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.
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.
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.
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.
Actually, there was a Dairy Queen. And it was young Larry, who was born Daniel Lawrence Whitney, now 38, who was the raiser of pigs. His father was a high school guidance counselor.
"My dad used to play with the Everly Brothers, the Foggy Mountain Boys. He went to Korea and got saved in a foxhole. He'd play the VFW hall on Saturday nights with drunks yelling at him to play Merle Haggard, and then he'd get up and preach two churches on Sunday morning."
Offstage and out of the public eye, when Dan Whitney is speaking, he has a light southern accent, a kind of Atlanta twang, like poached catfish with a lemon butter sauce. When Larry the Cable Guy is talking, his drawl is as thick as a ladle of lard gravy on a biscuit.
He goes back and forth between the two. You get used to it.
"It's funny," he says. "When we do the 'Blue Comedy Tour' together," of the four men "I'm the only one not born in the South. I'm from the Midwest. I'm the only one who doesn't have the accent, but I'm the only one who grew up living that farm life, that small-town life."
The only people he does not speak to in southern dialect are his parents. His family moved to West Palm Beach in 1979, when Dan was 15. He says he started to get his accent in Florida, even though West Palm is not known for its drawl.
He attended private Baptist University of America in Macon, Ga., an institution now defunct. His roommates were from Texas and Georgia. "So from that time I could pop the accent on and pop it off. I'm actually more comfortable talking with it. All my friends are real southern. And sometimes you're just a chameleon."
Between his junior and senior years, while he was working as a bellman at the Hyatt Regency in West Palm, his friends persuaded him to perform at an open-mike night at a comedy club.
He never did go back to college.
Up on stage now, Engvall opens his 20-minute set. From backstage, you can hear Engvall's jokes, because he is working a microphone, but you cannot hear the audience. So you cannot hear that during the long pauses, they are laughing their butts off. It's eerie.
Is Larry nervous?
"Nope," he says. Like most professional stand-ups, Larry is constantly on the road.
He pulls out his notes. His set list for 20 minutes goes as follows:
Fats at flea market.
His style is fast. "Eight seconds per joke," he says. "Jokes on the way to telling the joke."
"Yeah, I love critters," Larry says in his act. "I got a horse with a broke leg, so I had to shoot it." Beat. "Now it's got a broke leg and a gunshot wound." Beat. "What the hell you shot 'em for?" Beat. "They say it helps the healing process." Beat. "If it ain't better next week I'm going to shoot it again."
He admires vaudeville, Henny Youngman, early Steve Martin. "I'm one of those annoying one-liner comics." Like: "I was seeing this good-looking girl in Miami for about three weeks. Then somebody stole my binoculars out of the truck." In a 70-minute show, he might hit 360 jokes.
That's the general gist. The audience howls. And while Larry doesn't use much profanity, he is obsessed with bathroom humor: grandmothers with flatulence, flatulence at the gym, combustion involving flatulence.
"Look," he explains. "I'm not trying to change the world. I'm just doing comedy that makes people laugh. Goofy stuff. My act is nonsense. Everyday things. Other comedians would call it lowbrow. Who cares? That's what we laugh at. It's a guilty pleasure. I understand it's stupid. But I'm not running for president."
Engvall comes backstage after his set. He is wearing a blue oxford shirt without a drop of sweat.
"Now I'm getting nervous," Larry says.
"You should be," Engvall says. "Bring out the body bags. I killed."
Ron White is onstage now. If Engvall and Foxworthy are family friendly, White and Larry are rougher around the edges.
Foxworthy talks a lot about his daughters and living in a house filled with women. It's PG-rated. About as out-there as Foxworthy gets is something like "If you can't remember the last woman you had sex with, you're married." White's shtick is to drink scotch and smoke onstage, Dean Martin as Southern Man. White plays the Mississippi casino drunk to Larry's Jiffy Lube attendant.
There is a kind of oldness to the newness of redneck comedy that helps reel in audiences. "I don't think pop culture passed these people by. I think they know all about it and reject it," Larry says. "These are ordinary people and they're sick of being preached at by comedians who act smarter than them. They don't agree with them and they don't like their attitudes."
A makeup artist comes in to dust Larry's face with powder. "There ain't much to work with, is there?" says road manager McComb.
When he began his career as a comic, Larry was trying out different personas. "Before I used this sarcastic New York-type attitude," he says. He did his routine in Brooklynese. Gawd, that must have been awful. "It wasn't working," Larry says. "Then I had this goofy pratfall attitude." That didn't catch fire either.
But in the early 1990s, he got a gig calling into morning drive-time radio shows, impersonating a reactionary redneck ("What the hell is this, Russia?"), doing know-nothing political commentary. He'd phone in, do his three minutes and hang up. He'd call in from airports, cruise ships, car phones and once, from the back of a horse.
Today, he still performs this bit on 23 radio stations. Larry didn't actually become the Cable Guy full time until 1995. "I changed into Larry the Cable Guy and I found out I like this dude. This is more me." And now Larry has taken over Dan Whitney; together they have bought a big spread in Sanford, Fla., got a fine-looking girlfriend who wears jeans and cowgirl hats, and money in the bank.
It's time for the Cable Guy to take the stage. Foxworthy introduces Larry by saying, "We've reached that part of our show where we want everybody to feel better about their own families."
The audience loves it. All of it. The jokes about getting a vasectomy at Sears ("Every time I hit the garage door opener I get an erection"), the 10th-grader who has sex with his teacher ("and he was home-schooled"), how he had been living with a girl for eight months ("until she found me").
Jokes about NASCAR, "Walker, Texas Ranger," feminine hygiene products. At one point, a fan in the rafters shouts out, "I loooove you, Larry!" And the audience smashes its palms together in support.
Then, a beat, and Larry yells back, "I told you to wait in the truck!"