Comedian Rodney Carrington has a pair of gold albums, a hilarious new book and thousands of adoring fans– not to mention a movie-writing partner in Toby Keith. But at the end of the day, the Texas native is just a down-home, simple dude that wants to make you laugh.
Beer, blow jobs, marriage and the Bible: no topic is sacred to Rodney Carrington. Over the past few years, the cowpoke comedian has grabbed America by the bootstraps with a slew of albums, stand-up specials and, most importantly, an insightful, uproarious knack for spinning tales from the Heartland.
Since the mid-90s, Carrington has been assembling a comedic identity for himself by narrating a series of events in a way that only a man with a Texas twang could prove authentic.
Carrington’s homespun humor and good-natured candor are key components of his wide-reaching appeal, and have led to the success of his album Morning Wood, which recently went gold, and the release of his first book Coming Clean, a rib-tickling look into the stories that make the man in the ten-gallon hat tick.
Checking in with Punchline Magazine, Carrington elaborates on life, success, and the best way to solve a world crisis.
I read your book. It was hilarious.
Really? Bret [Witter, Carrington’s co-writer] wrote it, and he did a great job. He listened to twenty hours of conversation. For the first two days, we talked a lot on many different things and I didn’t quite know the approach we were going to take in the beginning, because I thought, ‘What am I going to make a book out of?’ I’ve never written a book or have been associated with writing a book. Some of its older stand-up material.
When I look back on previous material, you get older, and you think different; you grow with your audience. I heard seven minutes of something I did on Sirius radio about 10 years ago, and I’m thinking, ‘God, what was I thinking?’ Way back when I came up with a lot of the material, I didn’t have kids. It was where I was in that particular part of my life, and I think Bret did a great job putting that together.
What are the advantages of putting those stories into a book as opposed to keeping them onstage?
Well, a lot of those stories were stories that haven’t been formulated into bits. I don’t know what the advantage was; I certainly didn’t set out to write a book. The company approached me and said, ‘We would like you to do a book,’ and I thought it was a great opportunity to give people that have bought records of mine in the past the explanations for how things came about.
I didn’t want to put out a book that was just my stand-up, because the things I’ve come up with are things that I’ve lived. Most of my material is all personal, and it’s unique in that way. I guess you’re more emotionally connected to your own stories.
When there have been people in the past that I’ve admired, I’ve always been interested in how they came to the place that they’re at, things that they’ve done, and I just thought that if I was going to do this book, I wanted it first and foremost to be entertaining, and also insightful about some of the things I went through early on.
I noticed that in between bits from your material, you included some really sentimental moments, like the song about your best friend who passed away.
It was important for me to put pieces of what’s real to me in the book. I’m not out to teach anybody anything; there’s no hidden agenda behind what I do. I simply want to make people laugh, and I don’t try to change anybody’s mind about anything; I just want them to laugh. My intention with the book was to make people laugh and to make them feel good.
You have a very easygoing type of narrative in your book. How much of that comes from you and how much is from Bret Witter?
I would say there’s a real healthy mixture. Bret used his writings skills. I’m not a book writer; he is. That’s what he does for a living. I made it clear to Bret from the beginning that I wanted him to have the credit for writing the book, and I would give him as much of the information as I possibly could, but he should use his own skills to do what he does. Some of it’s my voice. A lot of the things are just real honest; the presentation is partly mine, partly his.
Your album Morning Wood recently went gold. Do you see this as a defining ‘I’ve finally made it’ career moment?
The greatest hits record went gold, and the Morning Wood record went gold, but I never look at anything as a defining career moment, as in ‘Oh, I’m done!’ I look at everything as stepping stones to where I’m going next.
Where I was in that moment when I made the Morning Wood record, I look at it and see a lot of things I would have done differently. But at that time in my life, that’s where I was. I don’t feel like I’m done; I feel like the best things are yet to come.
I made comedy records, and I did a television show for two years, and I’ve enjoyed the process of each and everything I’ve done. That’s what’s most important to me: if it’s not fun, I don’t care to do it. I’m not looking at projects as trying to define myself as ‘This is it.’ I just want to make people laugh, and I want to do it as long as I possibly can.
When you were growing up, did you always want to be a comedian?
No, but I knew this: I always had the desire not to work for anyone else. I knew that was not going to be a good setting for me, and that I would never be comfortable behind a desk or a mower. Comedy was something that I discovered while I was doing theater at junior college; trying to be the best actor I could, I tried anything and everything that would scare me to death.
I tried comedy as one of those things, thinking that if I could do this, I can eliminate any kind of fear that I might have, because I thought that was one of the scariest things I could possibly do. After doing one particular play in college, I experienced laughter for the first time from an audience, and it just turned something on. I thought this would be a great way to make a living, if I could figure out a way to do it.
The first night I did comedy, people laughed. So I spent a year after that figuring out how I made people laugh that first night. In the beginning, that’s all you’re trying to do. As time goes on, you’re able to find your voice and pinpoint what you feel is funny, and you start to learn. A lot of the experiences early on cut out a lot of the fat. You start to realize that ‘Oh, this will work,’ and ‘This is a good idea’ as opposed to when you start in the beginning, you have no idea what will work or not.
I read a section in the book about your first bombing experience as a comedian. What was it that motivated you to keep going after that?
Bombing was a big part of it. I think the first five years of comedy for anybody is defined by how much humiliation you can stand. Apparently I have a high tolerance for it. There were several nights where I bombed. I think the motivation was from a lot of good guys I met along the way who just said, ‘It’s part of it, and you’re gonna do alright.’ Steve Harvey was one of those people.
The first major bombing experience was in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. That week was a trying experience. It was my first time getting paid, and I had lied to the club owner, telling him that I had thirty minutes of material when in fact I think I only had seven minutes, and when you try to stretch seven minutes into thirty minutes it becomes a real long, painful experience, and that’s exactly what it was.
The club owner said to me, ‘I don’t know what you were doing before you tried comedy, but you should go back to Texas and get your job back,’ and then he paid me $400. What I thought, being hardheaded, that if I was paid $400 for being awful, I wondered what he’d pay me if I got really good at it, and I think that was my motivation from that point on.
I tried not to do any shows where I had to do more than ten minutes, and that’s what I did. I drove anywhere and everywhere for any kind of money I could get and slept in the back of my truck, and just gutted it out.
Was that before or after you were married?
That was before I was married. However, when I got married, I knew at that point in time that it was no longer fun and games, and that I was going to have to make this work and make a living. Marriage was certainly a motivation, and kind of a new chapter in how I had to approach things differently, and to feed my family. I think if anything, it helped.
Who are your influences? Your book makes mention of Sam Kinison.
I was influenced by a lot of people, not necessarily just in comedy. When I was younger, Elvis was a big influence. I can remember as a kid, when Elvis died: I was only 10 years old, and that affected me, but it affected everybody, just for what he did; the obvious reasons. I don’t know that there was anybody that influenced me to do comedy. There were a lot of people that I liked, that I admired, but did they have a direct influence on me? I don’t know if there’s one person I could pinpoint and say ‘Yeah, this person was an influence.’
I worked with Sam Kinison in my career, early on, and when you run into someone who had such a big impact on comedy, there’s influence, and it offers you a little inspiration. Not only that, but he was a nice guy, which helped. There were many people along the way that were good people: Drew Carey was a super nice guy, and was a big inspiration for me early on.
I think it was really just their kindness that kind of made me think, ‘There’s hope.’ Once I got started, there was no other alternative. For me, I don’t have any other choice. It was either this or moving rocks.
The blue collar thing is a major aspect of your act. There’s obviously been a lot of success in recent years with Larry the Cable Guy, Bill Engvall and even the Blue Collar Comedy Tour itself. Where do you see yourself specifically fitting into this brand of humor?
Well, I think those guys have done great for themselves. I know all of those guys, they’re all real nice guys, and it’s always great to see good guys do well. As far as where I fit in, my comedy’s a little more R-rated compared to what they do, so I never would have been able to fit into their world.
My feeling has always been to find my own place, and when I got to where I was having a little success, I just tried to figure out what that was, and do more of it. When I started doing comedy, I worked a lot of really rough places, as many other people did, and when you’re standing up in front of 300 drunken Marines, I couldn’t necessarily tell a joke about a squirrel and expect to get paid or come back, so I think a lot of my style that I developed — quick and somewhat fast-paced — came from those early, rough shows.
I’ve never really given much thought as to how I fit in and what my role is, other than I want to make people laugh and be as honest as I can.
What I learned early on was the more honest I was about embarrassing moments, the more it became a thing that helped with my success. I never worried whether it was clean or dirty. My agenda was whether it was funny, and I just didn’t edit what I was doing. I just kind of went based on how the crowd was responding.
On that same note, you have a very Southern style to your comedy. Do you think that translates to people who aren’t necessarily from that type of background?
I think so. I grew up in Texas; you can’t deny where you come from, so there’s obviously going to be some flavor of that, but the stories I tell are universal. I’ve met people who aren’t from the South and tend to like what I’ve done, so I guess the answer to that question is yeah, sure, it translates if you give it a chance.
I hear you have a movie project with Toby Keith coming out.
Yeah, we wrote a movie together. It’s called Beer For My Horses, and we’re planning to shoot it in January or February. It kind of came about with Toby asking me to help him write a movie. I was thinking initially of what I could possibly offer Toby Keith; he’s got everything. But it turns out that just in general we have a lot of similarities in the way that we approach things and the way we go about business. It’s been fun; we’ve laughed a lot.
Were you a fan of his before you met?
Yeah, I met him back in 1997 and I remember the first time I ever heard him sing live. My initial response was just how powerful his voice was, and not to mention that, as a former football player, he’s a big guy. I look like his four-year old, standing next to him. But he’s also just a regular guy, too, and that’s what I took away from just hanging out with him.
I see from your book that you have not just a fascination with titties, but a deep respect.
[laughs] It’s funny to hear you say ‘titties.’
Do you have a favorite pair?
No, I don’t have a favorite pair. I like every pair. I’m like a woman in a shoe store: get ‘em out, I’d like to see every pair. I think they’re really important: I think that for every major decision made by a world leader there should be titties and ice cream in the room, because it’s impossible to make a bad decision when you’re eating an ice cream sundae and looking at boobs.
For more information, check out www.rodneycarrington.com.