From The Top Of 'Redneck Mount Everest'
Jeff Foxworthy Makes Connection Between Down-Home Comedy & Southermn Rock
A conversation with Jeff Foxworthy is like reconnecting with an old friend or a favorite college roommate. And if you both love music and dissecting the art of stand-up comedy, the dialog might last a while.
Foxworthy is always juggling a myriad of projects - an ever-expanding array of television shows, cable specials, books, games, outdoor gear and a channel on Sirius radio. Yet his first love remains his live performances featuring family-friendly, down-home storytelling and of course a few "You might be a redneck" one-liners.
Calling from his farm just outside of Atlanta, the affable comic had just stepped off his tractor for a freewheeling conversation with INsite.
Before you called, I checked out your Twitter feed and I see that you're a big fan of southern rock and Lynyrd Skynyrd in particular.
Oh yeah, I can't sing a lick, but I love it. I grew up with it and I've been able to meet a lot of those guys. With Skynyrd, one night we were doin' a thing in Austin, Texas and my wife and I were standing on the side of the stage. They were getting ready to wrap it up and Johnny [Van Zant] came over and said, 'Hey, when we do Freebird, you and your wife grab that American flag and come stand behind me and hold it up.' So my wife and I were holdin' up the flag behind Johnny while he's singin' Freebird! I looked at her and I said, 'This has got to be the top of the redneck Mount Everest right here.'
That covers about every bit of the redneck spectrum. But it also solidifies the connection between comedy and music.
I don't know that I've ever met a comic that didn't want to be a musician. See, I think every comic is a comic because we can't sing or play anything. But you know, Larry [the Cable Guy] and I were talking one day about this; I said, 'Comedy and music are kind of the same thing.' And he goes, 'Well food kinda is, too.' So we did these shows a while back where we brought food trucks in and we had me, Larry, The Marshall Tucker Band and Foghat. We would just alternate. Comedy then music and then comedy and music. And it was so much fun! And Larry and I got to go on stage and sing "Slow Ride," so we were happy as pigs in sunshine.
I noticed Larry did some shows with Styx a while back, too.
Oh yeah, he's buddies with Tommy [Shaw] and a couple of those guys. But you're right, comics and musicians always get along. I think musicians - for the most part - have no idea what to say between songs. Other than like, 'Thank you, and now here's Runnin' On Empty,' you know? But comics are like, 'I can handle the between-song stuff, it's the songs I can't do!'
Growing up in the '70s, I could listen to tracks on comedy records as if they were songs, because spoken word has the same rhythm, pacing and hooks as a great piece of music.
I'm exactly the same way! I always tell my musician friends, 'You can have four big hit songs and people will always come to hear those hits.' They might like the new songs, but they come for the songs they know. But comedy is the opposite. It's like every time I'd do an album or special, people were like, 'Well, what have you got that's new?' But I grew up listening to Cosby and Newhart and then Carlin and Pryor and all that. So yeah, I'm like you. I remember watching Calin one night in a little club working on new stuff. I'm in the back of the room, hopin' he does the 'Seven Words,' you know? Even though I knew it by heart, I wanted to hear him do it. Sometimes I'll look back at some of my own old stuff and go, 'Dadgum man, that was funny! Maybe I should bring that back out.' Then sometimes people will come backstage and go, 'Can you tell that one about the guy who saw his grandma nekkid?' But I'm like, 'I can't even remember how that one goes!' Because my brain only holds so much stuff at one time.
For this leg of the tour, are you doing all-new material? Or will you include some old favorites for the fans?
This time around, it's probably half and half. Larry and I did a special last year on Netflix and a bunch of people saw it - but a bunch of people didn't see it. So I'm like, 'Well ok, maybe I'll pick my favorite thing from that one. And then maybe a bit that I did from two specials ago.' I'll mix all of that with new stuff and we'll kinda try to cover all the bases because I'm constantly writing new material.
Do you consider this to be a new tour?
Well I think 'touring' implies that something stops. I just like to say I've been 'on tour' since 1984! I'm pretty much always out there.
Are local shows still a sort of a homecoming for you?
I try to do Atlanta every two or three years maybe, but when people hear I'm playing there, sometimes they'll go, 'Oh you must be excited that you have a big show.' I'm like, 'Well actually I've got 22 big shows between now and then!' They're in Minneapolis and Chicago and wherever, but it's always a treat to play at home.
Do you think this leg of the never-ending tour will become the basis of a new special?
You know what's funny, Lee? I think the last three times I've done a special, I'd go, 'All right, this is my last one.' But then I'll keep writing stuff. The last time Netflix called, they go, 'Hey, one of our executives saw your show in San Diego and we want to film it.' I'm like, 'Well ok, I guess.' So I've gotten to the point where I never say never no to anything.
But you have plenty of new projects on hand as it is.
I do. I'm gettin' ready to film this new thing for NBC in April by the people who did The Voice but it's about comedy, called Bring The Funny. I think it could be really cool.
So it's not another Last Comic Standing?
Yeah because this time it's not just stand-up. Comedy comes in a lot of bodies. I know, even from my career, it's not just books, or calendars or coffee mugs or whatever. The Blue Collar show was all sketch comedy. There are so many ways to do it, this show will be about approaching comedy in every form there is. Lord knows, this country needs a laugh right now!
It's such a volatile time for the arts in general, especially comedy. Everyone is on edge.
You're right and for a stand-up, it's so hard knowing that anything you might want to talk about, somebody is gonna get upset about it. You could be talking about a bathroom sink and somebody will go, 'Well, my uncle got killed by a bathroom sink and I'm offended by that.' I'm like, 'Really?!'
More than ever before, people are triggered about everything.
Yes! I had a woman write me a year or so ago. She said, 'I've been a fan of yours for twenty-five years and then I heard you do a bit about a woman with a big butt. And I have a big butt and so I'm not gonna listen to youÂ anymore.'
That's such a self-centered view.
I thought, 'Well OK, you've heard me make fun of myself, my wife, my kids, my mother, my mother-in-law, but that's all fine, but as soon as something applies to you, you have no sense of humor.'
But part of a comic's duty is to tell the truth.
Yes, I agree. We live in a world where everyone is screaming for tolerance and diversity, but if you don't vote or think like they do, they want to crucify you. But that's neither tolerant or diverse! That's everybody looking and thinking the same way, which is boring as hell.
So coming from somewhere in the middle ground, a comic can diplomatically unify an audience.
It's not easy. But I try to always remember that everyone is going through a struggle of some kind. Financial, emotional, physical or something. I don't think laughter makes the struggle go away, but laughter is the release valve that keeps the boiler from exploding. You've gotta let off a little steam and then you can go back and deal with the struggle again.
Jeff Foxworthy performs at 8 p.m. on Friday, March 15 and Saturday, March 16 at Cobb Energy Center. For more information, please visit cobbenergycentre.com