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Guffaw Guys

The Comedy Central rating spikes led to WB's "Blue Collar TV," a 30-minute sketch comedy show that premiered in July and won the second-highest viewership in its time slot for the network. The show, a kind of "In Living Color" for the tractor-pull set, was proclaimed a hit. The network bought another 22 episodes, which will begin airing in the fall.

The foursome's CDs and DVDs and videos have become top sellers and rentals. When they performed in Denver, their four shows sold out the 2,065-seat Buell Theatre months in advance -- and the venue served as the backdrop for Parallel Entertainment Pictures' "Blue Collar Comedy Tour II Rides Again," which will air in November on Comedy Central.

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

Janeane Garofalo, Rosie O'Donnell, Al Franken, Ellen DeGeneres, Bill Maher? The redneck comics are their antimatter. Ideologically conservative, pro-gun, blood sport enthusiasts, flag-waving NASCAR types who vote Republican (and are happy to make fun of gays, legless Ethiopians and retarded people), Larry and the boys largely steer away from overt partisan politics. But you don't need a Rand McNally map of Alabama to know where they're coming from -- 100 percent USDA Red Meat State.

A camera pan of the crowd here in Denver and on their DVDs shows a packed house filled with pearl button shirts and ironed bluejeans, regular folks without quality dental plans who could benefit from a few hours on the treadmill. Wall-to-wall Middle American white people.

"I laughed so hard I thought I'd wet my pants," says Linda Atkins, 33, a secretary in a dentist's office, who waited a half hour after the show to buy a "Git-R-Done" wife-beater tank top. Atkins said she liked the four comedians but the Cable Guy is her favorite. "He's like your big dumb brother, only he's a lot funnier than my brother." They're mid-size-city suburbanites with rural roots (or longings) who listen to country music, know what the inside of Wal-Mart looks like, believe in the redeeming power of the Gospel and respect a good bass lure. They're the same people some comics make fun of, and they are the audience that made Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" the surprise blockbuster of the year.

The redneck comics have found their audience and their audience has found them. Hee-Haw nation is back.

Backstage at the Buell Theatre, in Larry's dressing room, he is showing a reporter where a dentist just pulled his molar out. Many celebrities do not provide this kind of access.

"Like a damn nail out of a piece of wood," he says. "Pop!" He is changing out of the T-shirt he bought in Los Angeles that reads SOMEBODY IN COMPTON LOVES ME and into a plaid cornhusker with the sleeves ripped off. He is a man with considerable shoulder hair. Big-boned and burly, with Elvis sidechops and a goatee. He tugs a pair of jeans over his boxers, laces up some beat-up black boots, pulls a ball cap with the Confederate flag and a fishhook down over his squinty little eyes and squeals "Git-r-done" for perhaps the hundredth time today.

He spits a sluice of brown tobacco juice into his dip cup. "I'm the guy who changes your oil at the Jiffy Lube," he says, and winks. Actually, he is growing rich and famous. Women e-mail him naked pictures of themselves. At night, he dreams of owning cattle.

A stagehand comes in and announces, "Thirty minutes, gentlemen." Then he asks Larry: You need anything ironed or steamed for the show?

"I'm wearing it!" Larry says.

His road manager, Jeremy McComb, looks like Larry's skinny little brother. He is sitting on a couch, picking notes on a guitar, singing a song he and Larry wrote to the tune of the Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings hit "Good Hearted Woman" and that goes "She's a retarded woman in love with a retarded man."

Larry and Jeremy met in a bar in Spokane, Wash. Larry excuses himself, then uses the bathroom without shutting the door.

This is his story. "I grew up on a pig farm in southeast Nebraska, Pawnee City, 33 miles from the nearest fast-food restaurant," he says.

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