The Kernell Brothers: Pioneering Sidewalk Comedians

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John Kernell

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A Wee Bit O’Harry

Erin Go Bragh! Sure and ’tis another St. Patty’s Day post!

John and Harry Kernell are extremely important in the history of American comedy teams. The only reason I haven’t posted on them before is I couldn’t find a visual of them together; it never occurred to me to look for separate pix!

The Kernell Brothers were among the first of the so-called “sidewalk comedians”, the two man comedy teams who did breezy crosstalk in vaudeville; and as such they pre-date even Weber and Fields (whom the Kernell Bros. gave a leg up in the late 1880s). Born in Philadelphia circa the late 50s/ early 60s, John was the first to go on the stage, and he did so when still a child. With his first partner Harry Bennett, he debuted at the Olympic Theatre in New York, doing the sort of stereotype Irish comedy that ruled at the time. When Bennett died, John replaced him with his brother Harry. Harry dressed as a stylish dude in silk top hat and tails; John was the traditional stage Paddy in red wig and clodhoppers. By the ’70s they were a mainstay at Tony Pastor’s. By 1883, they had their own touring company, which Weber & Fields would come to model their own operation on. A decade later, Harry was dead of syphillis (a depressingly common end in show business at the time). John soldiered on in vaudeville as an Irish monologist, and occasionally acting in plays. He died in 1903.

To find out more about the variety arts past and presentconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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And don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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