On the heels of a wildly successful new CD, this Blue Collar comic is set to unleash a DVD, a book and an animated series. It seems this Tater Salad is far from spoiling.
Six years ago, Ron White was a Dumpster dweller. At least he was the day he realized he had thrown out — along with a box of tomatoes mailed by his mother — a $100 bill. At that point in his life, he almost had to dive in. You see, when the comedy-club chain he was working for cut his pay, he told them to, “go eat a steaming bowl of fuck” and then moved to Mexico, where he began making and selling pottery to make ends meet. Mom White knew times were tough. So inside one of her regularly mailed packages of her famous homegrown tomatoes, she slipped something special. Bad timing. White was away for two weeks while the tomatoes were rotting in a Texas post office just over the Mexican border.
When Mom called Ron at his home in Mexico upon his return home, she let him in on the monetary surprise. “I got back in my car,” says White, “drove back to the U.S., drove back to the post office, climbed in the Dumpster, started rummaging around in all of this shit for 30 minutes, found the box of rotten tomatoes, opened it up, got the hundred bucks, hopped out and went to eat.”
“So if you see me driving the Bentley, don’t judge me too quickly,” White laughs. “I had accumulated a lot of debt. I was insolvent with no hope of ever becoming solvent. I thought it was unfixable.” He pauses. “Turns out it was fixable.”
White, of course, is referring to his career and how three years ago it all turned around when the Blue Collar Comedy Tour — now a franchise that includes, along with White, Jeff Foxworthy, Larry the Cable Guy and Bill Engvall — hit 90 cities, grossed more than $15 million and spawned a Warner Bros. movie and a video that has sold well over 4 million copies to date. Later in 2003, White’s popularity had grown so much, he was able to release the CD Drunk in Public, which is on the verge of going gold.
When White says his former situation was fixable, he’s understating on purpose. He’s not kidding about the Bentley. He recently snatched up a twin-turbo V12 Flying Spur, a car that fetches upward of $185,000. He also just purchased a $1 million tour bus. It’s actually a good investment for someone who has played nearly 10,000 shows and continues to tour in earnest.
Keep in mind that when White isn’t playing 5,000-seat theaters, he’s traveling and doing two shows a night at clubs to work out new material. In fact, he’s about to embark on a 29-day road trip that will have him and his wife, Barbara — Jeff Foxworthy’s former interior designer, whom Ron married in June 2004 — crisscrossing the country, hitting states like Mississippi, Washington, California and Pennsylvania.
“It’s all good,” says White. “I wanted to be a famous comedian, and now I’m a famous comedian.”
THE TATER RISES
White’s fresh out of a meeting that ran a bit longer than expected. He hasn’t eaten a thing all day. He’s with Barbara, his financial adviser and a friend as they pull up to a restaurant somewhere in Georgia; White lives in Atlanta. “Honey, order me something fried,” he tells Barbara, and he stays to chat.
Raised in Fritch, Texas, a Podunk town not too far from both the New Mexico and Oklahoma borders, White never really thought of getting into stand-up comedy when he was a kid. A lot of things had to happen first.
When he was 17, White joined the Navy. His naval career lasted 18 months and three days. He was honorably discharged through the Naval drug rehabilitation center under medical conditions. “I came out of the navy with a pretty respectable drug habit,” says White. “I was shooting dope at least three times a day. Then I got into some trouble back home for stealing stuff to help support this little habit. I was probated by the courts to a drug-abuse program.”
White started working for the program as a counselor and eventually became its primary public speaker, going to high schools armed with his life story. “Every time I told my story, it just became funnier and funnier,” he says. “They started to complain that drug abuse shouldn’t be that funny. So I said, “Well tell them your fucking story then.”
Twenty years ago, while working as a window salesman, White, 29 at the time, used his experience as a public speaker and started his stand-up career in Arlington, Texas. “My brain is good for one thing and that’s for what I do,” he admits. “I have a 10th-grade education. I’m completely inept in everything else.”
By now, even casual comedy fans know Ron White. He’s the guy with the Texas drawl, who’s never seen onstage without his cigar and glass of Scotch on the rocks. He’s the one they call “Tater Salad,” his nickname ever since White began anchoring his act with an eight-minute story about how he was thrown out of a bar in New York City. (We’re not even going to attempt to summarize it here for fear of committing third-degree butchery).
His new album, You Can’t Fix Stupid — which peaked at #14 on the Billboard Top 100 — is an excellent documentation of his story-telling style. The man barely tells a traditional joke. He’s as far away from a one-liner comic as you could possibly get. He’s like Bill Cosby– a white, southern Bill Cosby who says “fuck” a lot and compares his dick’s length and girth to that of a cheese wheel.
The new disc also finds White relating a few other gems. He tells stories about his ultra religious grandmother giving him enemas when he was a kid and how she caught him losing his virginity. He also relates an idea he says his wife had on how to fix the planet’s overpopulation problem: “Stop spending money for research for the development of products like Viagra and Cialis, and instead invest that money in research to develop a product that will make semen taste like chocolate.”
Regardless of the occasional raunchy themes, a Ron White show almost feels like theater. He has the restraint and delivery of a classically trained stage actor. His timing is impeccable and his punch lines are powerful. And as far as stand-up style-stories go, they are of epic length, always feature a clear beginning, middle and end and rarely disappoint.“I don’t know why I ended up sounding different than other comedians, but I’m glad I did,” he says. “I try to deliver a story like I’m talking to one person,” he explains. “It seems to make them more personal.”
NO REST FOR THE WICKED
While Stupid is still flying off the shelves, the DVD version of the same performance – filmed at the Majestic Theatre in Dallas – is set to come out March 28. But White’s not going to lay low anytime soon.
He’s signed a deal with TBS to develop an animated series based on his stand-up act, which is tentatively scheduled to debut this summer. In June, White is also coming out with a book, I Had the Right to Remain Silent, But I Didn’t Have the Ability; the title is another reference to the famous “Tater Salad” story. The book will not only contain stand-up bits but also drawings by Matthew Schulz, who has interpreted his stories through illustrations. “It’s just me trying to make more money off my fans,” jokes White.
And in case you thought Blue Collar was all but dead, White and company are hitting D.C. to film the third installment of the tour movie, Blue Collar Comedy Tour: One for the Road.
Even now, despite his successes over the past few years, White has a difficult time understanding why it’s all happened. “I never saw myself becoming a real big comedian,” he says. “I saw myself as Jeff Foxworthy’s opening act. I would’ve done that for another 20 years. It paid well, it was easy, and I was working with my buddy. I saw myself like Willie Nelson’s harmonica player– just 30 years of blowing that fucking thing. That would’ve been fine with me.”
So is retirement far off for White, who will turn 50 in December? “I don’t think so,” he says. “The only thing we know for sure is that this is all going to come to a screeching halt at some point. How long its going to last, I don’t know. I would hope it’s a five-year run. Or it could be more. I could be one of those old geezers that could still do work in Vegas when I’m 70 years old.” He pauses. “Like, I’m ever going to be 70.”
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