Jeff Foxworthy just might be America’s most successful redneck.
The 60-year-old Georgian first gained a touch of fame back in 1984, when his colleagues at IBM encouraged him to enter a comedy competition in Atlanta.
He won. Soon after, he quit IBM.
And within a decade, he released his hit comedy album, “You Might Be a Redneck If…,” which went on to sell 3 million copies. In the years since, Foxworthy has become the biggest selling comedy recording artist in history.
That is a lot of rednecks.
Foxworthy would go on to team up with pals Bill Engvall, Ron White and Larry the Cable Guy for the highly successful Blue Collar Comedy Tour. He would have his own sitcom, “The Jeff Foxworthy Show,” and host the game show “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?” He’s authored books – his first collection of redneck jokes sold more than 4 million copies – and worked constantly as a popular stand-up comedian.
Which is what brought him to Spokane on Wednesday. He headlined the Spokane County Interstate Fair grandstand stage, sharing with his fans the trademark down-home observational humor that has made him a top draw for nearly three decades. But before that, he stopped by The Spokesman-Review Agriculture Stage, where we talked about what keeps him on the road, his latest best-selling idea, and even those redneck jokes. Here are a few highlights from the conversation.
Jeff Foxworthy full interview
S-R: You have been in this business for three decades or more. You’ve sold more records than anyone else in comedy. You could stay at home on your farm and hunt and fish and do the things you love to do. What keeps you on the road entertaining folks?
JF: I think I’m one of the luckiest people in the world because I make a great living doing something I love to do. It’s never seemed like a job. Most people get into doing stand-up because it’s a springboard to do TV or movies, and then once they do TV or movies, they never do standup anymore. … I’ve gotten to do those things, but I’ve never wanted to be anything other than a comic. Jerry Seinfeld’s like that. (Jay) Leno’s like that. As soon as Leno left “The Tonight Show,” he’s out on the road doing stand-up every night. It’s loving what you do, and I don’t know many people who after 30 years still love what they do.
S-R: How do you keep coming up with jokes after all these years?
JF: I just talk about my life. And I was very lucky in the beginning because I found what worked for me. I just trusted, ‘Hey, if I think something, or my wife says something, or my family does something, I’m going to assume other people are thinking and saying and doing the same things.’ And for me, that’s actually the fun of it, to take something that has happened at my house and go on stage and tell it. Then you see people in the audience go (he mimes elbowing the person next to him), and you go, “Oh hell, it’s not just our family. Other people are this crazy, too.”
S-R: Speaking of crazy families, I understand you recently released a new family card game, kind of like Cards Against Humanity. What can you tell us about Relative Insanity?
JF: I love games and I love family. I have a farm in Georgia so we have like 30 relatives out for a week in the summer, then at Thanksgiving we have about 30 of them. And we’re playing games every night. Last year, the kids – and I say kids, now my kids are in their 20s – a bunch of them were playing Cards Against Humanity. And I don’t know if you know that game, but it’s really dirty. And I went over there and said, “Y’all can’t – your grandmother is here, and your aunts and uncles. You can’t play this. You gotta go downstairs.” … I’m not a prude, but you could make something where it’s not dirty, but you could make it suggestive if you paired it up right. So I went away and I wrote 400 punch lines, just things that sounded funny. Like “I have mold in my crawl space.” There’s not one thing dirty there, but you could make it funny if you wanted to. Then I wrote 100 setups involving relatives, aunts, uncles, cousins. So it’s things like, “Right before I walked down the aisle, my daddy leaned over to me and whispered blank.” So you have seven punch lines, you just take the one you think will get the biggest laugh. You learn to play it in 10 seconds. Last summer I wrote it all out on notecards, and I was getting my family to play it on notecards, and we’re now the No. 1 game on Amazon.
S-R: So do you still have the redneck jokes in your act?
JF: I kind of always at the end do ’em because people want to hear them. I’m lucky because I’ve written like 8,000 of them, so I can mix and match ’em. So I do a few at the end, but even at the height, it was never more than five minutes out of a two-hour show.
S-R: And do you still find those jokes? Are you able to write them?
JF: It is the absolute bottomless pit. Because I still do the page-a-day calendar, and every year I’m like, “There cannot be 365 more of these.” And you start writing them down and by the end of the year you’ve got 500 of them. I can’t imagine that they will ever die.
S-R: What’s the one thing that you think people should know about you that they don’t?
JF: I just always wanted to be a regular guy. … One thing people probably wouldn’t know about me, for a decade, I get up every Tuesday morning at 5 o’clock and I work at a homeless mission in downtown Atlanta, and I do a Bible study for homeless guys. It started with me and 12 guys, and now there’s 20 leaders and 350 guys every Tuesday morning. I want to be good at what I do, but I would rather be a good dad and a good husband and a good person in my community, rather than to be known as a good comedian.