Written by Jonathan Wojcik
Now that you know I was uncommonly easy to disturb growing up, we're going to talk about one of the single weirdest, stupidest, most completely absurd things to ever horrify me; something so bizarre, I spent years trying to figure out what the hell it had even been, and as it eventually turned out, we had this guy to blame:
For those too young to remember the eighties, "Ernest" was a fictional country bumpkin who began as an advertising mascot for a variety of different products and quickly captured America's heart, evolving overnight into a semi-successful film character and national icon. Naturally, he also had a short-lived television series, and this is the point at which my traumatic memories begin.
Imagine being that easily confused, easily disturbed, constantly sick and feverish little child, you have nothing to entertain yourself but a very old, fuzzy and distorted television, and this shit comes on:
Though I adored the arguably similar Pee Wee's Playhouse, there was something about Hey Vern, it's Ernest that simply sickened me. The music and imagery of this intro alone felt like another of my relentless fever-dreams in itself. I'm actually really, really sick again as I write this, running a high fever, and I'm having a difficult time watching this footage all the way through. It brings back every memory of sickness-induced delusion.
Every episode of this travesty featured the exact same set of uncomfortable sketches with only mildly different punchlines. There was the one where Ernest was a creepy-ass baby, the one where Ernest was some sort of evil supervillain with a hand on his head, the one where Ernest had a terrifying ventriloquist's dummy of himself...I could go on. I assure you, it was all much ghastlier than you're probably imagining, and the very ghastliest of all was a sketch called Ernest's Tongue.
You look at this abomination, and you tell me you're not disquieted already. I mentioned previously that I was not only a terror-prone kid, but disgust-prone as well, and the two were pretty much interchangeable. If something was disgusting enough, it was more or less also terrifying. Boogers? Terrifying. Vomit? Terrifying. I couldn't even look at spaghetti sauce, let alone fathom putting it anywhere near my mouth. More than anything else, I was sickened by sloppy food and sloppy eating, especially anything messy getting on a person's face.
Guess what the entire source of "humor" in "Ernest's Tongue" sketches was. Go ahead.
Here, we see Ernest's Tongue apparently having just worked an old glob of food out from between Ernest's teeth. Wow, hilarious. That totally doesn't make me want to throw up in the least, nor does the one where he tries to eat old beef off a giant piece of dental floss, or the one where he's drenched repeatedly in chunky lima-bean mush. What kind of person ever thinks up something like this and believes it to be funny, cute or whimsical in any conceivable fashion?
I didn't see any of those episodes as a kid, since it only took a single episode back then to reduce me to tears, and the "Ernest's Tongue" bit was the last straw.
It happened in the episode "Talent," where the tongue tried to demonstrate its ability to whistle, only to be interrupted by a gigantic spoon bearing a huge smear of peanut butter. I was nauseated already, but the worst was yet to come; I hadn't even had time to get up and shut it off when the milk and crackers entered the picture.
This was it. The moment. The sight of this big tongue-man covered in wet, dribbling peanut butter seemed like the single most vile thing I had ever seen in my young life. I screamed. I slammed the power button on the television and fled from the room, trying to push the image from my mind as though I'd seen some cosmic horror man was never meant to comprehend while managing to only further exaggerate the foul beast in my impressionable, fluid little memory.
It's fascinating just how quickly your mind can distort something, especially when you're a kid. Perhaps it was the quality of that old TV set, but by that very night, I was under several completely false impressions about what I'd witnessed.
First, I thought for sure that the tongue had been sitting upright in a gigantic bathtub, for some reason. I suppose that's what the background of teeth must have looked like to me.
Second, I believed the tongue had been wearing goggles.
Third, I remembered a whole lot more peanut butter involved.
And finally, having failed to catch any of the dialog, my mind filled in a bunch of incoherent babble. I knew this one was a false impression, but in my head, the tongue just made meaningless bap, bap sounds, strands of soggy peanut paste stretching sickeningly between its lips.
The end result of all this mutation looked something like this:
This haunted me for weeks. My brain would try to tell me that this thing was just outside my window, or right on the other side of the bathroom door, bap bapping with its horrible peanut-coated mouth, waiting to, I don't know, smear itself against me or something at the first opportunity. A giant, wet, peanut-butter covered tongue in a bathtub had become one of my first specific, recurring bogeymen. My worst nightmare. My arch nemesis.
It was probably months before I could actually eat peanut butter again, and looking at those screenshots now, I kind of feel put off of it all over again.