I had the great good luck to be about the same age as Jim Varney which means I’m old and any reminiscences I might relate about Jim would have to be a ragout of truth, legend, wishful thinking, the haze of decades, and a heavy dose of; “this is how it shoulda been”. To quote singer/songwriter Mitch Barrett; “I ain’t lyin’, I’m just tellin’ you a story.”
I met Jim when we were both in high school. I was participating in the State High School Drama Festival. It was held that year in a cavernous theater on the Eastern Kentucky University campus. I had performed the day before and was sitting in the house watching that day’s performers when Jim came loping up the aisle. At that time he was legendary as a high school actor and was already developing riffs and routines that would evolve later into his standup comedy routines and, of course, Ernest. He stopped where I was sitting, squinted, stuck out his jaw and drawled;
“I’m Jim Varney.”
I snappily replied; “Yes, you are.”
“You’re Roger Leasor.”
“Yes, I am.” (striving to maintain the high level of repartee).
He then took us to a higher place and purpose; “I can spell ‘antidisestablishmentarianism’ – on my hands!”
I hurled the gauntlet; “Then do it.”
He proceeded to flop his hands about like a cross between a birthday party magician, a seal asking for a fish, and Ted Cruz giving a speech.
When he completed his charade, I took a wild shot and pointed out; “You left out ‘dises’.”
He squinted harder and said; “Well, goddy-dam, that’s closer’n I usually get.”
He sat down next to me and for the next two hours I wept with laughter and shame as he eviscerated each performance he didn’t like and grunted at each performance he admired.
Jim was good company, but he “was not a tame lion” (thank you C. S. Lewis).