Courtesy of Dave Hoffenberg
Ron White is bringing his awesome comedy show to the Paramount Theatre on Thursday, Aug. 4 at 8 p.m. I didn’t see his show live but I did have the pleasure of interviewing him. It was like a comedy show phone call. White is looking forward to coming back to Rutland as he has sold-out three shows here. “Whenever I do these shows, I do them for my fans because nobody else would come,” he said, laughing.
White plays all over the world and I asked him if coming to Vermont was different from places he’s used to playing, He said it’s no different. “It’s people that dig my stand-up and they want me to make them laugh and I’m going to beat the crap out of them. That’s what they want and that’s what they’re going to get.” He said it’s always fun for him. The Vermont crowd reacts just like the crowds do back in Austin, Texas. He did have one crowd that was a little different from the rest—Manhattan. White said, “That’s one demographic I have found to be a little strange. Everyone else has the same human condition, we all put our pants on one leg at a time.”
One of White’s favorite places to play is Austin because of the music scene. He visits there quite often and his son lives there. He said he’s a “Texan by heart” having grown up up in Fritch, Texas.
White first did comedy on Sept. 17, 1986. A comedy club opened in Arlington, Texas and a guy he worked with went to the first open mic they had. His friend told him he had to go do it because he was way funnier than all those people. White said, “Thirty years ago I went down there and I had four minutes of material and it went OK. That’s how it started and now here I am, 11,000 shows later.”
White jumped into stardom when he joined the Blue Collar Comedy Tour with Jeff Foxworthy, Larry “the Cable Guy” and Bill Engvall. He had already been working with Foxworthy as his opening act. He was living in Mexico and would come out on the weekends to open Foxworthy’s shows. The original lineup of the Blue Collar had Craig Hawksley, not Larry, because Hawksley was working with Engvall. They decided to combine those two tours together as a response to the Kings of Comedy, who were doing huge numbers. When White first heard the idea for the tour, he thought it was really stupid. “Having four comics on one show is too much. That’s ridiculously stupid. You guys are idiots.” Well, he was definitely proved wrong. That tour ran for three years and grossed over $15 million. He said, “It was the biggest comedy tour ever. We did huge numbers, up to 20,000 people. It was a blast and something none of us saw coming. We thought it would be successful, but just as a festival by itself. None of us at the time were drawing that big of crowds, but it just got bigger as it went. So thank God, or whoever had a hand in it.”
White owes all his success to that tour. Those DVDs sold millions of copies. “As soon as that came out, I could sell out any theater in the country. It went from ‘I couldn’t sell 40 tickets in Austin’ to selling out every theater including Madison Square Garden and Radio City Music Hall in no time, without hardly any advertising. That made me and Larry the next new big thing.
You don’t always stay there; you can’t stay there. You’re not always going to be the next new big thing. I’m very, very lucky that my fan base has stuck with me for this entire thing and they’re still there. That’s an amazing thing to have happen. These runs don’t last that long, usually. This one has lasted 14 years.”
White usually tours two to three cities a week and then goes home. He works all year round and takes two weeks off in December and a week every once in a while. He currently resides in Los Angeles and that allows him to do sets every night. He said, “I stay on stage every single night and I write every day. Last night I did sets at the Improv, the Laugh Factory and the Comedy Store. That’s the reason I live here, because I can go out at random and do those shows. If I don’t like the way it went, I can go straight to another club. You can develop material faster that way. All the big comics live in New York or LA because of access to those stages.”
During this show at the Paramount, you can expect all new material. Right now, the front end of his set is only a week old. “It’s really funny,” White said. “It took a little while figuring out how to sell it because it really makes the crowd uncomfortable. But now that I figured it out, it’s something that will make you uncomfortable and laugh. That’s the best kind of comedy. When I have a new show that I love to do or a new series, it’s like a kid with a new toy. I can’t wait to get on stage and do it.”
White’s comedic influences are everyone who put out an album in the 60s; guys like Bill Cosby, Flip Wilson, Richard Pryor, Cheech and Chong, and Steve Martin. He had all their albums and listened to them all the time. He also enjoyed listening to his uncle. “My uncle was a preacher and was very, very funny; well, he still is. When I was a kid, I loved to go to church because I loved to listen to my uncle preach. It was just really fascinating. I learned my stage presence from him, more than from any other comedian.”
I asked him what he loves best about performing. White responded, “I feel the love that my fans have. In my everyday life, I don’t think about that. But when I walk on stage and they go nuts, it’s a glorious transfer of energy that you can feel and that’s why it’s so addicting. That’s why people have a hard time getting out of the limelight when they should because you don’t know what to do and you can’t find another way to get it. They want me to beat them up and I’m going to beat them up. I know it’s material they haven’t heard and I know I’m going to gut them like a catfish. That’s fun to do. The reason I have so much confidence is that I work so hard at it, and I work so hard at it because it’s fun. I wouldn’t go do all these sets every night if I didn’t enjoy it. It’s fun to go down there, especially the Comedy Store. That’s why I do as many sets as anyone else in the business.” I told him if you can do what you love, you’re very fortunate. White said, “Absolutely.” Thursday at the Paramount, Ron White will be beating people up with his comedy while smoking a cigar and having a drink.