While the “Liberal Redneck” monicker might sound like an oxymoron, for Trae Crowder — the comedian best known for that persona — it’s a form of resistance.
The redneck trope (trucker cap, sleeveless T-shirt, thick drawl — all of which Crowder incorporates into his YouTube videos) often equates with conservative, racist and misogynist points of view. “When you see a redneck portrayed [in] the media, it’s always the same,” says Crowder, who grew up in rural Tennessee and is now based in Los Angeles. “I’m combating that by going out in public and acting just as crazy as they do, but I’m going to be superliberal about it [and] get my views out there.” Topics of recent Liberal Redneck videos have included the Alabama abortion ban, gun control, the separation of immigrant children from their families and climate change (the latter featured an Al Gore cameo).
Crowder knows he’s not alone in his proud Southerner-meets-leftist stance. “Asheville and Austin, [Texas], to me, those are liberal redneck cities,” he says. “Especially Asheville. … It’s in my wheelhouse. The people who come out to shows are fully on board.” Crowder will perform at The Orange Peel as part of the wellRED Comedy Tour (with fellow standup artists Drew Morgan and Corey Ryan Forrester) on Saturday and Sunday, July 13 and 14.
The Liberal Redneck character came out of one of Crowder’s early standup routines. “It was the first bit I ever felt proud of,” he says. “I was always doing similar things [but] I’d also joke about my relationship or whatever. Getting drunk, Starburst, Taco Bell. It wasn’t exclusively political or social commentary, and it still isn’t.” At live shows, he says, he talks about his wife and living in California, among other topics.
Still, the character comes from an authentic place, Crowder says. “I did grow up superredneck,” he told NBC News. “I grew up in abject poverty, and, in my opinion, it should be the natural inclination of most really poor people to be liberal. Otherwise, you’re going against your self-interest.” Plus, a close relationship with a gay uncle exposed him to the bigotry endured by the LGBT community.
Though Crowder’s YouTube videos feel off-the-cuff, they’re all carefully crafted, he says. “I’ve been writing stuff for myself or whatever since high school. I consider myself a writer,” he explains. The comedian is currently hoping to land a TV show deal and, in 2016, he penned The Liberal Redneck Manifesto: Draggin’ Dixie Outta the Dark with Morgan and Forrester. The trio, who tour extensively, recently released two sketches on Comedy Central Digital, including the hilarious “Is it Southern or Hipster,” which skewers food trends.
Crowder has also lent his talents to decidedly noncomedic efforts, such as Inherent Good, a documentary about universal basic income, as well as short, serious videos addressing misconceptions around living wage policies and public assistance.
The comedian is reluctant to point to the 2016 election as a boon to his career. “I still hate it every day and really wish it hadn’t happened,” he says, “but it kept the kind of things I like to rant and rave about in the news.” At the same time, the fans who revel in his material offer him a glimmer of hope.
Some, especially from smaller towns, describe themselves as closeted liberals. “They believe, as the rest of the country does, that they’re the only ones and liberal Southerners don’t exist,” Crowder says. “They all come to [our shows] and see each other, and that’s a good thing.”
That doesn’t mean that every left-leaning locale is a natural match for Crowder’s brand of humor. “We have great shows in Portland, too,” he says. “But those people, the ones who aren’t transplants from somewhere in the South … don’t get the Southern or redneck layer. They likely appreciate it, but they don’t have the full understanding.”
He adds that the best wellRED shows are in Southern cities, where the lingo doesn’t require translation. After all, Crowder says, “Not everyone knows what a meemaw is.”
WHAT: wellRED Comedy Tour with Trae Crowder, Drew Morgan and Corey Ryan Forrester
WHERE: The Orange Peel, 101 Biltmore Ave., theorangepeel.net
WHEN: Saturday, July 13, 6 and 9 p.m.; Sunday, July 14, 7:30 p.m. $30 general/$50 includes meet & greet