Comedian Ron White on jokes, hecklers and stupid people
Tatersalad.com Ron White
White uses his personal life and experiences as fodder for his observational jokes and stories, while his endearing ability to make fun of himself makes fans feel as though they're talking to an old friend. Balancing the smart with earthy, the profane with the sharply articulated, White's humor is tinged with a native grace that shines through.
White is best seen live, and you can catch him at The Budweiser Events Center in Loveland on June 9. We caught up with White and talked to him about his how to tell jokes, his fellow funny men and stupid people.
Westword: Why did you want to become a comedian in the first place?
Ron White: It never dawned on me that I had the option of becoming a comedian. I come from a little, dirt street town in northwest Texas and they really don't talk about the arts there much on career day. So when I got older, somebody built a comedy club in the town I was living in then, Arlington, Texas. I would drive past it while they were building it, The Funny Bone comedy club. I was curious and I'd done other stage-related things. And I knew I was really, really, really comfortable talking in front of people, which I don't think most people are.
When that club opened, this guy that I worked with went to the first open mike night and came back the next day and he said, "You're funnier than these guys. You need to go do this." And here we are twenty-six years later.
It seems as though you got involved doing stand-up later in life than many comedians. What was your first night on stage like and did you get any hecklers?
You know what? I don't think so. It was sensory overload. There are some points in your life where you go, "Wow, I've put myself in this odd position where I can't stop it now." They just introduced me and I walked up there and talked. It went fairly well and I met Jeff Foxworthy that night. He was the headliner at the club and he came up to me afterward and said, "You are really funny. But you need to put the punch line at the end of the joke." I was like, "Sure!" I only had four or five jokes.
This is how generous Jeff is, he sits down with a brand new comedian, me, and shows me how to structure those things where you say the funny thing last. Which is really important and I don't even remember how to do it wrong because I've been doing it so long now. But it's learned and Foxworthy has always been generous with me and we're still dear friends.
You served in the Navy. Does that provide you with any material for your comedy these days?
Yeah, I was in the Navy the day I turned eighteen. My memory is not good enough for anything that long ago, though. My brain is like a cross between a colander and a Lazy Susan--thin, slow and it leaks.
When you were selling windows, did that provide you any material?
Living life is what provides the material so whatever it is I'm doing. The only thing that can hurt me is not doing anything. I do a hundred and forty cities a year so I'm always traveling, I'm always doing something. We always go out looking for live music after our shows. As long as I stay engaged with everybody else, then I'll create more comedy. It's just when I shut off and stay at home...What helps me is just to keep moving.
You have famously joked about how "You can't fix stupid." Why does stupidity amuse you?
I don't think stupid matters to me any more than it does to anybody else. It was such a popular line but it was really a short joke. When I wrote it, I had a guy that was building a new house. A huge house and there were five bedrooms on the third floor and showers were all cut into these roof lines. So the guys that were doing the showers was a company called Custom Shower Doors. They cut them all exactly the same height but they all looked different and they didn't fit. I asked this guy, "Don't you guys do custom heights?" He goes, "Yeah, we do." "Well, why didn't you do them here?" He said, "Well, nobody said to." He was sitting right there with a tape measure. "You're just going to measure the width and not the height?" He goes, "That's the way it works."
Then I realized he was going to come back and he wasn't going to be any smarter. He was going to be just exactly that stupid when he came back to fix that problem. From that came the line, "Well you can't fix stupid." As soon as I said that, I was like, "Boom, there's the name of your next album, right there, Ron. Way to go. Go have a drink. You've earned it."
Did your comedy start out self-deprecating?
Well it's self-deprecating. Which doesn't mean I shit on myself. It doesn't mean I don't but it doesn't mean that I do. I make fun of myself, you know. I'm an odd character and a flawed character also. And I don't mind. I kind of accept that I have good things and I have bad things and I just embrace it all and go out and live my life and report back.
When the State of Texas declared April 27th Ron White Day, what did you think of that and did you attend some sort of ceremony?
That was pretty weird. I addressed the House of Representatives in the state capital. My mother, my wife and my friends were there. I had to wear a tie, which I never do. I got the flag that was flying over the capital that day and the gavel that they banged when they said it was Ron White Day. My opening line was, "I can't believe you people have to work on Ron White Day." But it was a pretty cool thing. I'd actually been in Austin, the capital of Texas, right, and I'd gone to see this guy Bob Schneider who is a tremendous singer-songwriter and ran into Billy Bob Thornton and we ended up staying up on his tour bus just getting hammered drunk until like six in the morning and I had to do this at eight. I didn't feel very good but it was still lovely.
I actually had a pretty extensive arrest record and I met this guy that was a supreme court justice and I was talking to him. He said, "Yeah, I'm the biggest fan. You know what? The other day I looked up your arrest record and said, 'Most of this is old and petty.' I just deleted it." I said, "Thanks! Could you do that for my tour manager? Because we're having a hard time getting into Canada." He said, "Well, I'll take a look at it." It was a very cool day. Mother was just beaming.