"It all boils down to language: Yankees think that we talk funny. But God talks like we do."

Bearded, bespectacled Lewis Grizzard, 41, is off and running in his first cable television presentation, a sportswriter-turned-humorist who's making a fortune by trading on the stereotype of a Southern cracker.

Wearing a tux with a chartreuse-patterned bow tie and cummerbund that he implies came from the upholstery of "a 1953 DeSota," and Guccis with no socks, Grizzard pokes fun at Yankees foolish enough to stop at Lucky Joe's Reptile Farm on their way through Georgia, and neighboring Alabamians searching for "RC's and moon pies." His stock characters, Bubba and Earl, visit his beloved University of Georgia, where it is said the school throws a diploma into your car as you drive by.

"Not true," says Grizzard. "You have to stop."

Grizzard, whose eight books and three comedy tapes sell well, especially in Georgia, brings his down-home brand of humor and his thick Southern accent to The Nashville Network in "An Evening With Lewis Grizzard" on Saturday (at 2, with repeats at 6 and 9). The tape is a compilation of live shows he did a year ago in Nashville, Knoxville and Johnson City, Tenn.

That Grizzard's comedy has done so well is partly due, he believes, to the fact that "the South is the last place with a sense of place." He doesn't care that some Southerners think his humor is a bit of an embarrassment, and certainly he manages to pack in the crowds, often comprised largely of adoring women.

Born at Fort Benning, Ga., Grizzard is the son of an World War II enlisted man who fell victim to the bottle, was discharged from the Army and left his family when Lewis was only 6. When he jokes that "I grew up in a large family -- I never slept alone until I was married," he's only kidding -- he was an only child. His last book, a New York Times best-seller called My Daddy Was a Pistol and I'm a Son of a Gun, was largely about his father.

Grizzard grew up poor in Moreland, Ga., and went on to the University of Georgia, to whose football team he is still intensely loyal. After covering sports for the Athens Daily News, he became the Atlanta Journal's executive sports editor, at 23. "I only wrote sports for about a year. Then I made a terrible mistake by telling somebody I'd go to the composing room. You have to deal with unions, and you have to come in at 5:30 a.m. and strip the wires, and the AP machine has been stuck for hours on one key, and all the stories are one solid block."

Grizzard took a job as sports editor of the Chicago Sun Times and decided he didn't like the cold winters (or, he has said, the women). "But I noticed that people were making a lot more money just going around watching things and writing about it, so I went back to Atlanta and started writing a sports column."

The column, which turned out to be a vehicle for his humor, has appeared in the Atlanta Constitution for a decade and is syndicated by King Features to more than 300 newspapers, with a readership of 10 million. A collection of the best columns of the '80s was issued this fall under the title When My Love Returns From the Ladies' Room, Will I Be Too Old to Care?

Still, Grizzard, said, he wanted to be in show-biz, and decided to practice his stand-up comedy in speeches to Rotary Clubs. "Rotary Clubs don't pay," he learned. "Anyway, {former Atlanta Constitution editor} Ralph McGill said that he didn't trust men who sat around singing songs in the middle of the day, sober.

"I gave 738 Rotary Club speeches," he said, "and it was just driving me crazy, so someone said, 'Why don't you charge money?' So I got myself an agent -- the guy who was already living with me -- and when somebody called, he'd say, 'We charge $100.' People kept calling." Today, he speaks for $12,000 plus first-class expenses for two ($10,000 in Atlanta).

Over the years, Grizzard has played a lot of poker and tennis and drunk a lot of beer, and survived heart surgery (at 35) and three divorces. "They're all good old girls, but I can't remember their names -- I call them all 'plaintiff.'" Bumper stickers proclaim "Honk If You've Been Married to Lewis Grizzard."

Outside his posh, suburban Atlanta home, where he writes most of his columns, a Mercedes 380SL sits beside his Chevy Blazer truck. But he says his heart is with his repainted 1978 Cadillac Seville, whose odometer reads 180,000 miles.

His books -- all with cutesy titles such as Shoot Low, Boys, They're Ridin' Shetland Ponies -- have sold more than 2 million volumes, he is Peachtree Publishers' top seller (Warner Books has published six of his titles in paperback), and his last three titles made the New York Times best-seller lists. He's been on Johnny Carson and David Letterman's late-night TV shows.

Today, he's Grizzard Enterprises, with a booking agent, a lawyer and a business manager. And that ain't just for whistlin' Dixie.