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Tuesday, 03 January
Pop Goes The Weasel

You know, I don't want to wear out any one beat, really; I know I recently took the lash to that horrifying Disaronno ad, but I saw . . . something today that I cannot chase from my mind. In fact, for a few minutes, I thought I dreamed it. But I did not. So yes, this is another post about a truly mind-destroying advertisement.

Unlike the Disaronno horror, this one isn't national. It's local-ish--Washington and Oregon only, I believe. Now, local ads have long been great sources of wonderful entertainment everywhere. ("If you wanna buy a car, go see Cal . . . ") And the fellow in question here is no exception. His name is Vern Fonk, and he really wants to sell you insurance. And he's not afraid to look like a frightening buffoon in order to do it. It doesn't hurt that his name is Vern Fonk, which sounds right up there, plausibility-wise, with, say, the concept of the Cleveland Steamer. (I'm telling you right now, don't Google that.) In fact, why not go the distance? CLEVELAND STEAMER INSURANCE, LTD.! "We truly give a shit."

Vern Fonk commercials are a part of life here in the Pacific Northwest, just like walking pneumonia and . . . uh . . . non-walking pneumonia. We've got it all! The formula, if such a term can even be applied to such an elegantly psychotic body of work, usually goes as such: Vern finds some sort of meme-y thing going on, and then creates a demonstrably damaging insurance ad to make fun of said phenomenon, usually featuring the thrillingly bald Mr. Fonk himself in some hellaciously embarrassing role that requires him to scream into the camera. Just who you want holding coverage on your car: the adenoidal bugfuck who spends too much time at AdTunes when he's not too busy Away From Keyboarding to sport-trap some wild lizards.

Okay, here's the ad I saw today. The whole thing consists of our Mr. Fonk in an insurance office with some oily insurance guy. Oh, the meta! Vern wants auto insurance. Vern also has--I can still see it--an extremely prominent fake pimple right in the center of his forehead. It is about the size of a quarter; a giant phony whitehead, like a target. And Mr. Unctious Insurance Person is explaining to Our Hero why he can't get car insurance. But of course--he is distracted by this titanic zit.

Vern blinks with uncomprehension as the Insurance Guy tells him they won't cover him. But the joke--the joke!--is . . . Insurance Guy keeps staring at his incredible carbuncle! He's getting flustered! "You have too many zit-heads . . . uh, I mean tickets . . . " Vern furrows his gleaming, befestered brow. "What I mean is, Mr. Pimple . . . " It goes on like this for agonizing seconds. You simply cannot believe what is being presented to you, the viewer. It strains credulity to believe that bona fide humans not only cleared this idea, but that they went ahead and filmed it, and that somewhere else, TV execs decided that they should run it. It's like someone greenlighted a very special episode of Romper Room filmed on location at Jonestown. "Who wants juice, kids?"

Towards the end of the commercial, I had merely given up all hope for our species. This is, to be sure, normal. Car insurance ad aaaaand . . . big zit joke. Hey hey, our civilization is in decline! Whatever. Next! But it wasn't done.

At the end of the ad, the Insurance Guy finally can't stand it, and leans in to Mr. Fonk's personal space. "I'm sorry," he says. "I can't help it." AND HE REACHES OVER TO FONK'S ZIT. Oh my God! Who made this commercial? Dario Argento? I sat rooted to my chair; I think my chilly ass nerves laid down rhizomes to nourish me and my agony. They can't possibly film this guy popping that fucking zit. Right?

The camera cut away. I relaxed slightly. Good God. That was close.

Unfortunately, what they cut away to was a shot of Insurance Guy wincing as his face was blasted by a jet of pearlescent liquid. Yes. He popped the zit.

(You know, it's difficult to ignore the not-very-ignorable secondary suggestion of this image here, so I won't even try. It looks an awful lot like someone is blowing a huge load onto Insurance Guy's face, but here we enter into some psychosexual territory that I confess I am too terrified to follow into. I am sorry. But I will not venture into the alien terrain where Vern Fonk prowls here, erect insurance penis in hand, defying any chickenshit agents to defy his ejaculatory prowess.)

I'd like to say the ad ends there, but it does not. There is one more cutover, back to Vern himself, babbling to the camera. He still wears the fake exploded zit on his forehead, leaking some leftover goo. This is an insurance ad. He smiles into the camera. I cannot--will not--remember his exact words, but they are to the effect of: "Don't worry about blemishes on your record." There is a toothpaste-sized gob of fake pus on his brow as he grins this.

Remember to honk when you drive by Vern Fonk!

(Postscript: I have been accused--fairly--of sometimes making stuff up. I am not doing so here. You may view many of Vern Fonk's legendary ads at the following URL, including the one I write about above, if you have the guts. As a pre-test, see if you can even endure the tiny thumbnail screenshots. I think you'll particularly enjoy the one of him pretending to be Osama Bin Laden. If you're up to it, go ahead and click on the one I've been talking about. It is, of course, called "The Zit.")

Note: Comments are closed on old entries.


Hey Skot - That guy is an actor, not Vern Fonk himself. I thought it was VF, too, but Mark broke the news to me. Mark sees him every once in awhile at auditions, but the dude apparently can't get much other work because he's so closely associated with those ads. Big surprise, huh?

Comment number: 006216   Posted by: Peggy on January 4, 2006 08:51 AM from IP:

Hey Skot - That guy is an actor, not Vern Fonk himself.

Oh my God. That might be the most depressing thing of all. Can you imagine being that guy? "Hey Vern! Nice zit ad! Haw haw!" How could you even go to sleep at night, knowing that no matter what, when you wake up in the morning, everyone would still know you as Vern Fonk? It's like having your life written by Sartre.

Comment number: 006217   Posted by: Skot on January 4, 2006 09:17 AM from IP:

Not Sartre. Ben Jonson.

Comment number: 006218   Posted by: Kate on January 4, 2006 09:33 AM from IP:

Or perhaps Dante, seeing as how that poor guy is doomed to the seventh circle of hell for that freakin' zit ad, as well as the Eminem "rap" commercial, if you can call it rap... The poor guy is doomed, not only as an actor, but as a human being.

Comment number: 006219   Posted by: S on January 4, 2006 11:08 AM from IP:

lame comment, I know, but I am sitting here in stunned disbelief at the scene you have just described.

Comment number: 006220   Posted by: Lala on January 4, 2006 12:32 PM from IP:

I don't know, I think Seattle Rep could make a bundle on a production of Death of a Salesman starring "Vern Fonk". "Attention must be honked."

Comment number: 006221   Posted by: Joe on January 4, 2006 01:09 PM from IP:

I went to the Vern Fonk page. I couldn't click any of the links provided. I *couldn't.* The devastation and horror on my monitor was too much for me.

Comment number: 006222   Posted by: Kate on January 5, 2006 08:53 AM from IP:

My hubby has a love/hate thing for VF. The commercials themselves drive him up the freaking wall. But being a deputy sheriff he gets a chuckle from pulling someone over and they happen to have VF insurance because he knows that their crap is messed up.

Comment number: 006223   Posted by: ~A~ (Rob's Sister) on January 5, 2006 06:21 PM from IP:

That was the most horrible thing I think I've ever seen.

Comment number: 006224   Posted by: spygeek on January 5, 2006 06:31 PM from IP:

I think the worst thing yet may be the Vern's Tunes option. What is the "Quote Machine"? Oh, in St. Louis, we call this guy Ray Vincent, but he only does mort-gages.

Comment number: 006225   Posted by: Fissell on January 5, 2006 10:48 PM from IP:

I love the VF commercials for one simple reason: They are effective.

High risk and SR22 insurance is something of a niche market. It's not like you have to be too competitive as the playing field is relatively small. All you have to do is be remembered as the guy who covers high risk drivers and you're set. Therefore, the marketing team at VF (which I'm sure consists of a downs kid and a used coffee filter) are f#cking brilliant for pushing name recognition.

Other than that, I think the ads are soul marringly heinous and I feel a little part of me die every time I see one.

Comment number: 006226   Posted by: rob on January 6, 2006 11:24 AM from IP:

Are you denying the inherent art, humor and pathos emcompassed by "Play that Vern Fonky music, white boy"?

I, like Kate, at first could not bring myself to click the zit ad. Then I did click it, figuring that my wild imagination must be far worse than reality could ever be. It wasn't.

Comment number: 006227   Posted by: Peggy on January 6, 2006 11:36 AM from IP:

Oh, youngster, I deny any pathos implied by a song title. Especially one that involves an exploding zit, or a squashed bin Laden. This guy's a hoot, mind you, but a mindless one to boot. I'm thinking that I need to get involved with you crazy theatre types to enjoy this crap.

Comment number: 006228   Posted by: Fissell on January 10, 2006 01:05 AM from IP:

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