Thursday, August 05, 2004

Interview: Ron White

They call him Tater Salad.

But Ron White, one of the stars of "The Blue Collar Comedy Tour: The Movie," has no problem with being confused with his most popular joke. In fact, he revels in it. His Web site is and his concert T-shirts proudly proclaim, "I caught the Tater."

"I embrace any kind of notoriety," he said. "That's not the way I wanted it to happen. I didn't see myself being known for that particular joke, but however it happens, that's fine with me."

Like Lynyrd Skynyrd fans who begin yelling out "Freebird" as soon as the band takes the stage, many of White's fans begin to yell "Tater Salad," wanting the joke that tells the story of his being thrown out of a bar in New York and his subsequent arrest for being drunk in public. But White said fans only think they want to hear the seven-minute joke again. Still he performs it every night.

"Anyone who knows my career well enough to buy a ticket, they know that joke inside and out," he said. "That's really one of the only things I do off the `Blue Collar' thing because it's not like a song you love; it's a joke you know. There's a big difference right there."

White's career has taken off in the past couple of years with "The Blue Collar Comedy Tour" and his specials on Comedy Central, but it's been a long haul for the comedian. He's been doing standup for more than 18 years and said he has performed more than 10,000 live shows.

"I was a prominent headliner in comedy clubs forever - the best comedy clubs in the country," he said. "But that really doesn't make you famous. It doesn't really matter what you do in Omaha, even if you kill every night, because not enough people see you for it to matter."

The movie and television specials changed that. White's new DVD, "They Call Me Tater Salad," is the No. 1 comedy DVD in the country. His album "Drunk in Public," released in November 2003, is usually No. 2, behind fellow "Blue Collar" alum Larry, the Cable Guy. ("I've never passed him, but I don't care. He's my buddy," White said.) Is the newfound notoriety gratifying for White?

"You have no idea, my friend," he said. "It's (Jeff) Foxworthy that really believed in it, and it was Foxworthy's goal a long time ago to make me a star. He's not very good at it, I'll tell you that, because it took him forever to do it."

Jokes aside, White is thankful for the help of Foxworthy and his management company Parallel Entertainment, for getting him to this point. He brags about selling out an 1,800 seat theater in Green Bay, Wis., in one day and then selling 1,000 tickets for a second performance on the next day. ("It's a little bitty town," he said. "I know they have a sports franchise, but their phone book is not an inch thick.") A Ticketmaster search on Wednesday morning showed that his Monroe date was almost sold out. Only a few scattered seats remain.

"I never thought this would happen; Foxworthy did and my management company did, but I never saw it coming," White said. "Foxworthy's generosity, and his undying belief that I'm as funny as it gets is what did it. Actually, I've been the one trying to sabotage it for all these years. I'm famous despite me."

While some of his stories are pretty wild, White said they all have a grain of truth to them. He said to be a successful comedian, you have to be true to your nature. He said he's not a very good writer, which is why he takes stories from real life.

"What I'm good at is, I can watch a car wreck and tell you about it, and you'll laugh," he said. "If I have a gift, that's what it is. Most of it's just dead-on truth, and that's why it's funny."

Aside from his touring, there's a lot going on in White's life right now. He was recently married to his girlfriend of three years, Barbara, who was also the designer of Foxworthy's home. ("Our whole thing is real incestuous," White jokes.) The comedy group, which includes Foxworthy, Bill Engvall and Larry the Cable Guy, also filmed a second "Blue Collar" movie last week. White expects it will be out by the end of the year. He will also be making some appearances on the WB's "Blue Collar TV."

For his part, White's sitting back and enjoying the ride.

"It's a party every night with me on stage," he said. "Right before I go on, I always pour myself a nice Scotch, pick myself a nice cigar and go out and play with the people. It's fun."

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