Foxworthy Remembers the Early Days of Blue Collar Comedy (Part 1 of 2)

TV Star Will Host CMT Music Awards on Monday (April 11)

If you can quote at least two Jeff Foxworthy jokes, you might be a redneck. Either that or you’ve been listening to his evergreen comedy albums, reading his bestselling books or watching his side-splitting Blue Collar Comedy television series and film. In the first part of this two-part exclusive interview with CMT Insider, the witty Georgia comedian visits with Katie Cook about rehearsing for his sketch comedy series, the soon-to-be-famous kids from his sitcom and why he’ll never quit stand-up comedy.

CMT Insider Special Edition: Jeff Foxworthy will debut Saturday (April 9) at 4 p.m. ET/PT.

Katie Cook: How did the Blue Collar Comedy tour come about?

Jeff Foxworthy: I was reading a thing in the paper the weekend that the Kings of Comedy thing came out, and it said it was a show for the urban, hip audience. And I called Bill [Engvall] up, and I said, “You know what? This leaves a lot of people out.” And so I said, “We should do a tour for everybody else.” … And of course, we’ve been friends with Ron [White] and Larry [the Cable Guy] for 20 years now. So we were going to do it for four months. We had no idea if it would work or not. I said, “We’ll all go out and do stand up, and then we’ll just bring four stools out, and we’ll try to make each other laugh.” Well, the first night we were in Omaha and there were 9,000 people sitting out there. You have no idea if it’s going to work or not, and you couldn’t rehearse it. And we got to the end of the first night and said goodnight, and 9,000 people stood up. We were like, “Hey, we’re onto something.”

So you really didn’t do a lot of rehearsal? It just flows so beautifully.

We’ve just known each other so long, and you couldn’t rehearse the end. It was either going to be OK or it wasn’t. But we knew two or three weeks into doing it, none of us wanted to stop. The only bad thing about being a stand-up is you’re on the road by yourself all the time. This was being on the road with three of your best friends. So, four months turned into three and a-half years.

Were you surprised at all by that huge response?

Yeah. It’s one of those special little moments in life where one plus one equaled five –something about bringing that group together was better than the sum of everybody individually. Somebody said it’s almost like a Rat Pack thing, and I said, “Well, it is in that everybody was headlining on his own, but you come together, and it’s just funnier somehow. I don’t know.

Then, of course, the movies were the next obvious step.

Warner Bros. decided to film it as a movie, and they aired it on Comedy Central, and it was the highest-rated movie they had ever done, which was kind of how the TV thing came about. … You know I had no desire to do TV again. I had done the sitcom thing, and I’ve been blessed that I got to do a lot of different things. That was probably the least enjoyable one I had ever done. After it was over, we moved back to Atlanta, and I was really content taking my kids to school, doing stand-up on the weekend and, for the last five or six years, doing the countdown show on the radio.

Because of the numbers that the movie did, I kept getting phone calls. People said, “Would you do a TV show? Would you do another one?” I said, “I’m not interested.” And the WB just kept coming back with it and said, “You wouldn’t do it under any circumstances?” I said, “Yeah, I’ll do it if you’ll shoot it in Atlanta and let me take my kids to school.” And I thought there’s no way that they’re going to agree to this. My wife was like, “Please don’t do another TV show.” I said, “They won’t do a TV show in Atlanta.”

They came back and said, “Sure. We’ll do it that way.” And you know what? I’ve had a ball doing it. I had no idea I would like doing it this much. I thought I hated acting. I just hated acting like somebody thought Jeff Foxworthy ought to act. And this is sketch. If I walk in there and say, “Hey, I want to weigh 300 pounds and be bald and have Elvis sideburns,” they’re like, “Yeah, let’s do that.”

How long does it take to put the whole show together, including the writing? You’ve got to have some rehearsals.

We start writing a couple of months ahead of time. That’s the fun thing about this. It is freed up enough that if somebody comes in and says, “Let me tell you what happened to me this morning,” we may write that out and do that that week. We do a few pre-tapes in L.A., but when we go to shoot it live, we rehearse one day and then shoot it the next. Rehearse one day. Shoot it the next. And we don’t actually shoot it as one show. We shoot two or three shows in a night. To me, that’s what keeps it fun. It’s dangerous because you really don’t know the whole script and you’re running back and forth changing between all these characters. But there’s something within stand-up, I think, if you over-rehearse things, it’s not funny anymore.

You mentioned The Jeff Foxworthy Show earlier and said you didn’t really have that much fun with that.

I loved the people that were on it. My two television kids were Haley Joel Osment and Jonathan Lipnicki. Somebody was asking the other day, “When y’all did that show, did Haley ever say ’I see dead people’?” And I said, “No, he just said, ’I see bad actors.'” (laughs) But we had fun because then we went from ABC to NBC somehow. They were like, “All we want to do is keep you and Haley. The rest of the show, you can bring in new people.” They wanted to change the wife. That was my favorite ad for that because Haley and I were sitting on the couch, and he goes, “Dad, when we get to NBC, what’s our show going to be like?” And I said, “Oh, it’s the same heartwarming family show that it’s always been.” He said, “Where’s Mom?” I said, “Oh, she’s being recast.” (laughs)

But it was fun. Then Bill [Engvall] came along in year two at the point the show started getting better. They wouldn’t let me in the writing room for the first year or so. I didn’t really feel like it was The Jeff Foxworthy Show. It was what somebody else thought Jeff was. You know, that’s my fault. I should have stood up for myself. You don’t know any better. And about the time it started getting good, they canceled it and that was fine with me. I had been in L.A. for eight years.

Really? You had just had enough?

Well, I had to go out there originally. I was headlining every comedy club in the country, and I couldn’t get on TV. I’d sent tapes to The Tonight Show and HBO, and they wouldn’t even open them. They would mail them back to Georgia. My wife said, “You’re never going to know unless we go out there.” We went to L.A. Five weeks after we were there, I was on Johnny Carson.

Didn’t you audition for a movie where they wanted to have you play the classic redneck role?

That’s when I thought I was going to be in L.A. for about a week. They called me in and they wanted a funny, skinny, Southern guy that was kind of a redneck. And I thought, “You know what? I’ve got a shot at this role.” I went in and started reading. About three lines into it, the casting director stopped me and goes, “Whoa, whoa. Can you do a real Southern accent?” And I was like, “Do what?” She said, “You know, like, ’Hey, y’all. How y’all?'” I said, “That’s not a real Southern accent. That’s the way L.A. thinks Southern people talk.” I was so mad. I was driving back, and I’m punching the dashboard going, “I hate this city.”

But it ended up all right. I never got into it to act. I’m probably one of the few comics [that] got into it because I love stand-up. I just love standing there with a mike and just looking them in the eye and seeing them elbow each other. After all these years, I mean, I’ve been so lucky. I’ve gotten to do so many different things. But if you put a gun to my head and said you can’t do but one, that would be it.

Do you think the entertainment industry outside of the South has this perception of the South? In some ways, it can be accurate. But in some ways, it’s just not at all. Has it gotten any better in your opinion?

I’ve gotten to the point … I don’t care what they think. I sat there and had that argument for two decades about, “You’re wrong about the South.” We couldn’t sell the Blue Collar movie because people in L.A. and New York thought nobody would be interested in it. I used to say to them, “Between New York and L.A., there are 200 million people that aren’t on the cutting edge and aren’t hip — and they don’t want to be. That’s what this country is.”

There’s a little bit of pride when you go and shoot it and it works, and you’re like, “See, I told you.” They used to be stunned because I would go in to talk about projects, and they started looking at stuff and said, “Wait a minute. You sold more comedy albums than anybody in history?” I was like, “Yeah, because I guess I’m not cool.”

Do you think you’ll do any more videos? We miss those.

Oh, my gosh. It was funny when Rhino did the Greatest Hits album like a year or so ago. They said, “We want to include your videos in it,” and they wanted me to kind of narrate them. They sent them to the house, and my girls had never seen a lot of these. So, I’m watching them, and my oldest daughter gets to the “Redneck 12 Days of Christmas” and I’m the elf with the leggings on. She goes, “Dad, people aren’t going to see this, are they?” I said, “Well, actually it’s been on TV.” She went, “Oh no! People have seen this!”

That’s pretty great when you get to a point where you can totally embarrass your kids.

Yeah. A lot of parents, it probably makes them feel bad. I just revel in it. I wait ’til they have their friends in the car, and I just turn the radio up and start singing just as loud as I can.

What do you have coming up next? What are you looking forward to?

I just did a voice in that movie Racing Stripes, and then I’m working on The Fox and the Hound sequel. Reba’s in it and, I think, Trace [Adkins] and some other people. I would like to do some more of that. I’m developing a cartoon for Comedy Central, kind of an adult thing, and hopefully starting the second season of Blue Collar — and still taking the kids to school.