Ernest look all the more obnoxious.
  • The Ghost: Vern.
  • 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.
  • Half-Witted Hillbilly: A mild, sympathetic version of this trope — Ernest isn't very smart, but he's a friendly, well-meaning Southerner that helps when he can.
  • 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.
  • Hyperspace Wardrobe: A recurring feature, mostly in the films.
  • 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 or in the swimming pool.
  • Iron Butt Monkey: 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.
  • Juggling Loaded Guns: In his commercial for Hogan's Heroes, Ernest has found what is clearly a Sten submachine gun from World War II in his father's closet, but thinks it must be a cigarette lighter. The moment he pulls the trigger, he fills his surroundings full of bullets and scares himself straight.
  • Kindhearted Simpleton: Ernest isn't the sharpest bulb in the box, but he doesn't have a mean bone in his body and tries his best to do right by others, even if he doesn't understand how.
  • Kitschy Local Commercial: Most of the original commercials were low-budget and aired in rural American markets. Part of the appeal was how "neighborly" it made Ernest come off to viewers.
  • Large Ham: Most of Ernest's screen time is often spent trying to see how many funny faces he can make into a fisheye lens.
  • 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.
  • Limited Wardrobe: Ernest is almost never seen out of his Iconic Outfit of a white t-shirt, blue vest and faded baseball cap, and when he is, it's either a simple color change (ala Ernest Goes to Jail) or a slight aesthetic difference.
  • Malaproper: Ernest, being the not-quite-quick-witted fellow that he is, tends to do this often. Examples include him calling himself an "entremanure" (entrepreneur), him giving titles to poems and such "infectionately" (affectionately), referring to a local car dealer as the "Epatome" (epitome) of Excellence", and — most famously — referring to the catalytic converter in Vern's car as a "catastrophic converter".
  • Manchild: 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.
  • A Mistake Is Born: Hey, Vern! It's My Family Album! parodies this in a segment about Ernest's mean Uncle Lloyd Worrell, who has a dimwitted son, whose name actually is Mistake, and even unsuccessfully tries to mess with Mistake's mind with psychological torment.
  • 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 counselor 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, saying that 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 avoid 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."
  • 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. This was also used in the films, though they weren't meant to signify Vern (save for one movie; see below).
  • 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.
    • 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 and Hey Vern, It's Ernest!
  • Sad Clown: As high spirited and bungling as he is, there are several moments in the films where Ernest notices he screwed things up big time and comes off as heart-wrenchingly dispirited.
  • Series Continuity Error: As previously mentioned above with Negative Continuity, however, there are broader examples to be illustrated:
    • 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 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 the movies, Ernest's dog is male, and named Rimshot. Further, in Hey Vern, It's Ernest!, Shorty is instead Vern's dog, and is also male.
  • Shout-Out: To Andy Griffith Show character Ernest T. Bass (similar names and wardrobes).
  • Show Within a Show: On Hey Vern, It's Ernest!, several of the recurring skits involved fictional television shows from Ernest's world.
  • Signature Headgear: Ernest is always wearing that baseball cap. Yes, even in the shower. Lampshaded in Ernest Rides Again by the cork-popping noise it would make whenever he took it off, and it was an actual plot point in both Ernest Goes To Jail (Felix Nash refused to wear it) and Ernest Rides Again (it's abandoned by his kidnappers while the Crown of England was stuck on his head). One particular Ernest commercial saw Ernest dabble in "fencing"note , and even dons a fencing mask... that has another one of his hats on it.
  • The Silent Bob: Bobby for the original commercials and TV series, though he usually gets at least a line or two in the movies.
  • Smart People Play Chess: One gag which appeared in both the original commercials and Hey Vern, It's Ernest has him playing chess. Not being the sharpest knife in the drawer, he ends up playing it like Checkers.
  • Take Our Word for It: The very first commercial was for a local amusement park which was in the process of being refurbished and not yet camera-ready. To get around this, Ernest simply enthusiastically described it to his neighbor.
  • The Unseen: Vern, obviously, but also his wife (Vernette) and son (Lil' Vern); both were named in a series of Christmas commercials.
  • Vocal Evolution: Jim Varney was a chain smoker for most of his adult life, and you can clearly hear the negative effect it had on his vocal cords when comparing the commercials from The '80s to the later films. By the final film, Ernest In The Army, one can see the lung cancer that would eventually claim his life beginning to take effect on his physical performance as well.
  • The Voiceless: Vern never speaks, though you do occasionally hear him groan or make some other noise.
  • Those Two Guys: Big Guy, Little Guy Chuck and Bobby in movies with both of them.
  • Who Would Be Stupid Enough?: It's practically a rule in the films.
  • 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.