Ron White: The Scotch-soaked legend of comedy

By | April 20, 2009 at 7:26 am | One comment | Features | Tags: ,

Ron White

Sold out theater shows, a national tour, a new CD, DVD and Comedy Central special. This is just another average year for comedian Ron White.

You can easily envision Ron White kicking through a saloon door before he takes the stage, hear the spurs jangle as he saunters to the mic, pulls from his cigar and puts another crowd on notice that he’s the only law in this town. The shoot-from-the-hip Texan’s third one-hour special, Behavioral Problems, premiered this week on Comedy Central and is out in stores on DVD April 21; it’s another sterling addition to the master storyteller’s solo career. While many people weren’t introduced to White until his wildly successful three-year run with Jeff Foxworthy, Bill Engvall and Larry the Cable Guy on the Blue Collar Comedy Tour, White’s one-of-a-kind stage persona is the evolution of two decades of playing any stage that would take him.

And it’s no act. Few comics have harnessed their personality as well as White, who has long ago traded his old pickup truck for a private jet but still seems like he would be just as comfortable telling you his stories from a barstool. Here, he chats with Punchline Magazine about the joys of touring, the evolving pottery market south of the border and much more.

You’ve been through this twice. How do you prepare for an hour special now?
It seems like there should be more to it. This is three years in the making. I did this myself. I did the last one, too. Comedy Central has nothing to do with it until I give them the finished product and say, ‘That’s it.’ They have no say in the material. I called my buddy who’s a director, and all I did was focus on the performance, go out and do a live show in front of seven cameras and see what they can capture.

How do you know your material is ready?
The way I do it is probably the way most people do it; once I do something on TV, I don’t like to do it anymore. It’s a joke. You know the joke. You might want to hear a joke again, but you already know the punch line. So I like to do new stuff. It takes about two years for me to tour the country. I want the show be a certain length, because if it’s too long, you’re jacking off, if it’s too short, whatever. I want the whole thing be about an hour forty, including my opening act. So every time I write something that’s good enough, I take something out, and by the time I come back to your fair city again it’ll be a completely different show.

I never flush it completely, but when I have a new piece of material out like this I definitely go into writing mode and try to get new stuff in the show. Foxworthy would always release an album and then tour with it, but I really don’t have a whole other show sitting on the sidelines. But even now, there’s a new half hour in it.

You paid your dues for a long time before the Blue Collar explosion. What’s the closest you ever came to hanging it up?
Other than a couple empty threats, I don’t think I was ever that close. I’m kind of impetuous. I did go down to Mexico for a little while, was down there making pottery. Then Blue Collar happened and they kind of put their foot down because when I’m down in Mexico, it’s hard to find me by any means of communication. They said if you want to do this, you’ve got to move back to the states. So I left the pottery company to people down there and it’s still running. It’s actually making money now, which never happened when I was there.

Jokes.com
Ron White – Scotchguard

Do you get a chance to make it down there anymore?
Yes, but I haven’t been in three years. It’s a dusty border town. I love living there. I thrive in an environment where the rules are kind of vague. It’s kind of like the Wild West. It’s very original, except now it’s starting to get a McDonald’s and a Church’s and all that. It kind of breaks my heart to see mom and pop get pushed out and now we have a McBurrito.

So long as Pottery Barn stays away.
I don’t think Pottery Barn wold make lot of money in Mexico. Ever notice Pottery Barn sells everything but pottery?

You’re very free-wheeling on stage. Was there some sense of relief when you were able to get back out on your own after Blue Collar, which had to be more mainstream?
There was never a 100 percent diet of Blue Collar. We did tour together for three and a half years, so there was a big dose of it, but I was still working clubs. I’d make less money and do more shows, but I was headlining. When I first made the leap from Blue Collar to theatres when the first one came out, that was a big leap; it’s when things really changed for me. I really didn’t do Blue Collar TV other than a couple times as guest star; I’m just working theatres on my own and having a blast doing it. Those guys work their butts off, and they know I’m not going to work that hard.

Do you have any desire to get more into acting?
I’ll piddle around with something every once in a while, but what I won’t do is quit touring to act. So it’s hard to fit in my schedule. I once had eight lines in a movie and it took four days. Movies are just boring as can be to make. I was offered one that took four months to make in Gary, Indiana. I can’t imagine.

Heard there’s a nice Pottery Barn there.
I bet there is. I bet it’s busy.

Jokes.com
Ron White – Scottish Nationalists

You’ve got a lot of casino shows coming up. What’s the best part of those?
The paycheck at the end of the day. It’s a weird phenomenon. There are so many Indian casinos. What happened at first was you’d go there and perform in their bingo hall because they didn’t have a theater. They’d build a temporary one out of a tent. Now a lot of them have great theatres, so it’s fun. You go in and gamble and drink and then go in and do few shows and have a great time. I like it. It’s great work. The other thing is, a lot of guys don’t sell hard tickets well, but I do. The casinos have to recover their money, so they’re glad I can sell it out.

Will you watch the special when it’s on TV?
Oh no. I know I’m funny, but I cannot stand watching myself. I tried to sit through it after we shot it and I couldn’t. I looked like a fat alcoholic that needed a haircut. I couldn’t stand the other ones. When the first Blue Collar came out, all I saw was one eyebrow hair sticking out. My son was 13 at time, and he said, ‘Dad, everybody knows that’s the way you look except you.’ And I’m like, ‘But what about that hair?’

Are you that self-aware on stage?
Not at all. I love to perform. But I don’t see myself doing it. By the time this comes out, it’s been three or four months since we shot it. Since then, the way I do bits on the special, I do differently now because it continues to evolve. So I’ll look at that and go, ‘Well, fuck. I should have waited four months because that joke is better now.’ I’m just critical of it. But on face, it’s fine. I murdered them from the time I walked on until the time I walked off, and they’re still showing up by the thousands.

When I started, when I quite my day job and left the road as a feature at clubs, that was the happiest day of my life. And I didn’t make any money. I was just finally doing something I knew I can do, because I’ve got these learning disabilities and blah, blah, blah, blah, and I’ve got a 10th grade education. But so does Chris Rock; I found that out on his special—it’s something else we have in common. So in comedy, I felt like I had found home, that this is what I’m supposed to do, tell jokes. I always had great timing even as a kid.

My whole life, 10 people could watch a car wreck and I was the one who could tell the story and make people laugh. But I never equated that to a career in comedy. I never saw something like that happening to me. I never thought to put effort into it, I just did what came naturally to me. Other guys are trying to crap jokes out, write all day and exercise all night, and I’m drinking and partying. But people seemed to like it. I loved it from the very beginning, and now to walk out on those big stages with all those fans, it’s very, very surreal.

Were people supportive when you made the jump?
Yeah, everybody knew it. People saw it coming before I did. Most people were thrilled I made the decision to do it at all and then to give it everything, and then to have it pay off. There’s no guarantee it’s going to pay off. My retirement plan was, ‘maybe something neat will happen.’ But I felt like I was a success before this happened because I was headlining clubs, which is a blast to do. And I was making OK money, as much as my friends make, and I was working an hour a day and drinking free. I wasn’t really looking for more, but I got a lot more.

Jokes.com
Ron White – Tater Salad

What was the life like at first?
Alex Reymundo, who has opened for me a lot and is doing more stuff on his own now, we started the same time. I was a middle act and he was an opening act, so I was making like $400 a week and he was making like $3 a week. We’d get in his little Toyota truck or my Nissan, which was just a base Nissan truck. I think it was 85 or 86, bench vinyl seats in it, just dingy looking. We’d literally drive 800 miles to do two nights somewhere and end up with enough gas to get to the next city. Laughing the whole time, like we got the world by the balls and they don’t know it. It was so much fun.

He and I had rules. I’d drive a tank of gas and he’d drive a tank of gas. If anybody suggested smoking pot, you had to smoke pot. You could not sleep when the other person was driving. We called it the Joys of the World Tour, and we were having a blast. Now we’re doing it on my jet, which I guarantee is not any more fun. It’s still fun, but when you get to the big end of show business, it’s very complicated. You’re a great target for lawsuits, and you end up with lawyers everywhere which I just hate. I can’t stand it. But now I’m lucky enough to have somebody working for me handling all that stuff, and now I just sit back and handle the funny stuff.

What advice would you give to the Ron who was just getting started?
Keep pedaling the bike. Everything’s gonna be fine.

For more info on Ron, check out tatersalad.com.

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Tom Keller

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