Dan Whitney, better known by his alter-ego Larry the Cable Guy spoke to Xpress prior to his show here this week.
Mountain Xpress: Are you funny at home?
Larry the Cable Guy: Oh, I’m very deadpan. I’m very serious. No! (laughs) I’m pretty goofy all the time.I don’t know. I mean, my wife’s funnier than I am so the whole house is full of funny people. I would say I’m cracking jokes as much as I can. Let’s just say I don’t sweat the small stuff.
Other comedians often aren’t very funny in interviews.
Yeah, a lot of radio stations tell me that. I like telling jokes and doing what I do so I’m pretty much always in a good mood.
How often do you come up with new material?
Every single time I’m on stage. See, I do a whole different kind of comedy. I’m a fan of the old Vaudeville one-liner guys. So, I do a lot of Vaudeville-type — no, I wouldn’t say Vaudeville — but I do a lot of one-liner comedy. I’ve got notes and notes of jokes that I want to try, and the only time I can try them is on stage. So, I have my set act, but I have jokes and I’ll pop in about 15 brand new one-liners a day, I would say. And sometimes none of them work, sometimes two of ‘em work, sometimes eight of ‘em work. You don’t know until you try them. So I’m always putting them in and when I get a big laugh on a couple of them I’ll take out a couple of older ones I’ve been doing for a while and replace them with a couple of the newer ones. Once you get through the course of a year you’ve replaces 130, 140 jokes and you’ve got a new … well, since I do one-liners, 140 jokes, that’s about seven minutes (laughs).
No, I’m always doing something new. When people come to my show they’ll recognize some things. Most things they won’t recognize. I totally rearrange my act. I add new punch lines to old stuff, I take stuff away and add new things to that. A lot of it’s the same topics just with different jokes. It keeps it fun for me because it keeps it fresh. I always throw in something new somewhere. It’s fun for me, I like to laugh at it, too … I’m my biggest fan. Like today, I’ve been doing interviews — and honest to God — I’ve lost fifty pounds on NutriSystem. That’s like seven Nicole Ritchies.
If you change your look much, will people still relate to you?
Believe me, I’m a pretty big-boned guy. It’s not gonna change my look that much. I’m down 50, I’m still up 25 from when I started doing it. I started at around 280 pounds. Now I’m down around 237-236 So I’ve still got a ways to go. But you know, I’m always wearing a sleeveless flannel and a pair of jeans so I don’t think it really matters. My face looks thinner. I look just like Brad Pitt, only different.
Where do you look for inspiration? Do you “people watch”?
Yeah, you people watch. You invite guys over to play poker and every body’s taking about stuff and you pop out a funny quip and you write it down. It kind of happens like that. Or you hear something that could be a punch line and then you just try to think of a set up for it.
I was talking to one lady and she was asking if I’d ever been to the Popeyes down the road. I said well, I took my wife there to Popeyes for our anniversary but we don’t eat there that much: We don’t want people to think we’ve got money. See? You just come up with stuff like that. You’re always in that mode of thinking. That’s how you write them. You have to be in that frame of mind. They’re there in your head, you’ve just got to look for them.
Are there topics you won’t address?
Well, if it’s funny I’m going do it, you know. I’ve come to the realization after doing this it doesn’t matter what kind of comedian you are. You could be squeaky clean, it doesn’t matter. Somebody’s getting pissed off at something you say. Somebody’s getting offended. It could be the dumbest thing. You’ve got to get over that. Once you get over that, you can write some pretty funny stuff. I’m over that. I just got to the point of, ‘If you don’t think it’s funny, don’t come see me.’ My stuff’s pretty much harmless compared to a lot of comedians. I don’t drop any f-bombs, I don’t take the lord’s name in vain. I do a lot of old redneck phrases and that kind of stuff. I cross the line a little bit but not too much. As far as picking on stuff, I pick on myself more than I do anybody else. Obviously there’s a time and a place for certain jokes and you really don’t know what line you can cross until you’re doing the show.
Do you alter your material depending on the venue?
If you go down the political venue, if you go down that avenue you can tell what your crowds’ kind of laughing at. But that doesn’t happen a lot at my shows because everybody comes to see me. They’re there to laugh and they pretty much think the way I do, anyway.
Would you say your material reflects current American values?
You know what? I don’t look into it at all like that. A lot of people like to look into entertainment and comedians and try to pick it apart and see what kind of political aspect it has. Look, I’m telling jokes and getting laughs and at the end of the day it was a comedy show. I don’t think it’s a statement about anything. It’s more of a statement that at the end of the night people are going, ‘Man, my broth-in-law’s just like you. ‘You know, I got a cousin who’s just like you.’ ‘You remind me of my sister-in-law.’ You know? So that’s pretty much it.
What I do is a character but it’s a magnification of myself in a way because I grew up — I’m a country kid — I grew up in the middle of nowhere in Southeast Nebraska on a farm. I grew up bailing hay and raising pigs, feeding horses, the whole deal. Cutting heads off chickens, making fried chicken. I just grew up around guys like that and I pull a lot of my comedy from experiences I had as a kid and further on into life, so it’s not a statement of political anything.
I gotta tell you, I got no problem with New York and L.A. I know everybody hammers them. I’ve got a lot of friends who live in both places. I went and did Radio City Music Hall, sold out two shows, did almost 14,000 tickets. There’s good people everywhere who like to laugh and have fun and they get it. I mean, there’s a lot of times you do certain kinds of material or something, you’re a hayseed or you’re a hick or you’re not socially conscious. You know, there are people who don’t understand that they live in a completely different world and I live in reality. I don’t live in a Hollywood world that’s based on movies. I live in the real world. Stuff that I talk about and laugh about is stuff that my friends and I laugh about going down to eat down at Sunny’s Barbecue. Now, other people might think it’s not hip, it’s not sophisticated, and I say, ‘Who gives a rat’s ass? Funny’s funny!’ I’m a comedian, I’m not James Irwin. Why did I pick James Irwin? Really, I think people look into that stuff too much. It’s just funny stuff.
Asheville is a very liberal town.
I do everything the same. Everything’s the same. It’s like I say, people who don’t like me aren’t coming to the show anyway. My show’s for people who like what I do and like to laugh and have a good time. If it’s a liberal town and liberals don’t like it, fine. I could care less. I don’t do my shows for people who don’t like me, I do it for the people paying the tickets.
Why are you performing in smaller towns on this tour?
I always do that. I go into all different areas. When I was a kid growing up, if you wanted to do anything, you had to go to Omaha or Lincoln [Neb.]. I think it’s good we do some of these smaller towns. They’ve got just as big venues. They have theaters, they have arenas, you know what I mean? We went into St. Jo, Mo.. A lot of concerts won’t go to St. Jo. They go to St. Louis. Well, we went to St. Louis and did real good and said ‘Hey, let’s go into St. Jo down the road and then they ain’t gotta drive to St. Louis.’ Went to St. Jo, pulled four or five thousand people. Hey, they need entertainment, too! I just don’t like neglecting anybody. I don’t want to neglect those cities just because they’re not a big city. There’s still people who like to laugh and be entertained. If you can go in — we’ve been doing mainly arenas, but we’ve been picking up some theaters. If I can do an arena in St. Louis and pull in 8,200 or 67,00 people, why not go to St. Jo and do a theater and pull in another 2,300 and then do another show and pull in another 2,300? You’re doing 4,600.
Are smaller crowds more fun?
Yeah, it’s been a whole growing process because it was always comedy clubs and then you move out of those and you’re doing theaters and that’s a huge venue and you’re all nervous and your timing changes and everything about the way you present changes. And then, you get used to that and it becomes your new comedy clubs and it’s a piece of cake. And then you move into arenas and that’s a completely different venue and you’ve got to adjust and get used to that. Once you get used to that, you’re back into theaters and it’s like ‘Geez! I might as well do all brand-new material, this is a work-out room.’ You just feel more comfortable in the theaters. I think it’s a better experience for the fans because they get to sit closer, it’s more intimate, the fans like the theater a little bit better. We try to do as many places as you can, try to get as many people as we can. You don’t want to do a place that’s too small because then you sell out and people that wanted to go can’t go, so that’s why you do the arenas sometimes.
What comedians do you like?
I like all kinds of comedians. My wife and I are the same … there’s people who’ll go to a comedy show and just because they don’t like the politics of the comedian on stage, they’ll never go see them again. But I’m not that way. One of my good friends in the business, who I like to go watch, is Lewis Black. I think he’s hilarious. We’re on two totally opposite sides of the fence. I think he’s funny; we’re good buddies. You know? I can hear him with a grain of salt. I think he’s a good comedian.
Dennis Regan‘s really good … Adam Sandler, there’s a bunch of them. Comedy’s a really hard thing to do. If you’re in comedy and you’re successful and you’re doing really well, hey, I like you because it’s hard, it’s tough to be funny. I always use Dennis Miller because they’s why I try not to get real political. If I can’t do a joke about something in 8 seconds or less, I won’t do it, political-wise. When Dennis Miller was way more left wing, all my liberal friends loved him. I still love Dennis Miller. Didn’t agree with him, but I loved him, Then 9/11 happened and Dennis Miller went a little more to the right. Now my same friends who are real liberal don’t like Dennis Miller anymore. Can’t stand him. ‘He’s not funny anymore, he lost it.’ He’s still funny, he’s just doing material you don’t agree with. He’s the same guy, He’s doing the same irreverent crap he’s been doing ever since he started standup. I thought he was funny both ways, some people can’t handle it. That’s just the way our society is right now, which really sucks.
Its a tough deal to do, so I have a lot of favorites that you wouldn’t know who I like. I love George Carlin. Some people think Carlin isn’t as funny as he used to be, but I think he’s funnier because Carlin now, he’s an old bitter man who doesn’t even tell jokes, he just bitches. And I find that to be extremely hilarious.
Larry the Cable Guy performs at the Asheville Civic Center on Thursday, Feb. 7, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $41.75. Info: 251-5505.