By CRYSTAL SCHELLE
6:40 PM EDT, November 3, 2012
To millions of fans, Ron White is a cigar-smoking, Scotch-swilling comedian whose keen observations about finding the funny in everyday life has made him a bonafide star.
Away from the limelight, White is still a man who can make you laugh as he demonstrates early in the interview with a tale of his talking dog, Pearl.
But he's also a person who understands that it's taken a lot of hard work to get himself out of a small Texas town to unexpectedly be one of the top-paid comedians running.
White will be in Hagerstown for two nearly sold-out shows at 7 and 9:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 8, at The Maryland Theatre. As of presstime Wednesday, only a handful of tickets were still available for the 7 p.m. show. The shows are for mature audiences only.
His comedic beginnings
For White, 57, comedy started early.
"The first joke I told, I was 5, it was a knock-knock joke and it killed," he said during a telephone interview from his Montecito, Calf., home where he spends half of the time.
The joke, he said, was told to a roomful of adults: Knock-knock. Who's there? Madame. Madame who? Madame foot caught in the door.
"I heard that and I didn't know what that meant, but I thought I'd give it a wing at a little party my parents were having in their little 800-square-foot clapboard house," he recalls. "And it killed. It just killed. I guess I decided that when I was 5, I'd be a comedian."
But White said he never thought of being a comedian again. Growing up in "a little dirt town" in Texas, he said "they really never talk a lot about the arts at Career Day. It was about to get a job at the refinery. Outside of that, you were working in the oil patch."
For White, though it was a instead a stint in the Navy, a career that he calls "unheralded."
"The day I turned 18, was when I joined," he said. "I was kicked out high school. I had learning disabilities, but I still tested so I was a navigator. I was just a wild banshee kid. I'm able to make up for it now and I'm able to do raising money for wounded soldiers. I feel an obligation because my own military career sucked so bad."
And although he said the Navy didn't really help prepare him for comedy, it did give him the nickname "Tater Salad" because of his love of potato salad.
Blue Collar Comedy
Eventually, he found that comedy might be the best route for him. And it was his friendship with comedian Jeff Foxworthy that helped him go from a regular working comic to superstardom.
White said the first time he ever walked into a comedy club in Arlington, Texas, he met Foxworthy. White was doing his first set, which was four minutes, and went off the stage where Foxworthy, the headliner for the evening, was watching in the wings.
"He came up to me after my set and said to me, ‘Hey man, you're really funny, but you have to put the punchline at the end of the joke.' And I was like, 'Oh, wow, that's fascinating, how do you do that?'" White recalls.
White said Foxworthy's generosity to fellow comedians was prevalent even then.
"He sat down with a brand-new green comedian and with a pencil and paper and showed me how to restructure those sentences so that the punchlines were at the end," he said. "I've been doing it so long that I can't even remember how to do it wrong. Foxworthy's goal for a lot of years was to make me a famous comedian, and he truly sucked at it because it took him forever."
White was working with Foxworthy when the concept of the Blue Collar Comedy Tour came up. White admits he wasn't good at seeing the pure genius in the idea.
"You're going to get four comics in one show? That's dumb, what are we going to do that for?" White remembers saying.
As White admits today, he was wrong. Dead wrong.
"I didn't see it coming," he said.
The Blue Collar Comedy Tour, which included White, Foxworthy, Bill Engvall and Larry the Cable Guy, played for six years beginning in 2000. It spurred DVD sales and three movies. Eventually, it became one of the biggest-selling comedy tours of all time.
Dumbfounded by the immediate success, White laughed the whole way to the bank as he saw an explosion to his career and also to his paycheck.
"What it did to my career personally was that it took me from complete obscurity to complete unobscuirty and that's great," he said. "I never saw this kind of success coming for me. I didn't even care. I saw it happen to Jeff and I still didn't think it would happen to me, even though Jeff was standing right next to me. We exploded."
Even though the tour ended in 2006, White continues to tour where he tells his jokes to his audience, but at his heart, he's a storyteller.
"All my best stuff is stories. I'm a storyteller," he said. "I can structure-write a little bit, but my big thing is that I'm a storyteller, so usually my really big bits come from my life. And thank God."
White said he's constantly taking in what's going on around him for his material.
"As long as I'm out living life and mingling with everybody else and doing what everybody else is doing, then the comedy is always there," he said. "But when I get reclusive where I don't want to go out and I want to set back and sit on my hands for whatever reason, then I have a tendency to get blocked. But as long as I'm out participating in life there's too much fodder for comedy. I have buckets of stuff that I don't even work out because I don't even have time."
He said one reason he believes he connects with his fans so much is that his comedy is really about the truth.
"I think because I'm true to my nature. I don't have any corporate affiliates so I don't have to make anybody happy. I just accept my fans. I think they appreciate the honesty that's in my comedy," he said.
And White said, he also understands his own faults and flaws, which also makes for good laughs.
"I'm not perfect and I know it. I have many, many flaws but every one of them are mine," he said. "And most guys that are really popular in this industry are true to their nature, they're not trying to be somebody else. That doesn't matter if you're Richard Pryor or Jeff Foxworthy, they're both completely true to their nature, even though they're completely different, they're just hugely successful because of that, I think."
And keeping to that truth-telling and self-truth is what White believes helps him keep his fan base.
"My fan base is just a wonderful bunch of people, just like me. I guess what's great, I'm a baby boomer, majority of people in this country are my demographic, which is 46 to 66 or older," he said. "And I'm aging at the same rate as they are and they may continue to be interested in what I have to say or they may lose interest, I don't know. As long as they're coming out."
He said someone asked him the other day when he was going to retire.
"Man, my fans will tell me," he said.
Make 'em laugh
There's going to be plenty of fans in the Hagers-town audiences Thursday night.
"My goal is to make you laugh as hard as you can laugh for an hour and 20 minutes, My goal is to let you get it out. It's very, very physical," he said. "My goal is you to leave tired, holding your face and I will not be happy until that happens. I think that's why my longevity has been so long because I'm not a tinkerer comedian. I'm a pounder. I went to see someone the other day, and I won't even say who it was, but it was like they were dribbling the crowd, instead of smacking them around, that's what I do. Just expect to get hurt, that's all."
As for the future for White? He said he's going to keep making people laugh for as long as he can.
"I'm going to continue to tour and continue write, and continue to snuff out humor as long as people will have me doing it," he said. "I could definitely quit yesterday, but I love standup. I can't imagine having a life without it, to have thousands of people focused on you, it's very energizing, it's very addictive. I don't ever want to quit. I don't ever think about what I would do without standup, it's just a big ingrained part of my life. I'm just so connected."
If you go ...
WHAT: Ron White's Moral Compass Tour
WHEN: 7 and 9:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 8
WHERE: The Maryland Theatre, 21 S. Potomac St., downtown Hagerstown.
COST: Ticket cost for the 7 p.m. show: $54.75 balcony only, $213.75 VIP meet and greet; 9:30 p.m. show: $54.75 to $64.75.
CONTACT: Call 301-790-3500 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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