James Vernon's past is nothing to laugh at. The 55-year-old Clearwater resident battled heroin addiction for 18 years, spent two years homeless, went to prison twice and once tried to kill himself on a Houston street corner. And that was before he received second- and third-degree burns in a freak gas station accident. But after sobering up and becoming a comedian, Vernon has been able to squeeze jokes (and laughs) from his turbulent former life. He headlines a benefit show on March 24 at Coconuts Comedy Club in Clearwater.
"I've been shot, cut, beat and burned alive," Vernon says, referring to his seedy past. "I've lived in a cardboard box, and now I'm getting ready to move into a three-bedroom house."
Vernon got his start at the Comedy Workshop in Houston.
Vernon toured the United States from 1985 to 1993 performing alongside Jerry Seinfeld, Steve Harvey, Jay Leno and Bill Hicks. He's also appeared on Showtime and Black Entertainment Television.
After his 1993 burn accident, Vernon tried touring again, but gave it up to settle down in Clearwater.
In 2000, Vernon started Comics Reaching Out to raise money for various local charities. "My gift was God-given," he says. "What I do with it is my gift to God."
Vernon also teaches a four-hour class for the Clearwater Traffic School at Coconuts every other Saturday.