If you're looking for a ‘sure thing’ in the comedy department — who comes to mind? Were you thinking of Jeff Foxworthy? No? Well, think again.
His name is ubiquitous with redneck jokes. His television specials are ubiquitous with big-time ratings. Just ask Comedy Central. His ‘Blue Collar Comedy Tour Rides Again’ was already the network's second most watched telecast ever (second to a South Park episode.) And so, savvy network execs decided to test his success rate again — getting behind “The Comedy Central Roast of Jeff Foxworthy.” They weren't disappointed. It drew 6.2 million viewers and became the new second most watched telecast on the network.
He is the largest selling comedy-recording artist in history, a multiple Grammy Award nominee and the author of 11 books. Oh yeah, and he's managed to expand his appeal into a successful line of barbecue sauces and redneck-themed figurines. Yes, figurines.
Now he's emceeing the 2005 CMT Awards, (that's Country Music Television for those musically-challenged,) airing live on Monday, April 11.
Chris Rock seemed to arouse a little concern before hosting the Oscars. Can we expect any surprises from you on the CMTs?
Well, it probably won’t be like Chris, where people are going to be going a few days before ‘What's Jeff going to say?’ I think out of every form of entertainment, I think country music has the ability to not take itself too seriously. I've been doing a country countdown show for somewhere around six years and that's what I love about it. Most of these people have the ability to laugh at themselves and realize that we are two decisions away from dry walling.
The cool thing about this awards show is that it's the only set of awards now in country music where the fans vote. As I look back over the things I've won through the years, I think those things probably mean the most to you.
How many seconds of a delay would you be happy with?
I'm probably OK with a minute and a half delay. That is the one thing about this job — my wife thinks I'm crazy for hosting this stuff but I think there is something in a comic ... that there's a little thrill in walking the high wire.
I was hosting the ESPYs one year at Radio City and we were coming out of a commercial and the only thing I was supposed to say was, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, Ray Charles.’ And I got the stage manager with me and he’s like ‘OK, Jim were back on live in 5..4..3...’ then suddenly, they're telling me ‘Jeff...Ray's in the bathroom! Kill time!’
There I am — the camera is rolling, and you know I've got questions. Did somebody go with Ray? Did Ray take a newspaper? Exactly how long am I out here? But the next day walking around New York somebody says ‘Hey, you know what my favorite part of the show was? You were doing that thing about men and women getting ready to go out to an awards show.’ And I thought, how cool, because they never knew that that should have been a disaster.
Given the incredible ratings your programs have received — do you consider that evidence that most networks are ignorning a major demographic here?
I think that's been the case for a long time. I can remember going into production meetings with networks and they would start reading my stuff and they'd ask: ‘You've sold more comedy records that anybody in history? Really?’
The second ‘Blue Collar’ movie sold 2.5 million copies in three weeks! I mean, there is somebody out there watching this stuff! And it used to be my argument — ‘I've been on the road 20 years, and there's a lot of folks between L.A. and New York!’
And they have money too! They might be spending it on different things...
They're not going to Barney's, they're going to Wal-Mart! But they've got money!
Do you count yourself as a redneck or do you consider yourself an escapee looking in from the outside?
I'm pretty much in — I'm in. But I've made more money than I've ever dreamed of and I still wear jeans and t-shirts everyday and drive a truck.
Is it a contradiction to be as wealthy and successful as you are and still be a redneck, or does this just mean you can have more cars on cinderblocks?
(laughter) You can have more toys I think. My argument used to be that it really had nothing to do with money because Elvis had a hundred millions dollars and he had carpeted television on the ceiling! I mean, C'mon!
When I was doing a sitcom living in Los Angeles, we shot next to Seinfeld and Jerry and I would park next to each other. Jerry had an aircraft hangar with 50 Porches in it and I drove a truck! I could have had Porches, but I wanted a truck! When I would pull in in the morning, Jerry would pull in next to me and get out and go ‘good morning, loser!’ (Laughter.)
Now I'm picturing the exhaust pipe backfiring...
Well, it was a new truck, but it was a truck!
Was there ever a period when you tried to fight the redneck image?
I think that I just accepted it — the whole thing started with: a) I've got this accent, and when I first started doing standup that was the only advice I got professionally — was that I needed to take voice lessons and lose my accent. I wore jeans and boots and talked like this.
But that's what makes you unique!
That was my feeling — Jerry (Seinfeld) could come down to Atlanta and get laughs. I mean, funny is funny!
Are you ever met with animosity from folks who fall into the ‘redneck’ category, or do they generally embrace it?
Honest to God, I have never had anybody get mad at me. It's almost the opposite — where people will bring one of my books and say, ‘We've done everything in here except this one, this one and this one!’
But I think there is a difference between ‘laughing at’ and ‘laughing with’ ... and you know, I think people know me well enough now. I'm just not mean spirited. Lord, half of (my jokes) are based on my family and friends!
I understand there is a “You Might Be a Redneck” slot machine. Would it be safe to say that you might be a redneck if you're playing that slot machine?
Yes! And it's a penny slot too! (laughter.)
I don't know how this happens — when you start doing this you don't really envision having a slot machine and your own barbecue sauces!
And figurines — you forgot you have your own line of figurines!
Golly, how did this happen?
You were just roasted on Comedy Central — both Heidi Klum and Anna Nicole Smith were there. Which one tells a better joke?
Yes I'm a chick magnet. I gotta say Anna Nicole was very funny.
Was it for the right reasons?
I'm not sure! We had that debate that night. Is this an act, or does somebody need to be strapped to a gurney? And I still don't know the answer to it!
The 2005 CMT Music Awards, hosted by Jeff Foxworthy, is country music's only fan-voted awards show and this year's only country awards televised from Nashville. CMT will telecast the 2005 CMT Music Awards live on Monday, April 11 at 8 p.m. ET.