Jerry Peterson was born on February 7, 1956 in Royal Oak, Michigan, the second son of Robert and Miriam Peterson. Peterson grew up in the western suburbs of Wayne County and also spent time in Florida, with his mother, after his parents' divorce in 1968. Peterson graduated from Northville High School in 1974 and briefly attended Oakland Community College and Western Michigan University. He was then accepted to the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts, in 1977, where he began immersing himself in the Los Angeles punk rock scene.
Peterson moved back to Detroit in 1978 and formed a punk band called the Boners. The same year, with a fellow Northville High School graduate and friend, Paul Zimmerman, the pair started a magazine, White Noise, to document the punk scene in Detroit between 1978 and 1980. It was during this time that Jerry Peterson assumed his pseudonym, Jerry Vile. The Boners became well known for their elaborate stage performances at Detroit's Bookie's Club 870, in which Vile would parody many pop culture figures including the 1950s television show The Honeymooners and the 1960s Flying Nun . During the 1980s Vile formed other punk rock bands including the Big Time County Orchestra, Jerry Vile and the Martini Set, and 52 Devil Babies Born with Tails.
In 1986, Jerry Peterson launched a new publication called Fun: The Magazine for Swinging Intelectuals [sic], upon the persistent recommendations of friend "Sailor Rick" Metcalf. Fun, as it was referred to, was a nascent new form of media known as the free humor magazine. It featured cartoons, parody "news" articles, and eye-catching design and graphics. Fun ceased publication in 1990 and was succeeded by Peterson's longest running publication, Orbit (1990-1999).
Peterson's goal for this new publication was to appeal to a wider audience and move away from the leftist political focus of many other alt-weekly magazines. Instead Orbit focused on Detroit's art, culture, humor, and entertainment scenes. Orbit was published bi-weekly until June 1993, when it became monthly, until it ceased publication in 1999. Peterson went on to other publishing ventures including Real Detroit Weekly, with business partner John Badanjek, and one-off guides to Detroit.
In 1998, Jerry Vile created and organized The Dirty Show, an annual erotic art exhibition. The Dirty Show, perhaps Vile's most well-known achievement, features Detroit and international artists’ erotic and sexual art, and has been franchised to other U.S. and international cities.
Jerry Peterson, aka Jerry Vile, is an accomplished artist, performer, and publisher. He credits the glitter music scene of the early 1970s, Iggy Pop & The Stooges, David Bowie, John Waters, and National Lampoon magazine as major influences on his provocative style. Peterson is also a distinctly Detroit artist; in 2013 he created a street art piece titled "Crisco Fist (the Vessel of Hope)" and did a series of city-wide installations during the Detroit bankruptcy that brought him international attention.