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Guffaw Guys

The Kings of Redneck Comedy, Proudly Showing Their True Colors

By William Booth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 5, 2004; Page N01


When you party with a former pig farmer turned stand-up comic who brags about shaving his girlfriend's back in the hot tub, and who is celebrating his new gold record after performing at a sold-out show, well, you get what's coming.

And it comes the morning after.

From left, Bill Engvall, Ron White and Larry the Cable Guy, whose (Matthew Staver For The Washington Post)

Through the motel window, the sun looks like a bad order of huevos rancheros dumped into a busboy's tray. The headache. It's like gerbils with dental instruments. That would be the revenge of the Jim Beam and colas.

The lower lip and gums taste like North Carolina dirt after the crops have failed. That would be the Skoal. A memory. The bar crawl after the show. Some after-hours juke joint, 3 in the morning with the crew and cast, friends and groupies of the "Blue Collar Comedy Tour." Someone in the entourage -- a manager? a publicist? -- was shouting, "Let's get the newspaper guy to dip snuff!"

Looking for the rental car keys in the coat pocket, you find a pair of women's underdrawers, embossed with the words: "Git-R-Done." Someone with a black Sharpie pen has scrawled upon the merchandise -- what? A message? A warning?

It is an autograph.

Signed "Larry the Cable Guy."

Somewhere between the coasts, in a place that New York and Los Angeles entertainment executives call "fly-over country" and a lot of others call "America," a pop cultural phenomenon has been gathering strength just below the radar: the ascendance of the redneck comic.

Led by oldtimer Jeff Foxworthy ("You know you're a redneck when . . ."), who is joined by up-and-comers Bill Engvall, Ron White and Larry the Cable Guy, a two-hour show based on their national "Blue Collar Comedy Tour" was bought by Comedy Central, where it premiered in November and quickly earned the cable channel's highest ratings ever for a comedy concert film.

Ensuing individual stand-up appearances on Comedy Central by Foxworthy, White, Engvall and Larry rank among the most-viewed shows ever aired on the network.

There has been a river of ink printed about "South Park" and Dave Chappelle, but Comedy Central executives say they were blown away by the numbers generated by the redneck funnymen, especially Larry. There is no denying that there is an untapped audience wanting more jokes about deer urine, tractor pulls and fat people having sex on bicycles.

"We were a little nervous," says Kathryn Mitchell, senior vice president for Comedy Central. "You know, we didn't think it would work for our audience. But the numbers are huge. And not just men. Women. And they're committed. They're fans."

Mitchell is originally from England. She said the New York and Los Angeles suits don't get it. "This is pure Americana," she says. The observational humor -- about sex, marriage, kids -- is not that different from work done by other comics, but the rednecks are setting the jokes in a different landscape, a world that feels more like home to their audience.

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