Jeff Foxworthy has done it all when it comes to comedy. The comedy great to many was able to tailor a certain brand of joke telling for a mass following and at the time, an underserved market in comedy. His style not only had him stand-out amongst his peers but also created a brand of comedy we still see today. When you look at Foxworthy’s catalogue you have no choice but to respect what he’s built. Comedy Hype had the chance to talk with Jeff for the first time in a phone conversation. We took the moment to start from his beginnings to even touch on the current political climate amongst Americans. His message is simple, we as a people should be talking more about the issues. Foxworthy recently collaborated with his long time friend Larry The Cable Guy for the comedy album, We’ve Been Thinking with Comedy Dynamics, which is available on all digital outlets now.
CH: Let’s start from the beginning, where in Atlanta were you raised?
JF: I was born in Atlanta at Georgia Baptist Hospital and grew up mostly in Hapeville, Georgia, down by the airport– which was the home of Chick Fil-A. That’s where the very first Chick Fil-A was. I was always an Atlanta guy.
CH: The interesting thing about Atlanta is that it’s becoming a comedy city. But how did you make a name for yourself in Atlanta in that time? In comparison to some where like New York where there was tons of places to do comedy.
JF: Well I did it on a dare. I actually had a job, I fixed machines for IBM. I was always that guy at work doing impressions of the boss in the break room. Making everyone laugh. I had a bunch of friends that would always go to the Punchline Comedy Club to watch comedy, and they would come to work like, “Fox your funnier than those people, you need to go do this.” So they entered me into a contest. Not an amateur night but a contest with working comics. I wrote like 5 minutes about my family. The first time I ever got on stage, I won the contest. I was scared to death, I couldn’t even look at people. It was like, in that moment, I discovered it was what I was born to do. I quit my job. My parents thought I had lost my mind. My mom was like, “Are you on dope?, what is wrong with you?” It wasn’t a lot of places in Atlanta to do it. You had the Punchline then it would go down from there to like little bars. It was a lot of being in your car, driving over to Birmingham, driving to Greenville, SC or Columbia, SC. But I had a passion for it. I had 8 years in row that I did over 500 shows a year. I was on stage every night. To me that’s how you get good at it. Just work. Now there’s a lot of places in Atlanta to play. There’s apart of me that like, “Oh man I wish I had it like that starting out.” But it just wasn’t an option then.
CH: Today’s comedy generation is coming up different. With the Internet being a main influencer for comedians to gain a following for themselves, how would you do it if you were starting out now?
JF: That is a great question because I was telling someone not long ago, “I made most of my big money, on records and DVD’s.” I made like 8 or 9 comedy records. You can Google this, I sold like more comedy records than anybody in history. That’s how I made my money. I had two albums in a row that sold like 4 million copies. Now if you had a comedy record that sold 50,000 copies it would be a hit. Nobody buys records, nobody buys DVDs. I was telling somebody, “Shoot if I was starting out I wouldn’t know how to do it.” I would figure it out; so much of it is online now. It’s just a different animal than what it was when I started.
CH: Do you remember the first major thing you bought when you hit a major level of success and started playing large audiences?
JF: Funny thing is …. I kept a calendar with all of my shows marked on it and what I got paid. I found it a couple years ago. That first year I did comedy, I did 406 shows and I made $8,300. So there were a lot of years with me eating Ramen Noodles. So when I started making money, I was scared it was going to go away; I was just saving it. [Laughs] I didn’t even buy a house or nothing. The first big thing was I took everyone in my family to Hawaii. My family never been anywhere. So I took 13 people to Maui. So that was cool to able to share with them. I was thinking, “I don’t know how long this was going to last.” It was awesome. Something my mother thought she would never do. And of course I have a whole routine about it too.
CH: You worked with Larry The Cable Guy on the Blue Collar Tour and you worked with him recently for the We’ve Been Thinking album. With comedy being so competitive, how did these different collaborations come together?
JF: You remember when the Kings Of Comedy started and one of the first places they played was in Atlanta. There was a big article in the Atlanta Journal and it said that it was a show for the “Urban-hip audience.” I remember calling Bill Engvall, “That’s leaving a lot of people out…. there’s a lot of people that aren’t urban and hip… we need to do a show for them… I would call it the Blue Collar Show.” By that time I had gotten exposure, I did like 15 tonight shows. Larry and I became friends in 1986. I knew how funny he was, he just didn’t have exposure. Even Ron. I saw Ron the first night he went on stage. People say, “Do you get jealous of their success?” I’m like man they are my friends, I’m thrilled for them… I’m thrilled for them… Worst thing for a comic is that you’re on the road by yourself but when we were doing it, you were on the road with three of your friends. But comedy is a competitive thing. I think a lot of people don’t understand that about comedy. In the beginning, you’re not laughing at other people. You’re standing in the back going, “That’s not funny.” So for me I decided to be nice and do my time, but I’m going to try to make your life a living hell going up after me. For me that’s how I wanted to move up, I wanted to get it to where nobody wanted to follow me. It’s fun now. Doing something like this with Larry, we both have success… there is no ego.
CH: You kind of touched on something which is that there are two different audiences, maybe even three different audiences these days. Did you study any of the urban side of comedy, or admire any urban acts coming up?
JF: I studied all of them. To me funny is funny. I’ve watched it (urban comedy) and laughed my ass off. Funny is funny. But I feel like I can go in an urban club, with the right material, and feel I can make them laugh. I remember early on and some guy from New York was coming down south and he was doing a whole thing about subways and nobody was laughing. And he came off stage and he was like, “These people are stupid” and I was like, “Nah we’re not stupid, we just don’t have subways, they don’t know what you’re talking about.” So you have to find that thing as a comic and ask, “What do I have in common with my audience?”
CH: You were nominated for several Grammy’s for your work. Were those nominations a goal or do you see them as an extra bonus?
JF: It takes you by surprise. Who ever thinks they are going to be nominated for a Grammy? I didn’t think I would ever have an album or a book. It’s all been a bonus. I just feel like I’m one of the luckiest guys in the world because I found something I love to do. It didn’t mean I didn’t work at it. But how lucky are you to do something you have a gift for and someone pays you money to watch it?
CH: With everyone constantly discussing reboots and brining back shows, would you consider brining back The Jeff Foxworthy Show? And with the current political climate today would you do it differently?
JF: I would do it different now. That was never my aspiration to have a sitcom. It was one those things in which I was getting a lot of attention as a comic. I really enjoyed the people but it was probably the least fun thing I ever did. I was there 7 in the morning and wouldn’t leave ’til about 11 at night. And I wasn’t able to say what I wanted to say. I look back and say I should have stood up for myself more but I didn’t know.
Now it’s weird because we don’t have conversations more, there’s no middle ground. We don’t have conversation anymore we just respond emotionally. Comedy is really one of those last truths where you can throw stuff out there and show people how crazy it is or how stupid it is. What we really need as country is to have conversation. If you look at congress they don’t even talk to each other. I think most of the solution to stuff is in the middle somewhere. We just don’t go to the middle anymore. It’s all emotion, we don’t even get down to the facts. Here’s the truth, It would be great for everyone to have healthcare, I totally agree with that but then we also have the question, “How are we going to pay for it?” Well that’s a conversation but we don’t have the conversation. We’re just like, “Yes or No.” No man let’s talk about it. For a comic with a mic in your hand that’s like one of the only places you can stand up and talk about it.
CH: Speaking of the politics, have to ask, did you support Donald Trump early on?
JF: If I had to pick what I was I would probably be a middle-Republican, You know what I mean? If you’re a Republican, people and Democrats automatically say, “You don’t care about poor people.” Well for the last 10 years every Tuesday, 5 o’clock in the morning, I get up and work at the Atlanta Mission. No TV cameras, no newspapers. So I get offended when people say, “You don’t care about poor people.” Some of my best friends are people who used to be homeless. So that’s what I mean about people being in the middle. So with Trump, I look at it now and think, “Dude stay out of NFL players kneeling, it’s not any of your business, someone give the man a sleeping pill, stop tweeting at 3 in the morning, act like a president.” But you see with something like the hurricane in Houston and people are taking care of each other, people are coming up to your home with a boat, they aren’t asking, “Are you are Democrat or Republican?” It’s people helping people. I think that’s at the core of all of us but we just have gotten so emotionally volatile that we don’t have these conversations. I look at the race state in the country and ask, “How did we get here?” I might look at it different because I’m a comic but I don’t know anybody that’s a racist. Now growing up with my grandaddy, yes I saw it growing up. But with my kids, they’ll be talking about their friends and they don’t ever say, “Hey they’re Asian or they’re Black.” My kids don’t see it and I don’t see it anymore. I saw it growing up because I lived in it with my grandparents. I look at it now and say, “How has it gotten so bad that we can’t even talk about it?”
CH: You are seen as someone who has accomplished a lot, but have you accomplished everything on your comedy bucket list?
JF: It might sound funny to most people but it was my fear from the beginning; I did not want to be that guy who wasn’t funny anymore. I just want to keep doing stand-up but I know the only way to do that is I have to keep working at it. I have to keep getting in front of 30 people and grinding it out. If I quit doing that I’m going to be that guy. That would make me sad not doing stand-up. Stand-ups are different cats. I find the longer I do it, you end up having affection for each other, “You know what it’s like… you know the thrill of when a new joke works.” It’s like a special little club.
CH: Dave Chappelle just made a great return but when you see someone come back and they don’t hit the mark does it hurt a little bit?
JF: Oh yeah. That’s the thing about stand-up. I hated to see Chappelle go away, I thought Chappelle was brilliant. It don’t matter who you are– If you’re Chris Rock and you have a new special, people will have out their score card and ask, “Is he still funny or is he not still funny?” Whatever success you had in the past, you might get a pass for five minutes but you better be funny.
CH: Speaking of Chappelle, Do you remember anything from his show that you thought was hilarious?
JF: The blind racist sketch (Clayton Bigsby) was one of the most brilliant pieces of comedy I’ve seen in my life. Through laughter he showed the lunacy of racism. I remember the first time I ever saw it, I’m laughing but I was going, “This is brilliant, this is absolutely brilliant because he’s showing the stupidity of all this.” People think comics are fools but comics are some of the most smartest people I’ve ever been around in my life.
CH: What keeps Jeff Foxworthy going?
JF: I just feel blessed man. When I sit and listen how much people hate their job, I just can’t even say anything. I don’t feel that way. I’m blessed because 33 years in I still love my job. I’m still loving life. I love being a dad and raising my kids and now they’re grown. I want to milk this thing for all it’s worth. I don’t want to be one of those people that spend their last 20 years of their life watching TV. Nah man there’s more to it than that. I want to learn new stuff. I just started painting 2 months ago. I taught myself how to cook. I want to learn something new. I got a farm. I learned how to run a bulldozer this year. [Laughs] It’s something stupid but I like it. Now I know how to do it. I tell people you don’t get a practice lap, you get one lap around the track, do it all. Nah man this is it.
You can hear more of Foxworthy’s perspective on newest album We’ve Been Thinking with Larry The Cable Guy.