Love him or hate him, Larry the Cable guy has built a lucrative career around his character, a straight-talkin’ country boy who spits jokes like chewing tobacco saliva and revels in the stereotype of a huntin’, fishin’, ass-kickin’ redneck.
The character’s creator, Dan Whitney (from the not-so-Southern state of Nebraska), is sorta-celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Blue Collar Comedy tour by hitting the road with his Blue Collar-mates Jeff Foxworthy and Bill Engvall, including a pair of shows at Denver’s Wells Fargo Theatre on Saturday, March 3.
We caught up with Whitney via phone last week to talk about his latest projects, why Ron “Tater Sald” White isn’t joining him on this unofficial Blue Collar tour, and the power of catchphrases such as Larry the Cable Guy’s “Git R Done.”
|Larry the Cable Guy – Stupid Fish|
Thanks for talking with me today. What are you up to at the moment?
I’m at the house (in Los Angeles) right now coming back from doing a Cars Land voice-over session.
They’re putting a Cars Land in Disneyland. I think it’s 12 acres and they recreated Radiator Springs (from Pixar’s “Cars” movies). It’s so realistic. A buddy of mine’s parents were out there at Disney and they said, “Wow, they built the whole park around that mountain!” I think it opens in June.
Are you surprised by how much of a life the “Cars” franchise has taken on?
Yeah, it was pretty cool when John (Lasseter, the director/writer) hired me on the thing. He likes racing and cars and stuff. But you know, we were just talking about when we were kids: you always had some kind of car or truck and always infatuated with that idea of having a whole world of cars. So when it came out I just thought it would be regular Pixar movie and have its day. But it was a pretty good surprise to me. I never thought it would be what it was. If I’d have known that, I would rework my merchandising deal! I think “Cars 2″ has already outsold just the first “Cars” movie already, and outsold the first three “Toy Story” movies in merchandise. And when we came up with “Mater’s Tall Tales” (a spin-off series based on Whitney’s character) that enabled them to come up with other stuff. But they have a lot of really cool toys and games and race tracks. That whole thing’s really well done.
You’re touring with Jeff and Bill and your opener, Reno Collier, through April. Did the tour kind of come together quickly? I only heard about it a couple weeks ago, and you’re already playing Denver on March 3.
Yeah, it was coming up on the 10th anniversary of Blue Collar and we weren’t really trying to coincide with that, but we just hadn’t done anything since 2006. So Jeff called me up and said, “Hey, look, we should get together and do just a little get-together thing. About 20 shows. It would be fun. I really have a good time traveling with you guys and it’s always fun when you travel with people you know.” So I said I would do it, and the only one who didn’t want to do it was Ron.
Truth be told, we love Ron. He’s our buddy. But he couldn’t go 20 minutes without saying “motherfucking” 20 times, and this is a family-friendly show. It’s not Blue Collar without Ron, so we couldn’t call it that.
What are you calling it?
We’ve called it the Redneck Rat Pack, or What’s Them Idiots’ Names? So we decided to call it Them Idiots, and me and Jeff and Bill decided to go out and do things together because we missed it and thought the fans would really like it.
You and Jeff and Bill know each other so well by now. Do you have your own little shorthand for things or your own little language?
Well, you know, especially Jeff and I. We both know each other so well because Jeff and I have been really good friends since the mid ’80s. I knew him before we ever broke out and got famous. I witnessed Jeff breaking out and he kind of got busy and we lost contact for five or six years. But Jeff, I would say since Blue Collar picked back up, I’ve talked to Jeff every other week for the past decade. I talk to him all the time now. So Jeff and I, when we’re on stage, Jeff and I always try to make each other laugh. We’ll throw out stuff that makes the other guy crack up. Like, I tell a joke about a preacher coming out of a grocery store and he asks this bum how to get to the post office. The bum says, “Go down four blocks and make a right.” And the preacher says, “I’ll show you how to get to heaven,” and the bum says, “The hell with that, you can’t even get the post office!” But I stretch it out on tangents and say stuff about the bum and his family and everything. I’ve been adding stuff to it every show, so now the joke is five minutes long. We know from being on stage and working together for so long, we know what little idiosyncrasies the other has. I know when I can jump in on a joke and not bust up a joke.
Do you think the History Channel will bring back your “Only in America” travelogue show for another season?
Oh man, probably. It’s doing really well. I mean, I have no idea if they’ll pick it up. In my case I’m happy either way. It doesn’t really matter to me. I’ve got a packed tour schedule and I’ve got a cartoon coming up on CMT, so there’s a lot of stuff I’m doing. “The Tooth Fairy 2″ is coming out in March, I’m filming another movie for Fox Home Video. And that show (“Only in America”) keeps me on the road so much. It’s a venue that’s different for me. I get to be myself and my character both at the same time. People see me as Dan and Larry.. I think it’s the best project that I’ve ever done. It’s always gotten solid ratings and always done well for the History Channel. I’m really the only guy on the show that was already doing stuff. These other guys they got on the show, they don’t really have to pay them that much. So if they don’t pick it up that’s fine. Two seasons was great and the second is just as funny as the first, so it’s totally up to them to decide what they want to do.
Why do you think it’s the best thing you’ve done in your career?
It shows a different side of me. I get to do what I do best, which is hanging out with people. The funnest part of my shows is hanging out with my fans for meet-and-greets, and this show’s spontaneous and ad-lib. It’s just fun.
One of the first things people mention about you and Jeff is your famous catchphrases (like Foxworthy’s “You Might Be a Redneck If…”) How deliberately did you set out to make those?
It’s just something that happened by mistake. It’s something that I’d say on the radio all the time or as an inside joke, but I didn’t go out looking for it. And I don’t think Jeff did either. He just tried to come up with a funny joke and he thought the ‘You might be a redneck’ thing was funny. But Git R Done is one of my most famous ones.
What are the others?
Some others are, “I don’t care who ya are, that’s funny right there,” or “Lord, I apologize, and be with the starvin’ Pygmies down there in New Guinea. Amen.”
Do you ever feel limited by it?
I’ve always embraced my catchphrases because it’s part of what I do and part of what I did coming up that helped me get to where I’m at. I don’t think it’s a bad thing. They don’t come along very often, and a lot of people don’t have them. I’m sure that Jimmie Walker, who started doing ‘Dy-no-mite!’ on ‘Good Times,’ didn’t anticipate it being this huge thing. He’s one of the guys who never really embraced it and in fact didn’t like it. He would go do comedy clubs and people would yell, ‘Do it!’ and he wanted to move on from that and make it in the past.
When did you realize Git R Done was starting to take on its own life?
The first time I ever saw it on TV was probably in 2001, when Luis Gonzalez and the Arizona Diamondbacks were in the World Series. They taped an intro for him and every time he came up to bat it would flash ‘Git R Done’ on the big screen. He even sent me a picture of him running the bases with that on the matrix board in the background!
Read today’s Denver Post story about comedy catcphrases through the years.
John Wenzel is an A&E reporter and digital media editor for The Denver Post and the author of “Mock Stars: Indie Comedy and the Dangerously Funny” (Speck Press/Fulcrum). Follow him @johntwenzel and @beardsandgum.