BOCA RATON – A lesson learned during his stint as a professional wrestler allowed Al Ernst to successfully pivot to a career in stand-up comedy.
Abdul The Butcher made Ernst slow the car he was driving to nearly a stop as they approached a toll booth. Abdullah wanted to get into costume.
For Abdullah (Mr. Butcher?), the brief look on the toll booth worker’s face as they paid their tariff proved worth the effort.
Abdullah explained to Ernst, “Champ – he called everyone ‘Champ’ – understand you’ve got to live your gimmick. You always live the gimmick.”
Wrestling as “The Inferno,” “The Dark Patriot,” and “E-Train” within Georgia All-Star Wrestling, Peach State Wrestling, Florida Championship Wrestling and, occasionally, World Championship Wrestling, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Ernst didn’t have much of a gimmick.
“I was the loser guy,” Ernst said. “I was a jobber. It was, whatever we needed.”
Ernst began his wrestling career as a ring announcer before jumping into the ring. When he transitioned back to the microphone, Ernst remembered Abdullah’s advice, substituting “voice” for “gimmick.”
“If you don’t have a voice as a comic you’re not going to have a real successful comedy career,” Ernst said. “The people have to believe your voice as a comic. The most success that I’ve had being a stand-up comedian is the fact that, at some point, I found that voice. That guy. And that’s the guy I’ve become. People buy into it and go for the ride.”
Having spent part of his youth in Georgia, Ernst’s voice emphasizes his southern accent on stage. He’s an every man with southern sensibilities.
On Wednesday at Delray Beach’s Turtle Tavern and Thursday at Boca Raton’s Biergarten the Sarasota-based Ernst lumbered on stage wearing jeans, a softball jersey and a trucker hat. His stories about the dating habits of his elderly mother and the relationship with his wife of nearly four decades elicited the most laughter from the South Florida audiences who found such circumstances (marriage, the elderly) identifiable.
“I want people to know this is really more my natural voice,” Ernst said of his southern accent. “I want them to know where I’m from because that leans so much into my act.”
Audience members laughed because Ernst’s stories were so real, so relatable.
It’s that kind of performance, those kinds of stories, that earned Ernst Carnival Cruise Lines’ “Entertainer of the Year” award a few years back.
It’s why, Ernst believes, people return to his shows.
“In the big picture, people don’t come to see comedy, they come to see people,” Ernst said. “They come to see a person on that stage. They’ve got to believe in that person.”