Ernest Powertools Worrell is a fictional character portrayed by Jim Varney (1949–2000) in a series of television commercials, and later in a television series (Hey, Vern, It's Ernest!) as well as a series of feature films. Ernest was created by the Nashville advertising agency Carden and Cherry and was used in various local television ad campaigns. The only national products he promoted were The Coca-Cola Company's Sprite and Mello Yello soda brands.
The first Ernest commercial, filmed in 1980, advertised an appearance by the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders at Beech Bend Park, an amusement park located near Bowling Green, Kentucky. The format of the commercials seldom varied. The rubber-faced Ernest, almost always dressed in a denim vest and baseball cap, appeared at the door of a unseen and unheard but seemingly-unwilling neighbor named Vern. The spots were structured in a way to allow the viewer to be "Vern", as Varney looked directly in the camera whenever Vern was addressed. Ernest's seemingly pointless conversations with Vern – which were actually a soliloquy due to Vern never responding – inevitably rambled around to a favorable description of the sponsor's product, followed by his signature close, "Know whut I mean?".
The Ernest ads were shot with a handheld film camera at the Nashville-area home of producer John Cherry and Jerry Carden. As their number of clients increased, Jim Varney sometimes did upwards of 25 different versions of a spot in a single day.
The commercials and the character had definite impact; children especially seemed to imitate Ernest and "Know whut I mean?" became a catchphrase. Such popularity was bound to be exploited, and both a television series, Hey Vern, It's Ernest!, and a series of theatrically-released motion pictures followed. The movies were not critically well-received; however, they were produced on very low budgets and were quite profitable. In the films, Ernest is apparently somewhat aware of his extreme resistance to harm, as in Ernest Rides Again, he seemed barely fazed by nails bending after being fired at his skull; he also commented that he would be dead "If I wasn't this close to being an actual cartoon".
Varney in his Ernest role appeared in dozens of Cerritos Auto Square commercials for many years on Los Angeles area television stations, along with commercials for Audubon Chrysler Center in Henderson, Kentucky. In the southeast the Ernest character was the spokesman for Purity milk.
Sometime in 2005, after Varney's death, the Ernest character was given a CGI makeover and came out in new commercials. These commercials were created by an animation company called face2face and produced by Ernest originators Carden & Cherry. Ernest was voiced by John C. Hudgens, an advertising and broadcast producer from Little Rock, Arkansas, who also played an Ernest type character in some regional live action commercials.
Ernest has a large family made up of people with similar traits to him, all of whom were portrayed by Jim Varney. Most of them had their appearance in either Knowhutimean? Hey Vern, It's My Family Album or Your World as I See It.
- Edna Worrell: Ernest's second wife according to the television commercials and Hey Vern, It's My Family Album. According to Ernest, Edna makes a great deep dish pie.
- Ace Worrell: A fighter pilot who served in the army. His relation to Ernest is unknown though he is believed to be a great uncle.
- Jennifer Sharkey Worrell: Ernest's beloved and sadly late first wife. She was taken from this earth too soon and left Ernest behind. They will joyously reunite in heaven for eternal happiness someday.
- Astor Clement: Ernest's uncle, a wealthy college professor who likes to brag about his rich status and unusual intelligence and was the main narrator of Your World As I See It. Astor was also one of Ernest's disguises in Ernest Saves Christmas.
- Bunny Worrell: The slow-witted and confused sister of Ernest who runs her own quirky hair salon called Bunny's Beauty World.
- Lloyd Worrell: Ernest's bitter great uncle who is known as the meanest man to ever live. He was also Ernest's disguise as "The Snake Guy" in Ernest Saves Christmas. He had a wife and an unusually big son named Mistake.
- Auntie Nelda: Ernest's dramatic great aunt who is not on good terms with her son Izzy. She often acts like the death of her husband Morris was a blessing. She tries to get men to notice her by acting innocent all the time. She was also one of Ernest's "multiple personalities" in Ernest Scared Stupid and one of his disguises in Ernest Goes to Africa, Ernest Rides Again, Ernest Goes to Jail and Ernest Saves Christmas.
- Coy Worrell: Ernest's idiotic hillbilly brother who runs a sleazy auto parts store in the heart of the south. He often chases women and is quite proud of the tattoo collection on his body. Coy has been married at least twice: first to Rayette Worrell and then to Anita Worrell who may have even more tattoos than her husband!
- Billy "Boogie" Worrell: Ernest's cousin who operates a ride at an amusement park called The Scrambler. He is talented in music and dancing, but still manages to scare people with his crass and unstable personality.
- Davy Worrell: Ernest's light-headed great, great- uncle who was a war veteran in the late 1800s. He helped his army troop win a battle against a Native American tribe, even though his troop wasn't even present at the time.
- Retch Worrell: Ernest's late great, great-grandfather who was popular with women. He was a heavy gambler and all of his ladies described him as incredibly stupid.
- Carla Alexander: Once a lady of the night, Ernest saved this young lady from her demise.
- Pa Worrell: Ernest's elderly father, a World War II veteran who has a politically incorrect view of the world. His first name is never revealed. He's an avid fisherman and is friends with an African savage named Qui-Quay.
- Ma Worrell: Ernest's elderly mother. She is known to be a good cook and according to Ernest she used to make a great chocolate milk (Ernest's favorite drink).
- Reverend Phineas Worrell: An early ancestor of Ernest, possibly his great, great, great grandfather and apparently the first Worrell to step foot in America. He helped banish an evil demonic troll named Trantor, who had followed the Reverend and his people to the "new world" which resulted in a wide spread hunt for the beast. Once captured Rev. Worrell had Trantor imprisoned beneath the roots of a twisted oak tree for which the troll cursed the entire Worrell family. This curse was passed through the generations, making every future descendant increasingly dumber than the last (which kind of explains a few things). Trantor also warned the Reverend that "When the face of death covers the moon, one with your blood in his veins shall release me. Then victory will at last be MINE!". These events had rubbed off on Ernest over one hundred years later when he accidentally released Trantor, just as the troll's curse had prophesied, and was forced into a final battle with him (see Ernest Scared Stupid).
- Stephani P. Worrell: Ernest's aunt from the television series. Had really thick glasses and cried a lot.