Foxworthy gets last laughs at Ironstone

Gary Linehan, The Union Democrat

There's something funny about Jeff Foxworthy.

He's talented, rich and handsome, yet remains unspoiled by his enormous success as one of the world's top comedians.

"I wear jeans and cowboy boots and drive a truck, and I always have," he said by telephone from his home in Atlanta, Ga. "I require nothing, but it's fun to do stuff for other people."

Foxworthy - who wrapped up the 2012 Ironstone Vineyards concert series with a solo show Saturday night - has amassed an astonishing list of artistic and business accomplishments over his career of more than 25 years, yet nothing comes close to the rabid popularity of his "Redneck" jokes.

Born and raised in Atlanta, Foxworthy is well acquainted with the peculiarities of the South, yet he said he first realized he could make a living from those idiosyncrasies "totally by accident."

"I'd never been out of the South when I first started," he said. "When I started doing shows in L.A. and New York, people would always kid me that I was just an old redneck from Georgia.

"Then one of the places I played in Michigan was a bowling alley that had valet parking," he said. "I went back to the hotel and starting writing material on 'here's some ways to tell if you're a redneck.' The first night I tried it out, they not only laughed, but they were pointing at each other. That was in 1987."

The material was a bonanza waiting to be tapped.

"I wrote 10 at first, then I wrote 100, then 100 became 200, and then they became books and records," he said.

The jokes had another practical benefit.

"One liners are easier to remember and easier to retell and you can get a laugh with just one sentence," he said.

Professionally, they made his career.

His first book, "You Might Be a Redneck If…," was published in 1989. Later books include "The Redneck Dictionary" with two sequels, "Rednecks In College," "Redneck Extreme Mobile Home Makeover" and a cookbook titled "The Redneck Grill," as well as his autobiography, "No Shirt, No Shoes ... No Problem!"

He was named best stand-up comic at the 1990 American Comedy Awards.

Foxworthy released the first of his six solo albums, "You Might Be a Redneck If…," in 1993, selling more than 3 million copies.

He received Grammy nominations for best spoken comedy album in 1996 and 2001.

He also has a line of "Redneck" calendars, a line of greeting cards, his own line of beef jerky, a line of barbecue sauces and even the "Jeff Foxworthy You Might Be A Redneck If…" video slot machine in Nevada.

But there's more to Foxworthy than redneck jokes.

He has made several ventures into television - as star of the mid-1990s sitcom "The Jeff Foxworthy Show and the 2006 series "Foxworthy's Big Night Out," on "Blue Collar TV" with fellow comedians Bill Engvall and Larry the Cable Guy, on HBO and Showtime specials, and as host of the quiz show "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?"

Foxworthy hosted a nationally syndicated radio show called "The Foxworthy Countdown" from 1999 to 2009 and had his voice featured in the movies "Racing Stripes," "The Fox and the Hound 2" and "The Smurfs."

This month, he also began hosting a new television quiz show, "The American Bible Challenge," a position he was not inclined to accept.

"My first thought was 'No - I don't want to spend eternity in hell because God said you're they guy that did that game show,'" he recalled. "But the thing about this show is that nobody is playing for themselves - all the money goes to charity."

Foxworthy said his accomplishments in the entertainment world all stem "from fear of heavy lifting."

His endeavors also have paid off financially, although he said that's not the reason he got into the business.

"My goal when I started out was to make $100,000 a year, and we've beat that," he allowed. "The funny thing is I would have done it for free. I just like what I'm doing, especially the standup aspect of it. I think of standup as the top of the mountains."

Though he is widely known for his redneck jokes, Foxworthy's act goes beyond that to explore the humor in everyday family life and human nature.

"Everybody has a family and everybody's family is crazy, and that's why I have a job," he said.

Filling the stage alone for nearly two hours is no problem, he said.

"I've always written a lot," he said. "I'm only just getting warmed up in 20 minutes."

He noted that the difference between comedy and music is that "if you have five hit songs you can play them until you're 90, whereas if you do a Comedy Central or HBO special, people say where's the new stuff?

"But there comes a time when people want to hear some of that old stuff," he said. "They'll say 'Tell that story about the time you saw your grandmother naked' and I'll say 'Sure, just remind me how it starts.'"

Foxworthy and his wife, Pamela, have two daughters, Jordan and Juliane. He would not specify whether they were rednecks or not.

However, it's not necessary to be from the South to be a redneck, he said.

"Ten to 15 minutes outside of any big city you start finding rednecks," he said.

11880108
The Union Democrat
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