I wasn’t sure how he’d identify himself as on the phone. Would it be as Larry The Cable Guy? Would it be as his real name, Dan Whitney? Both were right. “Sometimes it’s Roger,” he jokes when he does call for our interview.
Larry the Cable Guy, who rose to fame as part of the Blue Collar comedy scene, is one of those comedians who you will maybe go a year or two without hearing from as far as the mainstream goes. He will be there, and then in a few years, he pops back up again. The cycle repeats. But in actuality, he never stops. He is out there on the grind constantly, entertaining audiences all around the country, and making fans laugh.
As a comedian, one thing you can really admire is how much he focuses on just wanting to make folks laugh. It’s something that is clearly very important to him. He doesn’t want to be overtly political or for you, as an audience member, to feel like he’s on one side of a debate or another. He goes out of his way to not ever mention politics onstage, save for a Bill Clinton joke that has nothing to do with beliefs. He just wants to make you laugh. It seems like the most simple thing in the world, but for a comedian, it’s also the most important. All else be damned.
We recently spoke to Larry to talk about his new special on Comedy Dynamics Larry The Cable Guy: Remain Seated, the genesis of his character and catchphrase, why he doesn’t discuss politics onstage, how comedy has changed since he started out, and how Paul Newman influenced him as an entrepreneur.
You’ve done a few specials with some other people recently, but this is your first solo special in a while. What made you want to do one at this point in time?
They asked me if I wanted to do one. (Laughs) I pretty much go with the flow. Like everything else. The only reason I hadn’t done another one after my last one was because I was always doing projects with other people. I did one with Jeff and Bill, and I toured for a long time with Jeff and then we decided to do one together. And if you do those, that’s material there. There’s more material. And then you get those on tape, so then you have to write new material. I mean I had plenty of material after I did those two. So they asked me if I wanted to do one and I said “Yeah, I’ll do another one. Why not?” So that’s how it came about.
I had a lot of good stuff and I was looking through my stuff and I said “Yeah, I’ve got plenty for a new special. Let’s go ahead and do it.”
It’s funny how it’s been billed as your first solo special in 10 years, even though you’ve never really gone anywhere. Almost like it’s touted as a “comeback”.
(Laughs). I know. It’s crazy. I mean, I’ve always been touring. I never stopped touring. I still do tons of stuff. I sell tons of tickets. You know what? I just go with the flow. They asked me to do one, I just did one. I didn’t really approach anybody all the time going “Hey, let’s do a special. Let’s do a special.” I’m pretty content with my life. If they approach me, I’ll do it. It’s kinda like my movies. I never intended on doing any movies. They came to me. I didn’t go to them.
And what made you want to do the special in Joliet, Illinois?
You know what? We were just looking for a nice, intimate theater that has good sound and crowds. There were several places we could’ve went to, but I wanted to warm up before I did the show. I wanted to do a bunch of places really close so I could take my bus out again. And so Joliet was the place we decided on. It fit in with the tour, and fit in for the last day. I think that’s pretty much it. Let’s put it this way. It was the Greg Brady. It fit the suit. It was the Johnny Bravo of places to play. (Laughs)
The new Johnny Bravo! And at the start of the special, you joke about having a phrase that preceded your catchphrase “Git ‘R Done”. Was there ever any actual earlier catchphrases?
(Laughs). No, there wasn’t. As a matter of fact, I never sat down and tried to come up with a catchphrase. It was totally organic. The whole thing’s organic. Everything I do is organic. It’s a blessing. And I just enjoy life, I wanted to be a comedian, I was trying all different things. I was just going onstage, having fun, making people laugh, trying not to have a care in the world. And things just started to fall into place and drop down in my laugh. I never really sat down to plan anything out, honestly. And if I did, maybe I would’ve done some things a little bit different. But those kinds of things you don’t plan out. They just happen. The catchphrase, they just happen. The movies, they just happen. I never planned any of it. Especially the catchphrase. The catchphrase is awesome! If you can get a catchphrase that works, do it. (Laugh).
Something that people can shout out at you as you walk down the street.
Yeah, which is pretty awesome. It just gives me a chance to say hi to people. So it hasn’t been a hindrance. People always say, “Don’t you hate it when people say it?” No, I don’t. It’s always a good way to say hi to people and it’s a good greeting and they always have a smile on their face when they do it. It’s fun.
And I’ve seen you talk about that your goal is not to go out there and talk about politics, which you don’t in the special, but you’d rather just bring groups of people together to laugh. Has that always been your goal?
I have never gone out just to do it. Everything I did, I tried to have a joke with it. If I wrote a joke, I wanted to do it. So the reasons I would do some political jokes is I thought they were funny. I wrote a joke about it, and I did it. I didn’t really think anything about it. Most of my political stuff was early. Later on, when I had kids and stuff, I kind of laid off of it. But if I did it, it was basically because I wrote the joke and I wanted to do the joke.
My whole goal in comedy is just to make people laugh. I mean there are political comedians who do all politics. And sometimes, with the world the way it is, you’ve got to do one or two because there’s so much material there. But I try, for the most part, to stay away from it because everybody is so divided. It doesn’t make any sense. I mean comedians are a different breed. We’re all about the jokes and the comedy of it. And so when we travel, or even back when I did clubs and I went in with other comics, a lot of us disagreed about a lot of things, a lot of us agreed about a lot of things. But we never really didn’t like each other because they thought differently. I mean most of my friends in comedy don’t have the same political opinions that I do. I mean we talk all the time and still do stuff.
So I think we’re a different breed. I think once we take our jokes to the public, it’s like “Wow. This is a whole different environment. How come it’s not like the environment we’re in where you can joke about stuff and people laugh about it.” So I don’t really do it much anymore. And I specifically tried to stay away from it for this one.
Do you encounter audiences who want you to be political or expect it?
Um no. Not really. I mean, I think early on during the day, especially during election times, somebody would yell out some political thing for me to comment on. And I probably did, if I had a joke about it. I wouldn’t do that now, though. I would say “Ah, nobody wants to hear that crap.” So then I could just move on. I think back in the day, I probably would’ve.
You know, my whole character started out doing social commentary on radio stations. So when I started doing it onstage, I had to incorporate a little bit of that into my own act. I basically just graphed my regular act into what I was doing on the radio. And then it gradually started weeding out that type of stuff and was way less political the older it got. And then when I started having kids and they started growing up and there’s being a dad. And then it just became more of goofy one liner type stuff.
I don’t really attempt to do that kind of stuff anymore. It’s not fun, ya know? It’s not fun. I want people to laugh. I don’t want people to not laugh. It’s stupid to go up and piss off half your audience. But generally, people who come to see me don’t really care. They just want laughs. So I pretty much have a great, built in crowd that doesn’t really buy into the PC stuff. They want to hear comedy. They don’t care what it is. They just want to hear comedy. So that’s what I do.
And you mentioned the word ‘character’. Were people surprised early on to find out that was a character? That it wasn’t who you actually were?
You know what? I have no idea what people think. A lot of people call me Dan at my shows. So honestly I have no idea. And I honestly don’t care. I just want people to laugh. I write jokes and they make me laugh and I cannot wait to get onstage to tell this joke and to hear other people laugh at it. And so that’s the fun part of being a comedian. Writing really funny jokes and watching people laugh at it. So I never really thought too much about it, to be honest with you. Some people might, some people might not. I think the last name The Cable Guy might be a clue that it’s a character.
I know when I did my movies, the critics always said I was a horrible actor, and yet they think it’s actually who I am. So I must be a pretty good actor. (Laughs).
In comparison to back when you were coming up in comedy working the clubs, and given how much everything has changed, how much different would you say the comedy climate is now than how it was back then? Have you seen a change?
Well, not really with my audiences. Like I said, they just want to laugh. They don’t like the PC stuff. They love seeing comedy as just comedy. And comedy has always pushed envelopes and done this and that. But the difference between now and then is back then you saw a comedian or heard a comedian and if you thought he was offensive or you didn’t like him, you would just walk out of the show and go “Well, that’s a comedian I won’t go see again.” And nowadays, they can’t just walk out and say they’re not going to see a comedian again. They write letters, make phone calls, form coalitions, and try to ruin his life so that he never works again. And that’s garbage.
It’s like if you don’t a comedian, what he’s saying, or if you think he’s offensive, don’t listen to him. You don’t buy his products and you don’t watch his T.V. shows. Let the audience dictate if they think he’s funny or if they like him or not. That’s the thing that’s change. I’ve never really understood why people have to make sure that person never works again because they don’t think they’re funny and they’re offensive. That’s stupid. That’s not freedom of speech. He has a right to go onstage and tell jokes. If you don’t like it, don’t go to see the guy. What is so hard about that? What is so hard about “A comedian is offensive, he’s vile, I don’t like his humor. You know what? I’m blocking him out of my life forever. I’m never going to see him, so why should I care what he says? I’m not going to the club.”
It’s more of an audience change than a change in what is funny, certainly.
What’s changed is people have turned from adults to third graders. And that’s what has changed with comedy. The comic can bend to those ideas, if he wants to, or he can do comedy like he wants to do. So that’s the difference. I haven’t really changed anything. There’s things that I’ve changed because I’ve gotten older and I have kids and I don’t think they’re right to do. Back when I used to do jokes about retarded kids, back when I didn’t have kids and back then I didn’t even think about it. But as you get older and you get more sensitive to that kind of stuff, you go “Man, I shouldn’t have done that joke.” So I quit doing them. And there’s certain things now that I don’t do that I would’ve done.
But I’ll tell you what the difference is. I wasn’t forced by anyone to not do it. I did it because I honestly, in my heart, felt that it was the wrong thing to do. And I would much rather human beings actually have a heart change than be forced. Because when you’re being forced to not do something, it’s not real and it’s not true and it’s still there. Where as, if you have a heart change, then you actually don’t do it because you don’t think it’s right. So there’s a lot of comedians who don’t do jokes because they’re forced not to do it. It doesn’t mean that you’ve done anything. You haven’t changed your mind about anything.
I think the only thing that I really censor myself on, which I don’t have to do but I do it, is on Twitter. Like before I send out a joke, I’ll go “Oh boy. Maybe I better not send that out.” And the only reason that I hesitate and second guess myself is I use Twitter as an easier way for me to communicate with my fans. Like they ask questions. It’s really cool. I like Twitter just because I can say hi to fans and wish them happy birthday. It’s a much more manageable thing for me. So every now and then I’ll say “I better not say that or send that out.” And that’s only because I want to avoid the hassle of a bunch of cry babies hogging my feed so I can’t actually get to my real fans. So that’s probably the only time I really censor myself. Because I really love my fans. And I want to talk to them and answer their questions and say hi. And I can’t do that when some jackass is on there.
They’re just waiting for you to slip up.
Well they always are. That’s the thing about comedians. Somebody doesn’t like them. That’s how good they’ve got it in America. In other countries, they’re trying to get money to eat. Or they’re dodging bombs coming at ‘em. Here, we’re trying to find an opening to yell at a comedian for something. I mean it’s stupid.
And to jump around a bit, are you someone who still enjoys going out on the road and touring?
No, I enjoy going out and doing it. It’s fun. I love making crowds laugh. I only do 25-30 shows a year now. My kids are at that 11, 12, 13 year old age and they’re getting into a lot of stuff. And Foxworthy told me a long time ago “If you can do it and stay home more and enjoy your kids the last 5 years you got ‘em, there’s no sense in missing those things if you don’t need to do it.” So I took that to heart and I kind of made out a budget. And so I do 25-30 shows a year and then I just kind of hang at the house with my kids. I play in some celebrity golf tournaments, which are a lot of fun to do. But I still love it. If I didn’t love it, I wouldn’t still be going out there and doing it. But I still enjoy getting onstage and telling jokes. It’s a lot of fun.
And it shows in the crowd, when you watch the special. The crowds always seem like they’re having fun and are right there with you.
Oh man. My crowds are awesome. They’ve always been great. They know I’m about to rev up a bunch of goofy one liners. Man, I’ve been doing it so long, I literally feel like I’m at a family reunion. Except nobody sits on my sister and we have a roof over our head. So I really do love those crowds. They’re a lot of fun.
I want to add that, in over 100 interviews I’ve done with comedians, I’ve interviewed comics with their own toy or merchandise, but you’re the first comedian I’ve ever interviewed who has their own BBQ ribs and Bloody Mary sauce.
(Laughs). Well, you know what’s crazy, that’s all for my Git-R-Done Foundation. And it’s really cool, because when I did the Cars movies, we went out to eat and I sat across from Paul Newman. And we kinda got to talking to him a little bit, and I told him I kind of wanted to be the redneck Paul Newman. And he laughed and he actually gave my wife and I tips on how he started his Paul Newman’s foods. So I got the good ol’ thumbs up, best of luck from Paul Newman. So that was pretty neat.
And the final question is, I always like to ask this, what would you ultimately want your legacy to be?
In comedy, I would want it to be that they would appreciate my style of writing, my timing, my one-liners, how many there were, and just the timing. Because comedy is an art and there is an art to telling jokes. I don’t think people really understand it. It’s like Foxworthy always says. “You could do my jokes and not a get a laugh. The way the joke is written and the way a joke is told and the timing of the joke is sometime what gets the laugh more than the punchline.” And so I think, in comedy, I just want people to remember me as just one of the great all-time one-liner comics and a great timing comic.
Larry The Cable Guy: Remain Seated is streaming on iTunes and Amazon now.