BRANSON, Mo. —
Gary Presley said he doesn't remember much about the first time he performed on stage as a comedian.
"The family was doing a radio show in Springfield back in 1962 and they needed somebody to play comedy," said the seasoned stage veteran. "I did, and I've been doing it ever since. I'd get a few laughs and say a little something funny and get a few more laughs. It just grew from there."
More than 50 years later and with thousands of stage, radio and television shows under his belt, Presley said he does remember the day his stage name, Herkimer, was coined.
"Lloyd Evans, a radio announcer, gave me that name," he said. "I didn't come up with it. He just put that name on me. He used to be an announcer for the Carter Family Show back in the '40s and '50s. June Carter, who was Johnny Cash's wife, had a song out called ÔHerkimer the Bull.' I'm sure that's where it came from."
The strange name stuck.
Now, Presley takes the stage six days a week as Herkimer, the clever and funny hillbilly who always seems to come out on top of the situation at hand. Gary, his brother, Steve, and Presley's three sons and a cadre of other family members and talented entertainers, draw crowds to "Presleys' Country Jubilee," one of Branson's heritage shows.
The family is billed as "Branson's First Family of Entertainment." Gary Presley shares the comedy spotlight with his son and grandson.
"I have three sons in the show," he said. "Eric (whose on-stage character is named Cecil) is my youngest son. Greg, who plays harmonica, is my middle son and Scott, who plays lead guitar and does vocals, is my oldest son. I have a grandson named Ben and he plays Little Cecil. We don't try to push them on the stage too much. Just enough to add a little flavor to the show."
Eric is dad Herkimer's comedy sidekick. Presley said he has watched his son's talents develop since his first appearances as a 3-year-old and has watched Eric's natural humor grow.
"Working with Eric on comedy is just so much fun. He'll come up with an idea and it just goes from there," he said. "I can see him more relaxed all the time. He's always been funny. Even when he was a little kid he was funny. He's a natural."
Presley said the key to being a good comedian is simple. Riding the wave of audience laughter and reading their reaction is important.
"It's knowing what's funny and what's not working and knowing when to get off the stage," said Presley. "It's true. You got to know when to leave before you die out there."