Jeff Foxworthy has been friends with Larry the Cable Guy longer than there’s even been a Larry the Cable Guy.
“We met in 1986 [at] a little comedy club called The Comedy Corner,” recalls Foxworthy. “And the house emcee was this guy named Dan Whitney, [who later became] Larry the Cable Guy. And we just hit it off, night one.”
Bonding over a mutual love of the Atlanta Braves, coffee and donuts, the Blue Collar boys made a ritual of sneaking into the team’s Spring Training and watching their labors from the stands. “We had no money, so we’d literally loiter by the gates till the players showed up. Then we’d straggle around till the games [began]!”
The working-class jokesters are touring together for “the first time in a long time,” and are dropping by Houston for two shows on April 16.
After a string of shows in Las Vegas, Foxworthy only wanted to travel under one condition. “We owe it to our audience to go back, start from scratch and do nothing but new stuff,” Foxworthy says.
But the challenge of working up 50 minutes of new jokes was daunting, even for the veteran. “I remember when I started, [Jay] Leno liked to say: ‘Write one new minute a week.’ And I thought I could write 20 new minutes a week! But [Leno] was right. Even during those years when I was doing 500 shows a year, I might come up with 50 minutes, or an hour. The only way to get that much [new material] is to head to those little clubs, with 30 people, go up there with a handful of notecards and ask: ‘Is this one funny?’”
The Atlanta-born funnyman, known best for his “You Might Be A Redneck” one-liners, considers himself not just a comic but “a real lover of comedy.” Foxworthy was raised not only on stand-up but on variety fare such as The Carol Burnett Show, which influences his work still today. “My favorite part of [Carol Burnett] was when the cast could make each other laugh. In fact, I told Vicki Lawrence [years later] that [they were the ones] who made me want to do this. Because when you’re a comedian, and you do your job, YOU keep the straight face while everybody else laughs. But I always thought, people love to see comics laugh.”
Much like how their popular Blue Collar Comedy Tour series would end with the comedians onstage riffing together, Foxworthy’s performance with The Cable Guy will conclude with the twosome “on stools,” taking questions from the fans. “That’s the fun of the stools. You know which buttons to push, and people get to see us laughing at each other,” Foxworthy laughs. “[You] can tell we’re just buddies having fun.”
Even as a veteran comic, Foxworthy still finds his career in comedy “surreal,” saying: “I interviewed Carl Reiner a couple of months ago. [But] the whole time, I’m just thinking, ‘Holy Crap! I’m talking to Carl Reiner! You wrote for Mary Tyler Moore!’”
Reflecting on his early days in New York, the “total fish out of water” found a surprising friendship in a revered stand-up. “Rodney Dangerfield gave back as much as anybody could,” the 56-year-old reminisces.
“[Back then] I would do Catch A Rising Star, Comic Strip, Rodney’s Place – literally just trying to scrap together 20 bucks to eat. That night I did a set at Rodney’s, walked into the lobby and [Dangerfield] followed me out!”
Foxworthy, imitating the late Caddyshack star’s trademark side talk, says, “’Hey, kid, you’re reaaally funny. I’ma put you in my next special!’ And to think, he’d not only watch you, but want to do something for you. It was, just…wow.”
Foxworthy went on to appear on one of Dangerfield’s talent showcases, alongside Jerry Seinfeld, Sam Kinison, Roseanne and others: “It was a little bit like the Johnny Carson thing,” Foxworthy remarks. “When someone like that gives you their seal of approval, other people sit up and take notice.”
Since those early years, the best-selling author has gone on to publish books and calenders and to host a variety of game shows including Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader and The American Bible Challenge.
He’s also seen the rise of future household names like Ron White (“I saw the first show the man ever did”) and Chris Rock (I remember seeing Chris when he was in high school. He would have his backpack to do his homework”), as well as mourned the passing of talented peers, like Garry Shandling.
“Garry was really a nice guy, and especially kind to those who came after him,” Foxworthy remembers. "[We’re] sitting at the Comedy and Magic club greenroom: me, Shandling, Judd Apatow. [Shandling]’s hosting the American Music Awards and working out jokes. We’d throw in our ideas, and to see him use a couple of your jokes was so cool.”
Foxworthy also has fine memories of appearing on Shandling’s classic talk show satire The Larry Sanders Show. “[Sanders] was unique, ’cause it was the only show [of its kind] that had no script. Garry would just call you out and interview you, like it was The Tonight Show.”
That “totally off-the-cuff high-wire act” was part of the HBO series' appeal, says Foxworthy.
“One night,” he says, “Garry asks me: ‘So how much money have you made off those redneck books?’ [Then] he slides a notecard over to me and goes, ‘Write down the amount.’”
After Foxworthy obliged, the late comic looked to the audience and “screamed, ‘HOLY SHIT!’”
Full of stories, Foxworthy seems to treasure the relationships he’s formed with the generation ahead of him the most. Telling this story with such pride and polish, a zesty Foxworthy paints his audience a portrait.
“I remember one time living in L.A., Alan King was doing a book signing at someone’s house. [My wife and I] get out there to meet Alan King, and [he] says, ‘Go check out the backyard.’”
Upon entering, Foxworthy recalls viewing “the old guys' who's who of comedy,” including legends such as Sid Caesar, Milton Berle, Red Buttons, Shecky Greene and Buddy Hackett.
“I literally got to the door and [couldn’t breathe],” he says. “Buddy Hackett came up and said, ‘I love the stuff you do.’ And I’m thinking, Buddy Hackett knows who I am?
So we’re talking and Buddy asks, ‘Have you met Milton?’
‘Would you like to?’
So while Milton Berle, a pioneer of television, holds court among a murderers' row of funny faces, Hackett walks the young Foxworthy over to the crowd, yelling:
“‘Milton! I want you to meet Jeff Foxworthy!’
And Milton stops talking and goes: ‘Oh my God. I am a GIANT fan of your stand-up.’”
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Foxworthy, looking toward his feet, remembers answering with a skittish “Thank you so much, sir.”
To which Berle replies with a scream: "'NOT YOU. BUDDY HACKETT.’"
Foxworthy laughs, hard. “I’ll never forget that moment.”
5 p.m. 8 p.m. April 16 at Revention Music Center, 520 Texas. For information, call 713-260-1600 or visit reventionmusiccenter.com. $60.