In the second part of a two-part interview with CMT Insider‘s Katie Cook, funnyman Jeff Foxworthy explains how he got into country music, why he feels blessed to have grown up in a funny family and why he turned down a chance to work with Robin Williams.
Editor’s note: Jeff Foxworthy will host the CMT 2005 Music Awards, airing live on Monday (April 11) at 8 p.m. ET.
Katie Cook: As host of the CMT 2005 Music Awards, you obviously love country music. Is it safe to assume you were raised on country music?
Jeff Foxworthy: You know what? No.
There was a little bit of it, but I was kind of a rock ‘n’ roll kid growing up. You know how I got into country music? When I first got into stand-up, you would take any gig because you needed the money. I had done two or three gigs opening up for rock ‘n’ roll acts, and they were just horrible. This one week, they had me working in Daytona Beach during college spring break. I was between the band Poison and the Hawaiian Tropic bikini contest. And they’re like, “Who wants to rock ‘n’ roll?” Aaaahh! “Who wants to see beautiful women in bikinis?” Aaaahh! “OK, but first, a comedian.” Before I even got out, there they were throwing beer at me. It was just awful. I said, “I’m not doing this anymore.”
Then, a week or two later, I was working at a comedy club in Savannah, [Ga.] and Emmylou Harris was in town. Her opening act got sick, and they called the club and said, “Is there anybody there that can be clean for 15 minutes?” And they said, “Yeah, Foxworthy can.” I went over there, and five minutes into it, it was like finding your audience. I was like, “Oh, my God, these people sit, they listen and they’re laughing.” So I started saying, “I want to open for country” and started getting into it. I did a show back then as the opening act, and I had never heard of the other two guys. And the middle act was a guy named Vince Gill, and another guy named Garth Brooks was the headliner. It was for a bunch of hairdressers. Nobody was famous yet. We were like, “Hey man, it’s Garth, Jeff.” Now you’re like, “That would be a pretty good show.”
I wanted to ask you about Gretchen Wilson because she’s got this whole redneck woman thing. She could be messing up your shtick. She’s making rednecks look pretty good.
Oh, you know what? I know it. I love it. As a parent, you like nothing more than riding down the road in the minivan hearing a bunch of little kids singing, “Hell, yeah.” But you know what? Whether it’s the MuzikMafia or somebody like Alan [Jackson] or George Strait that’s so traditional, the one thing that makes a country song a country song is it’s a story. It’s not that way in any other form of music. I like rock ‘n’ roll. I love the song “Layla.” I’ve heard it a million times; have no idea what it’s about. But a great country song is a great story. I think that’s why country music is the only form of music that’s always had comedy associated with it. You don’t have jazz comedians. You don’t have rock ‘n’ roll comedians. Country music has always had comedians. There are comedians in the Country Music Hall of Fame because it’s storytelling.
Are you the funniest person in your family?
I’m like the fifth funniest. That’s why it’s fun for me to go home because I don’t have to entertain. I just sit in the corner and watch it. They’ve always been funny. You don’t know any different because that’s what you grow up in. My wife’s family was much more serious. She thought we were crazy the first time she was around us because we pick on each other all the time. But now it’s like, “Man, that was a blessed way to grow up — to laugh.” And we still laugh. Whenever we’re together, everybody is laughing. It’s just a fun family. I mean, there are some nuts in it. You sit around later drinking coffee, going, “I think we’re gonna have to do something about Uncle Clyde.” But we just don’t take ourselves too seriously, which is why I like country music so much. There are a few exceptions, but most of the people in it have a sense of humor about themselves. … Everybody in country music is two decisions from drywalling. So we’re happy to be here.
How did the redneck jokes come about? Where were you when you first said, “I’ve got a plan: ‘You might be a redneck …'”
I wish I could say I was smart enough to know that that was going to be what it was. It just started. I have this accent. I always wore jeans and boots. And I started working in New York and Chicago, and it was good-natured but they were always like, “Jeff, you’re nothing but an ol’ redneck from Georgia.” This one week, I was working at a comedy club in Detroit, and they were kidding me after the show about being a redneck. The club we were playing in was attached to a bowling alley that had valet parking. And I was like, “Wait. If y’all don’t think you have rednecks, go look out the window. There’s people valet parking at the bowling alley.”
I went back to the hotel and I thought, “I know what I am, but apparently a lot of people don’t.” And I wrote “Ten Ways to Tell” and went back the next night, and it was one of those things. Not only did people laugh at it, but they started pointing at each other. I found the closer I keep them to the truth, the better they’re gonna work. I didn’t realize until a few years ago, they’re one-liners. We live in an age where nobody does one-liners. I don’t even do one-liners. But they were easy to remember, easy to retell and everybody was guilty of some of them. It was kind of all-inclusive.
Let me throw some of them at you now and I want you to tell me if this is from personal experience or just someone you know.
“You might be a redneck if you’ve ever taken a beer to a job interview.”
(laughs) That one is a friend of mine. This is the scariest thing of all: He got the job.
Was it in a bar I hope?
No. It was not in a bar. It was for a position like a lawn maintenance thing. He went to interview the guy with a beer. I was like, “You had the beer during the whole thing?” He goes, “Yeah, and they hired me.”
I hope this one wasn’t personal: “If your dad walks you to school because you’re both in the same grade …”
No. No. That one wasn’t. That was my brother. (laughs) No, that one I made up.
What about, “If your senior prom had a day care center …”
We did have a few people that had to stop dancing to change a diaper during our senior prom.
Classic. What about, “If you’ve ever been too drunk to fish …”
I’ve got to say I have changed my ways, but that one was personal. I went on a fishing trip one time when we were in college and had too many adult beverages and so hadn’t slept much. We went straight from driving all night to fishing. I was sitting there with a fishing pole, and I dropped the pole. I mean, just fell asleep and dropped the pole, and it went straight to the bottom of the lake and we lost it. I’m like, “If you’re so drunk that you can’t even close your fist, it’s maybe time to get off the lake.”
What about, “If you’ve ever financed a tattoo …”
It’s a place in Lexington, Ky. I was playing at a comedy club there and walked down the sidewalk, and there was a tattoo parlor, and it said, “Financing available.” I thought, “Well, if somebody misses payments, how do you repossess one of these things?”
There are a lot of them. Like, “If you have a complete set of salad bowls, and they all say Cool Whip on the side.” That’s my sister. I know my sister must have purchased dishes at some point in her life. We’ve never seen them. It’s always the Cool Whip bowls and the butter tubs. And they look good in a china cabinet with the light on.
Did your wife ever forgive you for the “cold butt in bed” stuff?
Oh, God. My poor wife. People still come up to her in the airport, and they’re like, “Are you the one with the cold butt?” She’s like, “Please quit talking about my butt.” She’s pretty good-natured about it. The men and women stuff, that’s probably the backbone of everything I’ve ever talked about. People know the redneck jokes, but the men and women stuff is some of my favorite stuff.
Do you think you’re a good husband?
I’m a great husband and a great daddy, to the point that I have turned down so many things, work-wise. I just turned down a movie, a chance to do something with Robin Williams because I was going to have to be gone for seven or eight weeks in Vancouver. I was like, “I ain’t going seven or eight weeks without seeing my wife and kids.” I was flattered that they offered, but life is about priorities. If you don’t drive a stake in the ground on the stuff that’s important to you, somebody will. They’ll walk away with it because they don’t care. They just want their thing done, and you have to say no. I’m only going to be gone a couple of days, and this is what really matters. Because 100 years from now, that movie is not going to matter or this record is not going to matter. But what kind of kids you left behind is going to matter.
It’s paid off well for your wife because she really helped you follow your dream, didn’t she?
Oh, yeah. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for her. When I started out, I made $20 the second month I did comedy. Twenty bucks. She took a full-time job. She was an actress. She supported us for those first couple of years, and she was the one that said, “We really need to go to L.A.” This could all go away. I’ve been broke and I’ve been poor. I can go back and live with her like that again. But in the end when all of this is over, she’s still going be there.