By Jeff Maisey
As a comedian, Jeff Foxworthy has about done it all — 26 best-selling books, comedy-recording artist, radio, television, movies. He’s even been the voice of Handy in the animated film “The Smurfs.”
What Foxworthy is best known for, however, are his redneck jokes both as a solo standup comedian and as part of the legendary funnymen of the Blue Collar Comedy Tour, co-staring with Larry the Cable Guy, Ron White and Bill Engvall.
Foxworthy recently called me from his home in Atlanta to chew the fat. Here’s an excerpt.
If you were a rock musician you could tour for endless years playing the greatest hits. As a comedian it’s different in that you can’t simply tell the same jokes year after year. How do you keep coming up with fresh material after more than 20 years?
You know what, Jeff, I don’t go looking for material. I talk about my life.
I told somebody a while back, “If you go listen to a CD or watch a special of me it’s almost always a snapshot of what was going on in my life that year.”
You know 35 years ago I was talking about dating. Then I talked about being a newlywed. Then I talked about being a new dad and my wife going through pregnancy.
I tell my musician friends, “Heck, you write four hits and you can play ’til your 90s. People come to hear those songs.”
With a comic once you do a special or an album it takes a year of hard work to write an hour of standup. Once you do it you’ve just given up a year of your life.
Leno never did an album. Leno never did a special. He would always say to me, (impersonating) “Why do you do that? You just keep writing this stuff all the time.”
When I look back I did, like, seven or eight albums, two HBO specials, Showtime specials, 35 Tonight Shows, three Blue Collar Tour movies.
If you ever sat down and looked at it that’s a lot of material. Because I do that I don’t have to pickup heavy stuff for a living. To me it’s a fair trade.
Since the material is about what’s going on in your life, what are some of the things you’ve experienced in the last year that you are incorporating into your October appearances at Ferguson Center?
I’ve reached that stage where we’re empty-nesters. I talk about that.
You know, they lie to you — like the financial planning commercials. They show you that if you get your kids raised and through college…then they show the man and woman on the smooth lake in the sailboat. That’s a lie because once you quit taking care of your children you start taking care of your parents. I swear to God they passed each other in the driveway.
So I’m like, what happened to the smooth lake and the sailboat?
The people in my audience are going through the same thing.
I read in one of the airline magazine where this lady tried to teach other women how to pack for a 10-day trip using only a carry-on suitcase. I soon as I read that paragraph I said that’s a 15-minute bit because my wife couldn’t pack for a nudest colony in a carry-on suitcase.
It’s just talking about my life.
Do you keep up with current trends and technology and incorporate that into your standup routine?
My mom, her flip phone broke this summer, which was answered prayer. We got her an iPhone.
If you give me a choice between teaching my mother how to text or teaching my dog how to wipe his butt, I’d have to seriously think about which one I would rather do. I talk about that and the fact that our parents can’t text and our children can’t write. That’s where we are technology-wise.
The young people don’t think you even need to study anything because if you need to know something you just Google it.
I talk quite a bit about the things in life that you can’t Google. The audience appreciates that stuff.
And TVs aren’t TVs anymore, they’re monitors that require apps to function, right?
Yeah, what the heck?
Nobody knows how to read a map. If you gave my kids a map they would be lost — wouldn’t know how to get somewhere.
That’s the world we live in.
Are politics and whoever happens to be president at the moment off limits for your standup material?
For a lot of comics they aren’t, but for me they are. That’s because I feel like my job is to make everybody laugh.
My friends that do political humor — half the audience hate them.
You know we’re probably as politically divided as any time I can remember in my life. But, human beings are human beings, and I think if you took people from opposite poles politically and just sat with them and talked I bet we would agree on 85 percent of things. So, that’s the part I go after; not how are we different. I go after how are we alike.
How do you prepare for a solo show compared to when you’re touring with Larry the Cable Guy?
Once I’m there (venue) I like doing time. That would be the only negative of doing something like Blue Collar or with Larry. You know we were out all last summer together, but when you do that I only had 45 minutes. To me 45 minutes…I’m not even getting started.
So there was always that frustration where, man, I’m just getting warmed up and I’ve got to say goodnight.
For me, when I’m by myself, to have the opportunity to do and hour-and-a-half that’s much more fun. That goes by in the blink of an eye.
The plus of working with Larry or doing Blue Collar is you’re not by yourself on the road. You’re with your friends.
Creatively it tend to write more when I’m not by myself, because you’ll be sitting around at lunch and you just start talking about things and material grows from that.
What’s next for Jeff Foxworthy? Do you have any new projects coming up in the next year or so, or are you just happy being on the road doing the standup routine?
Both. I’ve been fairly lucky in that I’ve gotten to do a ton of different things, so creatively it’s always interesting, whether its writing a children’s book or hosting a game show. I’m never bored creatively, but I think I’m one of the strange comedians in that the reason I got into it wasn’t as a springboard to do TV or movies. That was a byproduct of it and I enjoyed that, but I got into it to be a comedian. And there’s a few of us. Leno’s like that. Seinfeld’s like that. People like Brian Regan and Jim Gaffigan — they’re standup comics.
If you put a gun to my head and said you can do only one thing I wouldn’t even have to think about it. I’d go, standup. That’s who I am. I’m a standup comic, and so the rest of the stuff is gravy.
I’ve always drawn. I’ve got maybe thousands of drawings. I’ll see somebody in the airport and I’ll sketch ‘em out real quick on a pad, then get on a plane, pull out a pen. I like drawing people in pen and ink. Then I’ll put a funny caption on them.
That’s something nobody would know about me. I have books and books and books of things like that.
My wife says you would implode if you couldn’t do something creatively.
For my final question, Jeff, I’ll kind of put you on the spot. Off the top of your head, fill in the blank: You might be a redneck if…..
Oh, my gosh.
I couldn’t pick between them. It’s like picking between your children. It would be like a Sophie’s Choice kind of thing.
What I learned about those real early on was that it wasn’t the ones you made up it was the true ones that always got the biggest laughs.
One of my all-time favorites would be, if you’re son is named Dale Jr and you’re name’s not Dale, you might be a redneck. That made me laugh when I wrote it.
I’ve got the thing on my wall. My wife framed it. It’s a piece of yellow notebook paper with my handwriting on it.
I think the very first one I wrote was, if your mother keeps a spit-cup on the ironing board, you might be a redneck.
I never knew when I wrote that on a piece of paper it was going to be a book, calendar or a T-shirt or a template for other jokes.
Everywhere I go people give me a think, like, you might be from Minnesota if…or you might be an airline pilot if. So it became a template to write jokes.
I am so thankful because it gave a way for people to remember who I was.
And that is your greatest hit, I imagine.
Yeah, it probably is. Every night I kind of close with that.
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