Ernest Goes to Jail -- Just fine, thank you

For a while, when people asked me, "What's your favorite movie scene?" I would tell them it was this one - mostly just to see the look on their face. Though, it's not a total lie - I don't have a single favorite scene (that's why this has been a series instead of a list), and I'm not snobby enough to not include this specific segment of cinematic success.
I've done the math, and I'm an Ernest fan. He's always gotten a bad rap - I guess for being unfunny or too primitive. You could apply that same criticism to Sesame Street if you completely ignore who the target audience is. I suppose a bit of in-your-face hicksploitation can come across as obnoxious, but the pace and tone matches other stuff that people advocate; the TV show Hey Vern, It's Ernest! is every bit as funny and enchanting and good as Pee Wee's Playhouse. Both characters are on the same quirky level, and both clearly drank the same Kool-Aid: never entirely subtle. Which is why this scene plays as unique.
Ernest P. Worrell and eleven other jurors listen to an attorney's opening arguments. Ernest chews on a pen. The pen breaks off in his mouth and ink pours out. The action is set in motion.
I don't mean to get existential, but what ensues is a painfully believable demonstration of a personal, urgent crisis. It's funny because it's heartbreakingly relatable; it's more than a fear of being impolite, but the terror of shattering social morays entirely (Jeff Daniels on the toilet in Dumb & Dumber, "The Bonnie Situation" in Pulp Fiction). Jerry Lewis was a master at this. Jim Varney, too.
It's an old gag, which makes it comfortably predictable: it starts small and slowly escalates into catastrophe (The Stooges were masters at this). And it's a great gag, because apart from being heartbreakingly relatable and comfortably predictable, it has no real punchline - the entire joke is the punchline. The laughs last all the way through, knowhutimean?

- Paul

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