It’s been nearly 30 years since comedian Jerry Halliday first took the stage in Fort Lauderdale, but now he calls South Florida home and on Thursday night, he will debut his new monthly show at Village Pub.
The native of Norfolk, Va. first became enamored with marionettes and puppets as a child when touring productions visited his community.
“I think I was about five years old. I used to see these extravagant shows from New York City. I was fascinated and got hooked,” he recalled. “In those days, the productions were dramatic stories and I would just hang on every moment.”
Halliday began making his own puppets and by the time he was a teenager, he was producing his own shows and making money. For about 10 years, he performed children’s shows at museums, including the Chrysler Museum of Art in his hometown and, later, the Smithsonian.
His art took a turn when he discovered the comedy of Wayland Flowers and his bawdy famous puppet Madame.
“I knew that I wanted to do comedy and when I saw Wayland on television, I knew I could do it, too,” Halliday said.
He was also influenced by the celebrated female impersonator Charles Pierce.
“Charles Pierce, in my opinion, was the finest female impersonator to ever walk the planet. My belly hurt. It was high camp. Very, very funny and brilliant,” explained Halliday.
Flowers and Pierce “were so thrilling” and Halliday spent years perfecting his own act, starting with his first puppet, a caricature of Carol Channing, and eventually building a harem of gay icons including Mae West, Joan Crawford and Katherine Hepburn.
But, by the mid-1990s, he began to realize younger gays didn’t recognize his “icons.”
Halliday lamented, “I was on Fire Island and these boys from Chelsea had no idea who they were. I was kind of appalled. By the end of the ‘90s, I put most of these characters in mothballs and concentrated on original characters.”
He created three original characters that remained his mainstay for years: a foxy black chick named Sista Girl, Sister Vagina Immaculata and old Granny Goodcunt. It takes Halliday months to craft a new puppet.
Halliday eventually worked his puppets into a “Hollywood Squares” style game show format:
“I was in a show in Reno and a producer suggested we do ‘Hollywood Squares’ since most of them are dead. If (audiences) don’t know who they are, they’ll still get the jokes. That’s why I pulled them out.”
After 17 years in Las Vegas, Halliday recently moved to Wilton Manors. Las Vegas was “a great place to work but a horrible place to live,” and the Island City’s burgeoning entertainment district was enticing.
“I thought, why don’t I just move here? It’s one of the last remaining oasis (sic) of gay culture. It used to be everywhere, but now there’s just little pockets here and there. This area still has some razzle dazzle,” Halliday explained.
Halliday will resurrect his game show—and the many dead icons—once a month on the fourth Thursday at Village Pub and has plans for other shows, including a two-man revue with local realtor Doug Blevins, another Virginian who performed with him for a time, several years ago.
Jerry Halliday and his world-famous puppets present “Celebrity Squares” on Thursday, Jan. 28 at 9:30 p.m. at Village Pub, 2283 Wilton Drive in Wilton Manors. There is no cover. For more information, go to VillagePubWM.com.