Jeff Foxworthy and Friends Bring The Funny
New NBC show competes all forms of comedy with an all-star panel of judges

By Lee Valentine Smith

Bring the Funny is a comedy competition show, scheduled to premiere this month on NBC. Hosted by comedian Amanda Seales, the series features an array of comedy acts performing for an audience in a bid to win $250,000.
Consisting of ten episodes, judges for the series include comic actor Kenan Thompson of Saturday Night Live, outspoken tastemaker Chrissy Teigen and Georgia-based comedian Jeff Foxworthy. Host Seales is also a busy comedian and social media presence and guides the show with the same hilarious authenticity she brings to her live performances.

Local favorite Foxworthy is always "that guy," the same easy-going, southern-fried social commentator he portrays on TV and in concert. Some comics turn off their persona voice for interviews, but Foxworthy is the same genuine southern gentleman pundit one would expect.

The phone rings and that unmistakable voice says…

How ya been?

Hanging in there, Jeff.

Like a hair in a biscuit?

And we're off.

Last time we talked, Bring The Funny was just a concept. Now it's ready to premiere.

Yeah, it was one of those things where they kept talking about it and talking about it. Then they had told me to keep February open because we're probably gonna shoot this in February. So I left February open and of course they didn't do it. Then I was way booked for shows in the month of April and of course, that's when they decided to film it. I think I had 2 1/2 weeks i was on 17 flights. I'd film, go get on Delta, fly to Bumbleweed, Kansas do a show, get back on the plane, fly back, film some more. It was crazy. But we filmed a lot of the early stuff. But like they do those shows, we'll do the finals live.

Usually by the interview stage, most or all of a show has wrapped. Where are you in the process?

Well, we are about three-quarters done. It's always weird when you do a TV project. When you do a stand-up thing, you know the comics. When we did Blue Collar TV, we'd all been buddies for years. But a lot of times when you do a TV thing, you're thown in with people you've never met. But with this, when my youngest daughter heard that it was me and Kenan Thompson and Chrissy Teigen, she panicked! She said, dad, Chrissy is so cool and you are an old fuddy-duddy. I'm worried that this is not gonna work. But Chrissy and I ended up hitting it off fabulously.

It looks like a friendly panel.

Oh, all three of us really hit it off. You never know, I've done it where it's the other way and you're like, oh this guy's a jerk. So that made it really fun. I think we were kinda sad we had to split up at the end of it.

So you all bonded.

We did! Kenan is exactly like you'd think he would be. Just chill, easy going. He can make you laugh without saying a word. But he knew sketch and I knew stand-up, and Chrissy knew that it either made her laugh or it didn't. Hers was the voice of the people, really.

Comedy is such a subjective thing, how do you "judge" what's funny?

Yeah, it's a little awkard for me to judge people. I would tell 'em that, too. I say that because I've been on the other end of the stick. But what makes Bring The Funny cool is, anytime you've seen a comedy competition, it's always stand-up.

But this show isn't all stand-up. Otherwise, that would be Last Comic Standing.

Exactly. That's been done. From the get-go, NBC said, 'There's a lot of ways to make people laugh,' so we had stand-up of course but we also had sketch groups, we had people with guitars, we had everything you can think of.

Did any act really stand out?

Well we had two guys who really reminded me of Tim Conway and Harvey Corman. And that was a real throw-back to what I grew up on. I think it was interesting to see young audiences look at that kind of comedy and it was totally new to them! And it was crackin' 'em up. I said, 'Oh man, I grew up on this.' I was like, 'Wow, everything old is new again.'

And everything TV is YOU again at this point. You're jumping back into television when you've already long ago made your point in the medium.

Yeah, I'm the guy who, twenty-five years ago said, 'I hate TV, I'm not ever doing this again.' But dad-gummit if I'm not back at it!

But this is a little different from any other project.

Yeah, when I look back, Blue Collar was sketch, then I didn't the sit-com, then the game show and now this is a competition. They're all different but I like that. When you're a creative person, different is what you want, simply as a challenge. It's like, 'Can I even do this?'

It must be exciting for you just as a new horizon.

Yeah, I was thinking about it the other day. I still love doing stand-up. But I've done two Showtime specials, two HBO specials, going on 40 Tonight Shows and the Blue Collar show and tours. There's not a whole lot in stand-up I haven't done. So whenever I can get outside of that it's always fun.

It must be interesting for you because when you came along, there weren't all these new platforms for comedy.

Oh my gosh, no. I don't know if that's good or bad, but it's sure different. If I was starting out today, I'd have to relearn how to start my career, because when I was going, most of my money came from albums and DVDs. Now nobody buys DVDs, nobody buys records. If I have a career accomplishment that I'm most proud of it's that I've sold more comedy records than anybody in history. My wife just pointed out that I'll probably have that record because nobody buys records anymore! I hadn't thought of that way. Now you walk out and every third person in the audience is holding up a phone, recording you. Anything I might say is on You Tube before I even get back to the hotel. But the new comics have figured out a way to make a living at it.

Pre-internet, comics could recycle an act for years.

Oh yeah! But even 30 years ago, Leno used to say, 'Why are you doing a record? Then you'll have to write new stuff?' Unlike music, people don't always want to hear the hits. They want the new stuff.

When you came along, open mics were the way to be seen.

That may still be the case because young people come up to me and go, how do I get started. There's no school for it, you just have to do it wherever you can. Do open mics, hang out with comics, they may know someone you don't know who has a club or a comedy night. That's how you become a comic, you just do it.

Television and specifically, the Tonight Show was the holy grail.

Oh yeah! Television is still a goal for many people, but my only goal when I started was to be on Johnny Carson. If you go through my house, you won't see platinum albums or posters on the wall. The only thing is, right off the kitchen in some little shelves, I've got an 8 x 10 of me sitting in the chair talking to Johnny. He has his mouth open, just gut-laughing. And that's all I ever wanted to do. I made him laugh.

So it was like, 'Ok well now what?'

I remember going home that night and lying in bed, staring at the ceiling and thinking, 'I have no plans now.' That was it. People told me it would take me ten years to be good enough to be on Johnny Carson. But I knew he wasn't going to be there for ten more years, so I just worked like a banshee. I was like, 'Ok if you say it'll take me ten years, then I'll do it in five.' So I finally did it in five years and two months. Pretty close, right? I did the show and the next week, the big hotels in 'Vegas were calling with offers. I was like, 'Well crap, I'm not any funnier now than I was last week, but OK!'

Bring The Funny premieres July 9 at 10 pm est on NBC. Host Amanda Sealed brings her Smart, Funny And Black Tour to the Tabernacle on Saturday, July 27.



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