Jon Reep: More Wilco, less Toby Keith

By | March 3, 2008 at 3:53 am | 2 comments | Features

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Last Comic Standing winner Jon Reep has made a name for himself as the high-energy, lovable hillbilly from North Carolina. But as you’ll soon discover, the comedian embraces all collars, not just the blue kind.

Though his name is not exactly household yet, you’ve no doubt caught his face on television, either as the “Hemi Guy  on the popular Dodge Ram commercials, his half-hour special on Comedy Central or, most notably, as the winner of the most recent season of NBC’s Last Comic Standing.

Come April, you’ll be seeing a lot more of Reep, this time in New Line Cinema’s Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay. Checking in from his home in LA, Reep let Punchline Magazine in on the essence of comedy, family and life as a Southern-fried fish out of water.

The South seems to be a virtual gold mine for comedy these days. How do feel you fit into that scene?
I get lumped in that category a lot. But it doesn’t matter where you’re from or who you are; you can enjoy me even if you’re white collar or blue collar or Goth people, dog collar. My comedy is collar-blind. Those [Blue Collar Comedy Tour] guys are more like your Mount Rushmore of redneck comedy, you know, and I would be more like the Shooter Jennings-version of that, or your John Cougar Mellencamp of comedy.

I’m more Southern rock than I am country. I do like country, though; I like everything, but I guess in terms of music, I’m even more of a Southern rocker than new country: alternative comedy.

So you’re less Toby Keith and more Wilco?
Yeah, there you go, exactly. But some Toby Keith is good. I think that there are two types of music: there’s good and bad, and that’s it. There’s good in all types and there’s bad in all types. I like the good. I think I’m adding a younger, fresher, more energetic version of what Southern comedy’s got going on right now.

So you consider your comedic style a melting pot; very eclectic?
Yeah, I live in LA. I’ve been out here for eight years now, and it wouldn’t have worked if I had been doing nothing but Southern humor the whole time. Plus, we shot Last Comic Standing out here, and my audience out here was not Southern at all. [Laughs]. I had to mix it up, quite a bit.

Your background, though, still must influence your material.
Yeah, I talk about my family a lot, especially my dad; My dad is like the character of our family, and when I say character, I mean moron. It’s a code word we use in the South: “character.” Someone says, “He’s a character, and that means they’re about to trash ‘em. I talk about my family, I talk about sports, and I talk about Hickory, obviously, the town I grew up in. It’s just so easy to make fun of that town, because the word “hick” is in the name!

So I had to start with that, and people liked hearing me talk about it because there’s a Hickory or a Hickton or a Hickville in almost every state in this country; it’s very relatable. There’s also the movie Hoosiers about the basketball team from Hickory, and it’s a famous barbecue flavor, so it’s just
a funny-sounding word.

What made you want to seriously pursue comedy?
My dad. When he was in high school his senior year, he was voted Class Clown, and I got Class Clown in my senior year and my little brother did after me. My dad has always been hilarious, and it just rubbed off on me. I’d just kind of been the funny guy in the circle of friends I hung out in, so everyone was always saying, “You should be a comedian, you should be a comedian.”

I’d never really thought of it as a real option, because when you grow up in a small town, you get stuck with a real job. We didn’t have a comedy club, and it was always something that you saw on TV and in the movies, and you don’t normally think it’s real.

It wasn’t really a possibility for me until I moved to Raleigh, North Carolina, which is where I went to school, and there was a comedy club there. I thought, Wow, I guess this is like a real thing; I guess people actually go to comedy clubs. And then I fell in love with it. I was a theater major, and a mass- communications major, so it was in line with what I was already doing.

I went in there, and the first couple of years I was doing it just to have fun and meet chicks. It didn’t turn into a real job until a couple of years in, when I realized that, as the house MC, I was doing better in terms of the audience than a lot of the comics that were coming in there as paid professionals. So I thought, Wow, if I can do better than pros, I wonder if I can do any better if I really tried.

What comedians do you look up to?
When I was a kid, instead of watching cartoons on Saturday mornings, I’d watch old Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin movies, and I laugh my ass off. I think the first comedians I really liked were people like Steve Martin, Robin Williams, Jim Carrey, Dana Carvey, Bill Cosby, Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy; all those guys really influenced me growing up.

Who would you compare your own comedy to?
I don’t know. I’m pretty physical, so if you mixed in some Jim Carrey with a little bit of Don Knotts, and maybe a little bit of Jeff Foxworthy, too, that’s where I’m at.

reephathands300.jpgCan you share your worst bombing experience from your career?
Oh my God, yeah. I’ve got many of these. [Laughs]. One time in Virginia, I was doing really well for the first 10 minutes, but I had a couple of drinks in me. So I was like, “Hey, anyone got a cigarette?” Five cigarettes came flying up on the stage, and so I said, “Anyone got a lighter?” And this person hands me a Zippo.

So I took it, and I started hitting it on my leg; I was doing it real fast and suddenly, it flies out of my hand and hits this girl in the front row, square in the forehead, and it left a big red square on her forehead. I felt so bad. I offered to buy her a drink, but she wasn’t even 21. It was horrible, and for the next 15 minutes, it really sucked.

How do you see your victory on Last Comic Standing affecting the longevity of your career?
Who knows, longevity-wise. I think that any time you get on TV and you do something that a lot of people can see, it’s gonna help you for a while; it’s what you do with that that’s going to give you longevity. I hope that I’ll make the right decisions, do more things to stay in the limelight, but Last Comic Standing definitely helps right now.

I’m touring all over the country in bigger venues, to bigger crowds, and getting more money, which is great. It’s more fun now that people know you. A lot of times when you’re first starting out, people come to comedy clubs just to see a comedian. But now it’s like people show up to see me; that makes you feel great.

And I gotta say thank you to the people who voted for me; because of their votes now, I get to tell people that I’m the best comedian in the world! [Laughs]. You know because they were searching the globe, and I won the contest; it’s not my fault that Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock had not entered the contest. They’re busy making cartoon movies, and I’m winning shit!

Besides winning, what benefits have Last Comic Standing afforded you?
It really makes you flex your muscles in terms of comedy; You gotta be pretty quick on your feet. You’ve got to have tons of material and hope that you can turn it around pretty quickly because this whole world’s gonna see it. It was pretty stressful and challenging, but I made some good friends. The other contestants and I toured around the country together, promoting the show until it ended. We did three months together, touring theaters all over, so I got to know them real well, and we had a blast. Now I can always say that I made some friends out of the deal.

How do you feel about being known as the Dodge Hemi Guy?
Well, I’ll never shake it; I’ll always be known that way in my career. I could be president of the United States, and I’d still be the Hemi Guy; that’s how I look at it. I don’t mind it because it was really a positive, fun time in my life for those commercials: it was the first big thing I did, and Dodge was very good to me: they paid me to go to the Daytona 500 three years in a row.

I got to go to all the car shows, and they gave me a truck. They actually had a booth set up at the Detroit auto show where you could go do the lines from the Hemi commercial with me, and they filmed it, so you could be in the commercial with me. If you look on YouTube, you can find some of those clips that people put up there of themselves in the commercial with me. It was great; I can’t complain at all.

Are you ever worried that you might be typecast, due to being known as the Hemi Guy?
You always get typecast at first, no matter who you are. You gotta start with what you are, but the good thing about being typecast is the word “cast”: you’re working, you got the part. I’m not at the level where I can pick and choose: I gotta take the roles that I can get, and whatever I audition for, that’s what I get.

How much of your onstage persona is a character, how much is reality?
I’d say most of it is reality. When I’m onstage, it’s really just an exaggerated version of myself. Like right now, if I were talking on stage like this, it would be pretty boring. [Laughs]. I like to have a couple of beverages before I get up there, and if I have a couple beers in me, then the Southern drawl comes out a bit more.

It’s weird now, living in LA, because when I go back home to visit my friends in Hickory, North Carolina, they’re like, “Here comes Hollywood! Look at him: look at his gold teeth.” And when I go back to Hollywood, it’s like, “Here comes the redneck; don’t point at him, he might bite your fingernails off!” It’s kind of like I’m in the middle now, and I really don’t know, but it’s weird out here having a Southern accent, because people expect you to say stuff like, “What are shoes for?”

What does the future hold for Jon Reep?
Well, I’m gonna be in a movie opening April 25; it’s the sequel to Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle. It’s called Harold and Kumar Escape Fron Guantanamo Bay. I play this character named Raymus who’s a redneck farmer — shocker — and I’m married to my sister and we have an inbred son, who’s a cyclops and lives in the basement. Harold and Kumar end up on our property, running from security agents, and hide out at our place for a couple of days. I’m also touring around the country, all the time.

reephed200.jpgI’ve also got this Web site called SmallTownNation.com, which is like  MySpace, if MySpace could grow a mullet. I’m the “Tom” of it, so when people sign up, I’m their first friend; it’s a social-networking site as well as an informational site about me and my tour dates and my video clips. We have people who get on and exchange stories and pictures of the things that you have to do to entertain yourself when you’re from
a small town.

For more info, check out jonreep.com.

About the Author

Emma Kat Richardson

Emma Kat Richardson is a Detroit native who received her BA in professional writing and women and gender studies from Elizabethtown College in 2008. Her journalism and feature writing has been published in Alternative Press, Bitch, Punchline Magazine, Bookslut, and Real Detroit Weekly.

  • Ruth Miller

    Seems everyone wants to use Toby Keith’s name to gain attention. You might consider being a little more positive in your comments. You might be surprised with the support you would get from his fan base.

  • http://www.punchlinemagazine.com Punchline Magazine

    Ruth, we’re not putting Toby down. the headline is from Reep’s mouth. he says he likes both Wilco and Toby. but if he were to describe his comedy in country music terms, he’s “more Wilco.” that’s all.