A few days before Ron White performs at The Classic Center in Athens, he’ll celebrate his 31st anniversary as a standup comedian. And if anybody thinks “Tater Salad” is resting on past laurels, well, they’d better think again.
The Grammy Award-nominated White, who has had a hand in the sales of some 14 million comedy albums, works constantly, either on the road or at one of the many clubs near where he lives in Los Angeles. While the Texas-born comic is legendary for his reputation as a happy hedonist, what might not be as well publicized is his commitment to his craft.
“I tour constantly,” said White, who appears at The Classic Center at 8 p.m. Friday. “The tour has lasted 31 years so far. I’ll do three cities a week. … The reason I live in L.A. is there are three comedy clubs within 2 miles of my house and I go out every night and do three 15-minute sets.
“I still do a ton of shows, which you really have to in order to stay good at it. I don’t think anybody works at it much harder than I do. And I also do it because after 31 years I still love it and I still can’t imagine a life where I don’t do standup. And luckily, people still come out and see the show so I still get to keep doing it.”
White says that even after three-plus decades in the business, writing jokes isn’t as easy as it appears, although he now has a tried-and-true template to work from.
“It’s like puzzle-making,” said White, whose last show in Athens came in January 2015. “It has to have the spark of an idea, and I find that no easier, but now I really know how to get the beats out faster. I can process it quicker than I used to because I know what to do and I know you have to work it out onstage.
“I never try to sit in my room and try to figure the beats out. I’ve got to do it in front of a live crowd. In that respect, it’s a little bit easier, but coming up with the ideas and stuff is at about the same pace as always.”
‘One joke at a time’
White’s show is constantly evolving (“I replace the jokes in my show one joke at a time,” he says), so don’t expect to hear his “greatest hits” because those gags have long since been retired.
“It’s all new. There’s no such thing as a hit joke; if you know the joke you know the joke,” said White, who also has a home in nearby Suwanee. “What happens is, I quit getting what I want out of it and I start getting applause instead of laughter, which I hate. I want a knee-jerk reaction to something I just said and I can’t get that from you if you know the joke. As long as the new stuff is as good or better than the old stuff, people don’t care. They just want to laugh.”
Although he had an extremely successful career as a comedy club headliner, White’s fortunes changed forever when his friend Jeff Foxworthy picked him to become part of the Blue Collar Comedy Tour in 2000, a venture that toured for more than three years to sold-out crowds and grossed in excess of $35 million. Since that time, White has produced numerous television specials, sold millions of albums, appeared in several cable and feature films and even penned a New York Times best-selling book, “I Had the Right to Remain Silent … But I Didn’t Have the Ability.”
“I talk about what Jeff has done for me every night onstage because I wouldn’t be here without him,” he said of Foxworthy. “It’s no secret to anybody just how grateful I am to that man and his generosity to share a stage.”
White has done his part to pay it forward, featuring up-and-coming comics on his tours and television specials, and he’s not being facetious (sometimes it’s hard to tell) when he says the present day represents the Golden Age of Comedy.
‘Comedy is in good shape’
“It’s as strong as it’s ever been,” he said, noting the boost social media and podcasts provide to today’s comedians. “Whatever town I’m living in, I try to be part of the comedy community. And I also hang out at clubs. I feel I get something from talking to comics about comedy and just hanging out.
“And if you go to the Comedy Store any night of the week in L.A., you’ll see a show for $15 that you’ll never forget. And it’s Sebastian Maniscalco or Ally Wong and all these big, younger power hitters that are coming into their own and just tearing that stage apart. It’s packed to the rafters every night. And it’s a blast. … I think comedy is in good shape.”
An ardent supporter of the U.S. military for more than two decades, White, who recently starred in a fundraiser for victims of Hurricane Harvey in Houston, has ventured into other business ventures, including Number Juan, an award-winning small-batch tequila that has his endorsement.
“It’s the best juice I’ve ever tasted in my life,” he said, adding that he will host a “bottle signing” event from 5:30-6:30 p.m. on Friday at the Five Points Bottle Shop location on Atlanta Highway. “I kind of switched from scotch to tequila because it’s so much better for you. That agave plant is an amazing thing.”
For ticket information, call (706) 357-4444 or visit ClassicCenter.com.