Regular Redneck

Regular guys don’t get into show business. They don’t perform on stage, have fans or gain celebrity status. Regular guys get regular jobs. That’s what one regular guy thought anyway, that is until he proved himself wrong.

Jeff Foxworthy was always a card, and grew up in the South making the other kids laugh in school. However, comedy was just a part of his personality, not a serious career pursuit.

“Well I think looking back, it was always my gift, to make people laugh,” Foxworthy said. “As a kid I would save my allowance and buy comedy records, like Cosby, Flip Wilson and Newhart. I’d memorize them, then go to school and do them and get in trouble. But I don’t think as a child it ever occurred to me that it was a possibility as a job. That was something somebody else did. I had to go work.”

And so, Foxworthy followed in his father’s footsteps, working for IBM. At the urging of his co-workers there, he entered a local comedy club contest one night.

“I was in my early 20s and I was working at IBM and a bunch of guys that I worked with used to go down to a local comedy club all the time and would come back and say, ‘Fox, you’re funnier than those people down there. You have to do this.’ So they entered me in a competition. And it wasn’t like an amateur night, it was for working comedians. It was called the Great Southeastern Laugh-off. So when they entered me, I’m like, ‘Oh crap, I have to write material!’ So I went and wrote 5 minutes about my family.

“That first night on stage I was scared to death, but I remember at like a minute and a half into it, I was like, ‘This is it. This is what I want to do the rest of my life.’ It was like finding your purpose. I won the contest and I met my wife the same night, same place, so it was one of the best nights of my life. I continued to work at IBM for another six months and I would just go up at amateur nights and at little clubs around town. But I had decided — I’m quitting my job, this is it. The crazy thing is, three and a half decades later, I still feel that way about it. I’m still fascinated by it, which makes me so, so lucky, because I don’t know a lot of people that love their jobs after 35 years.”

Bitten by the comedy bug, Foxworthy did leave IBM and started traveling the country finding work wherever he could and learning along the way how to become a better comic.

“I didn’t really care about TV and movies, I just wanted to be a good comic,” Foxworthy said. “So instead of doing New York and L.A., I decided I was just going to go everywhere I could work across the country. Eight years in a row I did 500 or more shows a year. It’s kind of like that Malcolm Gladwell theory, if you do something for 10,000 hours you get to be an expert at it. So to me, going up every night and twice on Friday-Saturday, I was getting better faster.”

Foxworthy was gaining experience and fans with every show, leaving him poised for a big breakthrough. Sticking to his plan to “talk about what you know,” a simple one-liner floated into his mind one day, which led to his signature punchline.

“Stumbling onto the ‘you might be a redneck’ stuff was a total accident,” he said. “I was just trying to make people laugh. I wasn’t city slick. I drove a pickup truck, I wore jeans and boots, always was talking about hunting and fishing, so everywhere I would go they’d kid me and say, ‘Foxworthy, you’re just an old redneck from Georgia.’ But as I was traveling the country, I figured out that wasn’t just a Georgia thing, it was everywhere.”

His “you might be a redneck if” jokes took off, spawning books, calendars and everything in between.

“They were one-liners, they were easy to remember and easy to retell,” he said. “My first book, the publisher thought we were going to sell 5,000 copies and we sold like 3 million. So that was a huge break.”

Just what was that first redneck joke that started the empire?

“I think it was, ‘If your mother keeps a spit cup on the ironing board,’” Foxworthy recalled. “I know that because, years after it started, I was cleaning out drawers in my office and I found the piece of yellow notebook paper that I had written the first 10 of them on. My wife framed it and put it on the wall by the front door. I said, ‘Oh my god, you’re framing a yellow piece of notebook paper?’ She laughed and said, ‘Yes, because it paid for the house!’”

Foxworthy is certainly a country boy to his roots, but does he consider himself a redneck?

“Yeah, my definition of it early on was a ‘glorious absence of sophistication,’” he explained. “I can definitely clean up. I can put on a tux and go to the White House. But left to my own devices, I’m either on a tractor or hunting or fishing or looking for arrowheads. So yeah I can do the other thing if I have to, but my default switch is almost always set to that.”

And that works for him. Foxworthy found a solid place in comedy, speaking hilarious truths to the average working class man and those of us who may lack a bit of sophistication. He built upon that momentum, by creating the Blue Collar Comedy Tour with a few of his friends that fell into that genre as well.

“I knew I wasn’t hip and cutting edge, but I knew from traveling the country, there were a lot of people like me,” Foxworthy said. “When the Kings of Comedy Tour first started, Atlanta was one of their first stops and there was an article in the paper saying it was a show for ‘the urban, hip audience.’ Reading the article, I kind of laughed and said, ‘Man, that leaves a lot of people out.’ So I called Bill Engvall and I said, ‘We need to do a tour for everybody who is not urban or hip.’ He laughed and said, ‘What would you call it?’ I said, ‘Heck, I don’t know, call it the Blue Collar Comedy Tour.’ So that’s how that all started.”

Comedians Ron White and Larry the Cable Guy rounded out the foursome on tour.

“We all blocked three months to do this thing and the first night I think we had 9,000 people and got a standing ovation,” Foxworthy said. “We all looked at each other and went, ‘Oh my god, what have we stumbled upon?’ That first tour ended up being three years — we went everywhere there was to go. It was so fun, because the only negative thing I’ve ever found about being a comic is being on the road by yourself, so doing something like that, I wasn’t by myself, I was with my buddies. We’d kind of look at each other and go, ‘Can you believe we get paid for this? This is the most fun thing I’ve ever done!’”

Foxworthy is most remembered by his redneck jokes, however they aren’t the focus of his act. He considers himself a storyteller, sharing observations that he knows his audience will relate with. In his latest Netflix special released in March, called “The Good Old Days,” he talks about that undefined time frame that elders seem to mention quite often.

“My father in law, like a lot of old people, he hates everything there is today, and talks about how much better things used to be in ‘the good old days,’” Foxworthy said. “One day I pulled out a notebook and said, ‘What exactly are the good old days? And if they were so good, why did people bust their hump to create new things to make life easier?’ So during COVID I certainly had the time to take a look at it and go, ‘OK this is what it was like when I was a kid and this is what it’s like now.’ Like most things, there’s things that are better now, and there were things that were better then.

“Once I was able to get back in the clubs and start playing with it, I realized it was kind of generational material. Because I’d do one thing and the older people would laugh and I’d come back to the other side and the younger people would laugh. It was kind of fun. It was a little bit like a ping-pong match. I was trying to make people look at their own lives and laugh.”

He will bring a bit of that generational humor to Laughlin when he stops at the Edgewater’s E Center, Saturday, July 30. He keeps his show clean, so everyone can enjoy together.

“I think that’s why the Blue Collar Comedy Tour was so successful, because you didn’t have to turn it off if your grandparents walked in the room,” Foxworthy said. “It’s funny, sometimes people will say, ‘Oh you’re clean.’ And to me, there’s always that implication that means not as funny. But there’s people like Seinfeld and Leno and Jim Gaffigan and Brian Regan, who are also clean, and they’re as funny as anyone out there. And you can still talk about almost any subject, including sex, you just don’t have to say it. You give people a little credit for having an imagination. And sometimes it’s even funnier that way. To me that’s part of the art of writing, ‘How do I say this, without saying it?’ That’s the challenge and the fun of it.”

That smart wit has served Foxworthy well. He’s done just about everything from television, movies and radio to game-show host and author. He even creates comical board games, such as his family-friendly take on “Cards Against Humanity.” His version is called “Relative Insanity,” and he wrote every line on every card in the game.

“Every year on Thanksgiving we have like 30 people — all my aunts, uncles, cousins — we do it at my farm,” he said. “So all the kids are sitting there playing ‘Cards Against Humanity,’ and I said, ‘Oh my god, you can’t play that with your aunts, uncles and grandma in the room. Somebody is going to have a heart attack!’ I immediately thought, there’s got to be a way to play a funny game, where it’s not vulgar. I went and wrote 500 punchlines, just things that sound funny, like “I have mold in my crawlspace,’ which sounds funny, but you don’t even necessarily know what it means. Then I wrote 100 setups all about relatives, like ‘Right before we walked down the aisle, my father leaned over to me and whispered blank.’ Everybody has seven punchlines and they just throw down the one they think is going to get the biggest laugh. You can play it with anybody. There’s innuendo in it, but there’s nothing dirty.”

Foxworthy enjoys all of his different endeavors, but the stage is still his sweet spot.

“I’ve been blessed to do a lot of different things, whether it was ‘Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader’ or ‘Blue Collar TV,’ or doing voiceovers in movies or games,” he said. “I appreciate that, because I’ve never gotten bored. It’s fun to try something different. But if somebody put a gun to my head and said, ‘You’ve got to pick one.’ Still to this day I wouldn’t hesitate — it would be standup. I just love the intimacy of looking people in the face and when you tell a joke you see people start elbowing the person next to them or point down the row. There’s nothing else like it. It’s a pretty stinkin’ cool way to make a living.”