When is the first time you recall making anyone laugh?
I told a knock-knock joke when I was 5 years old. The joke was: “Knock-knock. Who’s there? Madame. Madame who? My damn foot’s caught in the door.” Had no idea what it meant, heard somebody else say it, but I told it in a room full of people and they just fell over laughing. It was in 1962 in Fritch, Texas, so that was a tough crowd!
The first time I remember getting a big laugh in public was at a movie theater. I was watching The Blue Lagoon, and there’s the scene where they’re about to have sex, and he says, “I feel something funny down there.” And she says, “Me too.” And I said, “ME TOO!” It got just a huge laugh throughout the whole theater.
You hit it big after Jeff Foxworthy handpicked you to be part of the Blue Collar Comedy troupe. How did he discover you?
I met him the first time I ever did stand-up [in 1986]. At the time, I could only do four minutes, but it was four strong minutes; conceptually, my ideas were right. But he comes up to me after my first set ever, and he says, “Hey, you are funny as can be, but you need to put the punch line at the end of the joke.” And I was like, “Oh, wow. How do you do that?” This is how generous this guy is: He sits down with a pencil and a piece of paper and rewrites my four minutes, just showing me how to structure it. I don’t really remember how to do it wrong now, but it seemed simple then!
You weren’t exactly an overnight sensation, enduring a long journey from amateur stand-up to Vegas headliner. Did you ever consider throwing in the towel?
I actually threw in the towel at one point. I did a lot of my work for the Funny Bone Comedy Club chain, and they had cut my pay by one-third because they realized I had nowhere else to work—I had all my eggs in their basket. And I told the guy who owned the club to go eat a steaming bowl of fuck, which was fun to say, but it did cost me 42 weeks of work. So I went to Mexico and opened a pottery factory for three years. Now I was broke; it didn’t work. So I called Jeff, and I said, “I need to go back to work for you.” One day, we’re flying back on his plane, and he said, “We’ve got this big thing coming up, and if you play your cards right, you could be part of it.” And I said, “Well, why don’t I just give my cards to you and let you play them for me, and I’ll just shut up? How about that?”
Among the four Blue Collar comics—yourself, Foxworthy, Bill Engvall and Larry the Cable Guy—who should be the first to hit their knees and thank God for their bank account?
Me. Absolutely me. I’ve always lived without a big plan. My retirement plan was, “Maybe something neat will happen!” So I really never saw myself as a big successful anything at all. I knew I was a good comedian, but I’d seen some really good comedians not turn the corner. Luckily, I did the work; I did the 16 years, 50 weeks a year, doing nine shows a week, mostly all over the hayfields of the Midwest.
But I got famous doing 10 minutes of material on [the first season of] Blue Collar. Most people burn their best hour getting famous, and I didn’t. So I had this badass show that nobody had ever seen. When the Blue Collar thing hit the shelves, I could sell out any reasonable venue. And when you can fill those theaters—well, I got a big raise!
What was your reaction the very first time you saw your name on a Las Vegas Strip marquee?
I was at the Riviera, and I remember my name was in 2-foot letters. There were four comics on the bill, and two of them shared a line, and then my name was by itself; I was the opening act. But it looked bigger, because it was closer to you. And I remember right beside my name, in 3-foot letters, was “Prime Rib Dinner, $7.99” So that got bigger print than I did. But I was on there, and it was cool.
You’re performing back-to-back weekends at The Mirage during the upcoming National Finals Rodeo. What’s the one rodeo event you’d love to try?
Beer vendor? You know, I used to own bucking bulls; they used to buck for the Professional Bull Riders [circuit]. One of them was named Scene of the Crash, and he was a genuine badass—almost won Bull of the Year. I had so much fun with it. Ultimately, I didn’t like the way they treated their cowboys. I thought they overworked them. These guys are doing something impossible, and they had too many demands on them—too long of a season, and not enough money, unless you win, in which case you win a million bucks, which turns into $300,000, and your hip is broke.
Get any good material from your days as a bull owner?
Yeah. Scene of the Crash got sick on the day that it was going to buck for the last time of the year [at NFR]. I was sitting in the Thomas & Mack, and they came down to me with a microphone and started doing an interview that was broadcast to the entire arena, and they said, “We understand Scene of the Crash isn’t gonna buck tonight.” And I said, “Yeah, he’s sick; at least that’s what he said. But then three people said they saw him doing shots with strippers at 4 o’clock in the morning at Spearmint Rhino. Let me tell you something: Ever since he got out of rehab, I’ve not been able to trust that bull. He doesn’t show up for work! Hey, Scene of the Crash, we all party, OK? But when it’s time to go, we go!”
Aces of Comedy
Featuring Ron White, 10 p.m. Dec. 6-7 and Dec. 13-14, Terry Fator Theatre in The Mirage, 792-7777, Ticketmaster.com