BWW Interview: Jeff Foxworthy at LaughFest. You Don't Need To Be A Red Neck To Enjoy This Comedic Show!
Jeff Foxworthy will headline the Gilda's LaughFest 10th Anniversary Signature Event. The 2020 Signature Event, A Night with Jeff Foxworthy, is a fundraiser for Gilda's Club Grand Rapids. Jeff Foxworthy is one of the most respected and successful comedians in the country. The Grammy Award nominee and best-selling author of more than 26 books is widely known for his Redneck jokes and his act goes well beyond that to explore the humor in everyday family interactions and human nature - a style that has been compared to Mark Twain's. The Signature Event is March, 14th, 2020 with a dinner that begins at 5:30 PM a show that follows at 8 PM.
Broadwayworld Detroit recently had a chance to catch up with Jeff Foxworthy to talk about his appearance at LaughFest, the special influence Gilda's Club namesake, comedian Gilda Radner, had in influencing his career, as well as where the infamous "You know you're a Redneck when/ if...." came from. Check out our interview with him below:
Broadway World Detroit: Jeff thanks for joining me!
Jeff Foxworthy: Oh you betchya, thanks for having me!
What are you looking forward to the most about performing in Grand Rapids at LaughFest?
Well a couple of things: I'm really excited about doing Gilda's event because not only am I a comedian, I've always been a fan of comedy, and she was just a huge influence on me. I remember being in high school and college and watching SNL and never imagining I'd have a career getting to make people laugh. So, I think this is a really cool event. Secondly, Michigan has always been a great place for me. In fact, it's the very first place I did one of the "you might be a Redneck" jokes. I was up there working in a comedy club, right outside Detroit. I've always drove a pickup truck, wore jeans and boots, deer-hunted, fished, and they always made fun of me and said, 'Foxworthy you're just an ole Redneck from Georgia.' The club we were playing in was attached to a bowling alley that had valet parking and I said okay if you don't think you have Rednecks in Michigan, come look out the window, people are valet parking at the bowling alley. I went back to the hotel that night and I'm like heck I know I'm a Redneck, but apparently some people don't. I wrote 10 Ways How to Tell You Might Be a Red Neck never thinking it was going to be a hook, a book, calendar, etc..I went back and tried a few of them at the club the next night, and not only were people laughing, they were pointing at each other. I was like okay there's something here.
You were the one to start the trend "You know you're a redneck when/ if". Did you ever think it would take off like it did?
No, I mean I wasn't smart enough to know it might be a hook. We live in an age where no one does one-liners. So, you think about it from an audience stand point, they were easy to remember, easy to retell, all you had to do is remember a line and you got a laugh. I think that really added to the popularity of it. One of the coolest things about being a comic is that growing up in the south I had never been anywhere, and once I became a comedian I was going all over the country. I just kind of noticed any time you got 20 or 30 minutes outside of any city, people were the same. Scenery changed and accents changed, but Lord there were rednecks everywhere! It wasn't laughing at somebody, it was laughing with somebody, because I wasn't doing research to come up with the material. I could go through the book and say that's my uncle, that's my sister, this is my dad, this is my brother. I think that's why it had a very wide spread appeal, if you didn't see yourself in it, you certainly saw one of your friends or relatives in it.
I am a fan of the books myself. What was the aha moment that inspired you to make the book Redneck Diary and follow up Redneck Diary 2?
Well you know I always worked at stand-up. I love what I do, but I always worked hard, always wrote a lot. These were jokes that were totally different than anything else I was doing, they were one-liners basically. In fact, I still have in my kitchen the first 10 I ever wrote, it's on a yellow piece of note book paper framed on the wall, but they were easy to write. So, when I wrote 10, I thought if I wrote 10 can I write 50, if I write 50 can I write 100? I got to the point where I probably had about 300, and I was sending them to publishers thinking maybe this could be a fun little comedy book, and I was turned down by the first 14 publishers that I'd sent it to. Finally, the 15th publisher said, "Yah there might be something here we'll try it." I remember asking him how many books do you think we might sell? He says, "I bet we sell 5,000 of them." I think we sold 4 Million copies of that book, so when it suddenly just exploded I was like oh my gosh I never realized this was a big idea!
I'm not only a writer but also, widely versed in Country music. It's the same thing there, we get artist all the time, and after we get done with a festival you feel like you know them your whole life.
Yah right? It's very interesting you bring up country music, Country music is the only form of music that's always had comedy associated with it. You don't have jazz comedians, you don't have rock and roll comedians, but you have comedians in the country music market, and I think that's because country music and comedians are both story tellers. So, early on finding that country music audience was like these people get me, these people listen because every good country song is a story. I love rock and roll, I love the song Layla but Lord I couldn't tell you what it was about, but country songs tell a story and comedians do too and so for both those genres that's our connection to people. To me, I've always thought as a comedian, if I think something, my wife says something, or my family does something I'm going to trust that other people are thinking, saying, and doing, the same thing. Personally, the biggest compliment at the end of the night is when someone comes backstage and they go, 'Oh my gosh you've been in our house' because you know you're taking something in their life and making them laugh at themselves and that's really rewarding.
You say that and I go right to the "Redneck 12 Days of Christmas" which is widely played around here, and around the holiday in the home as well.
It just embarrasses my children to death.
It's so fitting with the country crowd, which is huge in the Grand Rapids/West Michigan demographic.
Oh, I think so, yah that's the connection. So, as a stand-up comedian, and I've been very blessed, because I've got to do a lot of different things whether it is host tv shows, write books, paint, or draw came up with a game last year. I enjoy doing all those things, it's fun to do different things, but if you ever put a gun to my head and said okay you can only do one thing, I wouldn't even have to think about it. I'm a comic, I'm a stand -up comic, that's what I do. If you go back and watch a special, listen to a CD or record, they are all just a snap shot of my life, a snapshot of what was going on in my life at the time. I've been very fortunate to do it for such a long time, but I now feel like my audience and I have grown up together, we got married together, had kids together, had teenagers together, we're empty nesters together. That's kind of that little connection I think and I hope I have with the audience.
You were talking about shows, I saw recently you were judging a show on NBC called Bring the Funny. Can you tell us a bit about the show?
We actually kicked it off this summer. I didn't know how I felt about that, because I didn't want to be the one to wreck someone's dreams and knew right off the bat I couldn't be a Simon type judge, I wanted to be an encourager. For me, I've been on the other side of it, I remember auditioning for Star Search, I was turned down six times. Then I get to do the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, and we're on a commercial break and Ed McMahon who hosted Star Search leaned over and ask why I haven't done Star Search, and I said because you've turned me down six times. That's what I was trying to tell to the contestants is that laughter is such a precious thing and it's so subjective. Even if you don't advance on this show, don't let that discourage you. That's been a cool thing, especially now because our country is so polarized politically, which is a shame because most people if you sat them down in a room they would agree on 85% of the same stuff. But we don't celebrate the 85%, we focus on the 15% were we think differently. Laughter is that common ground, let's celebrate what we have in common. People probably need a laugh now as much as anytime I can remember.
This is part of why LaughFest was started, was to promote laughing as healing, and helps support the mission of Gilda's Club, which is to help provide free emotional health and a support community for children, adults, families and friends on any kind of cancer journey or those grieving a death due to any cause. It includes professionals, education, networking, and social activities.
Every night right before I walk on stage, kind of the last thought I have is that everybody I'm going to be looking at, from stage, is going through some kind of struggle. Might be physical, might be emotional, might be financial, but everybody is going through a struggle. That's why I've always been real big about just having grace with people, you don't know what they are going through, you have no idea. Everyone you see on stage is going through some kind of struggle, and I don't think laughter makes the struggle go away, but I do think it's the release valve that keeps the boiler from exploding. It releases endorphins, it's like a natural encourager, so I tell the audience whatever the struggle is put it on the shelf for 90 minutes, let's just go laugh for a little bit. Then you're recharged, and can go face the struggle again.
What do you think is the benefit of having a comedy festival such as LaughFest?
I think instead of individual laughter, it's kind of a celebrated community laughter. Awareness of stuff is great, but awareness without action really isn't much, so I think the cool thing that's always kind of been associated with LaughFest is it pulls people together, gets them to laugh, and it focuses on a cool and important purpose. We all need some kind of purpose, so when you can go out and relieve somebody else's emotional stress that's a really cool thing!
What and who inspired you to enter the initial contest that led you to comedy as a career?
It was kind of bunch of guys I worked with. I was the funny guy at work making people laugh in the break room and they entered me comedy competition. It wasn't like an amateur night, it was a contest for working comics. I really had no idea what I was doing, I went and wrote 5 minutes about my family and the first night on stage, I won the contest. Lord, I was a nervous wreck, I didn't know what I was doing but I knew 11/2 minutes into it, it was like this is what I wanna do, it's like finding your purpose. I knew right then and there I was going to quit my job at IBM. Up to that moment I hadn't realized that making people laugh was an option and you can make a living doing it. I would have done it for free, I was glad they payed me, but I would have done it for free!
I wanted to ask about an interview you gave in a 2012 interview, you said, 'rather than going and sitting in a service for an hour every Sunday and that being extent of my faith, it's more important that I live it out.' I was wondering if that you still feel that is true in 2020, and if you have some ways you currently do that, that could inspire the readers with their own faith?
People don't want to hear about your faith, if you just talk about it, you just bore people. So, to me faith equals hope, if there is no purpose to being here, if this is it, to me that's always felt kind of hopeless. It doesn't matter what you say about your faith, its what people see that really speaks. By seeing it, I don't mean how good I can be, it's how much people love on somebody else. I think that's why someone like Mother Teresa was so inspiring - people just watched what she did. She never had to say a word, she just loved on people. So, like for me for the past 12 years, I've gotten up at 5:00 AM on Tuesday mornings and I go down and lead a Bible study with homeless guys in downtown Atlanta. It started with me and 12 guys a dozen years ago, and now there's like 20 group leaders 350 homeless guys. Because most of these people the way they end up on the street was almost all of them something bad happened to them early in life. They were abused or abandoned or something and it caused a hurt that they couldn't deal with so they numb the hurt with alcohol or drugs or something. When you do that you're not employable and you're not reliable, so you can't keep a job you take from your family until they've had enough, and that's how people end up on the street. So, to me it was like, if we can ever sit down and talk about what that hurt was, and somehow convey to people you know what, you are important, and you can have purpose, maybe if we can ever get past the hurt, we can get past the addiction, and you wouldn't have to sleeping under a bridge. So, like I said every week for 12 years that's what I do. People will say I didn't know that, I don't do it so people will know about it, it's just a way of loving on somebody that needs loving on.
You said you've been to Michigan and had kind of a jumpstart in your career here. Is there any specific memory you can think of performing in Michigan or around the US that you really enjoyed?
One of the coolest things about being a comic is I have been to all 50 states, and almost every part of all 50 states, so I've literally seen the country, and I don't know a lot of people that have been to all 50 states. But if said to me what's your favorite states to do shows in, Michigan would always be in my top 3. It's just I don't know, there's just that connection their regular people that get up and go to work, their favorite thing is to hanging out with friends and family, so there's always been a connection there. Any time I look at my schedule, and see I'm going to Michigan I never have any anxiety about going, I'm like that will be fun. That's the way I feel about this one, it's going to be a good weekend!
The Country scene is huge around the area!
You just have a lot of blue-collared people, which is my people. When I'm not doing stand-up, I'm on my farm on a bulldozer or tractor tearing something up and I fit right in, which has been part of my connection with Michigan.
I have farm animals myself, Chickens and Alpacas. The first thing you do when you get home is feed them.
Yah, you go home and take care of your animals, so I always think that's been part of my connection with Michigan.
What would you say to somebody who is looking to attend their first comedy show at this year's LaughFest and your event?
I'd just encourage them to do it. Laughter has been proven medically and scientifically to release endorphins. You leave feeling better and recharged, and I think the cool thing for me is, to look out in the audience and see people that are 25 years old, and that are 70 years old. That's very rewarding, knowing that what I'm working on is not confined to just one generation. Hopefully I've found those things that would make everybody laugh. I've been working on a brand-new hour of stuff, so I've been playing a lot of small clubs in Atlanta. My 25-year-old daughter came in the other night and was watching me work on stuff and that was her comment, 'Dad you make every one laugh, that's really cool.' It's not just the millennials, it's not just the people your age, everybody's laughing and that's pretty cool. That's what I would say to somebody, do yourself a favor love on yourself a little bit, go see a show and just laugh.
Is there any kind of preview you can give us on what folks can expect when we come to your show?
You know one of the things I've been playing with lately, well a couple of things: one it's funny because we've reached the stage in life where our kids are grown up, so we aren't taking care of them, but we're taking care of our parents. All my father in-law does is sits there and grumbles about how much better things were in the good old days. I'm like that's an interesting premise, were they? So. I started looking how did you use the phone in the good ole days? How did you go to a doctor in the good ole days. To compare then and now, it's one of those things that goes across all those generations, someone older or younger can identify with it. Another idea I've been playing with is when I think back to when I left home, I was so unprepared for everything I was going to have to do in life. Whether it was to be married, have a kid, have a job, own a house, I was like someone walking into gladiator ring with a KFC spork in my hand. I was just so unprepared. To look back on it It's amazing I'm still alive, I didn't know how to do anything when I walked into the world, and I think that's one of those things we all have in common.
Do you have a joke to share with the readers?
One of the things I was talking about was in the good ole days, it was like if the good ole days had really been the best there was, the guy who invented Viagra would not have been a billionaire. Because in the good ole days when God told you were out of the ball game, you'd walk out back and started a garden. You didn't have a blue pill you just went out and started a garden and I think that's what my granddad did.
Thanks for taking time to join us. We look forward to seeing you in Grand Rapids for LaughFest 2020 next month!
I do too, thanks for taking the time to speak with me today!
Jeff Foxworthy is coming to LaughFest Signature event taking place in the DeVos Hall Ballroom Saturday, March 14th, in Grand Rapids, for a sold out performance.
Connect with LaughFest for complete info on this show as well as the other great acts in the line up opening on Thursday, March 5th with new shows added, at www.laughfestgr.org, on Twitter at @laughfestgr.org, on Instagram at @laughfestgr, and on Facebook at facebook.com/LaughFest/
Connect with Gildas Club Grand Rapids for info on there important work with emotional health, at gildasclubgr.org, on Twitter at @Gildas_Club_GR, on Instagram at @instagram, and on Facebook at facebook.com/gildasclubgr
The tickets for Jeff Foxworthy event are sold out, however there is plenty of great shows still available over the corse of the 2 week event. Including Headliners: Jim Gaffigan, who will open LaughFest on March 5, Feimster Fortune, Maria Bamford, Adam Cayton-Holland - "Happy Place," Ralph Harris, Russell Peters, JP Sears, Miranda Sings with Special Guest Colleen Ballinger, and Justin Willman.
In addition to many local acts including: Hen Sap & Friends, The Dirty Show hosted by Adam Degi, LaughFest's Best, Pop Scholars, River City Improv, Rockin' Homegrown Jam featuring the Legal Immigrants and Grand Rapids Roast Battle hosted by Mike Logan.