Some entertainers, like the Rolling Stones, go on tour from time to time. They’ll have a North American tour that will last a couple of months, maybe they’ll follow it up with a European tour, and then it’s over.
The rock ‘n’ roll guys are kind of lightweights compared to comedian Jeff Foxworthy.
The affable, down-home comedian, probably still best known for his wildly popular “You might be a redneck ...” jokes, closes out the entertainment at the State Fair of West Virginia Saturday night.
Foxworthy said he jumped onto his career 35 years ago, but a career in comedy wasn’t his original intention. He said he didn’t think something like that could last.
“I remember when I quit my job at IBM,” Foxworthy said. “My secret goal was to do [comedy] for a couple of years.”
The comedian and television host figured he might eke out a living for a little while and have some fun.
“But at some point, I was going to have to come back with my hat in my hand and beg for my job back,” he said.
Things probably weren’t going to work out for him. Show business is a hard business to get into, a harder business to make a living at, and an even harder business to be actually successful at.
But Foxworthy thought it would be cool if, when he got to be an old guy, he got say, “Hey, I was a comedian for a couple of years.”
Those couple of years turned into 35, and Foxworthy shows no signs of stopping.
His latest project is an NBC talent show called “Bring the Funny,” which debuted on the network in July.
Foxworthy described his involvement in the show as almost incidental. He’d been working on an entirely different show, a game show, for NBC.
“We put it together and went out and presented it to NBC last year,” he said.
The response was lukewarm. Network executives told him they weren’t sure that his show was ready, but that they wanted to do something with him. A short time later, he was called about “Bring the Funny,” which they told him was like “The Voice,” but for comedy.
“And it’s about every form of comedy,” he said. “Most of the comedy competition shows are like ‘Last Comic Standing,’ for stand-up comics.”
This new show would look at things like sketch and improv, and the comedians didn’t have to all be stand-up performers.
Foxworthy said the theme was, “We don’t care how you do it, just make us laugh.”
The network told him if he’d sign on as one of the judges, they’d greenlight the show. The comedian said he thought it was a pretty cool idea and said yes.
Along with being a judge on the show, which airs Tuesday nights on NBC, Foxworthy said it’s an opportunity to be a little bit of a mentor to young comedians. He said he told his wife that when he signed on for the job, he didn’t realize he had some of the insights that he did.
“Like a lot of contestants, it’s their first time on TV,” he said. “Being on TV makes you nervous. When you get nervous, you go too fast, you change your pace.”
A comedian needs to be aware of his delivery speed. Timing is crucial, so slow down.
“That was advice someone shared with me 30 years ago, and I can share that now,” he said.
Unlike some other kinds of entertainment, there isn’t much of an age barrier for comedians. It’s not unusual for stand-up comics to break into the business in their 30s, 40s or even 50s. Many comedians don’t really find success until middle age. Some of them continue well past what is considered retirement age in other occupations.
Foxworthy said he’s always been mindful that there might be a time when he’d need to stop.
“When I started, I didn’t want to be the guy that stayed too long at the dance,” he said. “I’d seen old comedians that weren’t funny anymore.”
Foxworthy said he told his wife, “Don’t let me be that guy.”
He said she told him not to worry.
“The audience will tell you when you’re not funny,” she said.
In Foxworthy’s stories, his wife often gets the punchline, but it sounds like she helps the comedian stay grounded.
He said every now and again, after a tough couple of weeks, he’ll tell her that maybe it’s time to slow down.
She just laughs, he said, and tells him, “You’d go crazy in two weeks.”
Foxworthy sighed and said, “So, I’m probably not going to slow down. Not this week, anyway.”