In 1984, the first time Jeff Foxworthy took the stage at an Atlanta comedy club, he proceeded — without any reservations whatsoever — to tell the audience about his father’s habit of trimming his toenails and leaving them in an ashtray for all to see. Sixteen years later, he says he still possesses this “glorious absence of sophistication,” but now he knows why — he’s a redneck.
He arrived at this conclusion in 1988 with the help of his comic cronies, who used to tease him about his thick, Southern drawl. “The whole thing started because of my accent,” he says. “When I started doing comedy, I left the South and started travelling to New York and Chicago. They [other comics] would kid me, and it would always be good-natured, but they’d say, ‘Foxworthy, you’re nothing but an old redneck from Georgia.'”
One evening in Detroit, after the usual redneck ribbing, Foxworthy noticed the bowling alley had valet parking. “I said, ‘I may be a redneck, but I’m not alone. They have them here, too, because if that’s not redneck I don’t know what is.’ ”
Inspired by this revelation, Foxworthy wrote the first you-might-be-a-redneck test and administered it to his audience the following night. The results revealed what he’d suspected — there were rednecks all over the place. “Anyone can be a redneck.” he insists. “It doesn’t matter where you live or how much money you’ve got.”
You-might-be-a-redneck one-liners became the hallmark of Foxworthy’s comedy routines, and by the time his first CD, aptly titled You Might Be a Redneck If … hit the market, hundreds of thousands of rednecks came out of the closet to buy it.
“It was like a fairy tale,” he says of the buying frenzy surrounding the album. “The first meeting I had with Warner Brothers over the record, I asked, ‘How many do you think we’ll sell?’ They said, ‘Listen, if we sell 100,000, we’ll be throwing confetti.’ Well, we sold 100,000, then we sold 200,000.” In the years following, Foxworthy’s career has maintained momentum. Tuesday, he’ll release Big Funny, his fifth album overall and his first for DreamWorks after a series of best-sellers for Warner Bros. including his debut, which eventually sold more than 3 million copies. On June 15, for the third consecutive year, he’ll host Country Weekly Presents the TNN Music Awards.
Foxworthy admits to being astounded by the success of his CDs, since comedy does not have the same outlets for exposure that music does. “If you record a song and you have it playing on the radio, people hear it and decide they want that song, so they go out and buy the album. It doesn’t happen that way with comedy. Someone has to buy the album and when there’s someone riding in their car they’ll say, ‘Hey, listen to this.’ It’s such a word-of-mouth thing. Then, that person will say, ‘Hey, I want that CD.’ It’s almost like an Amway thing. You tell two people, I’ll tell two people.”
He’s left the $20 per night gigs way behind now. Information supplied by his record company suggests he now ranks as the largest selling comedy-recording artist in history. He still sounds like an old redneck from Georgia, a peculiarity that only endears him to the vast audience that looks to him for affirmation that they don’t have to be among the movers and the shakers to have a meaningful life.
Foxworthy will continue to administer the redneck tests this spring as he traipses across the country as part of The Blue Collar Tour, which also features fellow comedians Ron White, Craig Hawksley and Bill Engvall.
“Actually it’s just an excuse for us to work together,” he laughingly admits. “Bill [Engvall] and I have known each other for years from doing the comedy circuit, but we never get to see each other anymore and we missed each other. I was talking with him about how last year there were four guys who went out and did this Kings of Comedy thing. It was four black guys that did like a Def Comedy Jam thing and it turned out to be a real successful tour. It was a kind of hip, urban thing. I jokingly said to Bill last summer, ‘We should do a tour that’s not hip for people that aren’t hip and don’t really want to be. We’ll make it The Blue Collar Tour. We laughed and talked about it some more and decided, ‘There’s a market for this!’ The response has been really great — it just works because we’re four regular guys out there talking about everyday things.”
On the tour, Foxworthy uses fresh material from his new album, Big Funny, due out Tuesday, April 25 and delves into the world of NASCAR, matrimony, parenting and the ferocious, nipple-biting beaver. As an added attraction, Foxworthy and Engvall team up with country crooner Marty Stuart on the single, “Blue Collar Dollar.”
“It’s funny,” Foxworthy says, “but the older I get and look back on my life, the more I realize it [that I’m a redneck]. I just took somebody to show them where I grew up. It’s still a dirt yard, and I remembered how there used to be an upside-down sink in the back yard where my granddaddy used to keep crickets so we could fish. I thought, ‘Oh, my God — we were really rednecks!’
“It was great growing up that way,” Foxworthy continues, “and I wouldn’t change a bit of it. I didn’t realize at the time that we didn’t have a lot or that we were rednecks, I just remember a great childhood.”
That’s the legacy he wants his daughters, 6-year-old Juliane and 8-year-old Jordan to inherit from him — the wisdom to cherish the things money can’t buy. “I want them to realize what it is in life that makes them happy, and that what’s really important is not the kind of house you live in or how much money you have, but it’s your family and friends. If I couldn’t teach them anything else, that’s what I’d like to teach them.”
Foxworthy will take a small break from The Blue Collar Tour to host Country Weekly Presents the TNN Music Awards. The special will air from the Gaylord Entertainment Center in Nashville. The fact that it will be a live telecast makes the event especially challenging to emcee. “My wife thinks I’m crazy for doing it because it’s almost a no-win deal,” Foxworthy explains. “Something always goes wrong. You rehearse and rehearse and you think you’ve got it all down, then 30 seconds into the start of the show somebody’s mic chord gets cut during a set change. So, you throw your script into the garbage and you’re off to the races!”
He’s the first to admit, however, that his love for country music and the people in it keeps him coming back. “When you see some of the stuff that goes on behind the scenes and some of the people they’ve helped — I just love hanging around them.”