The famous redneck comedian dishes on meeting Led Zeppelin, his new card game and more

Armed with a Southern drawl and the bushiest of mustaches, comedian Jeff Foxworthy is one who believes the word “redneck” is a term of endearment.

“Some people think the term "redneck" is an insult. I ALWAYS think of it as a compliment!” Foxworthy wrote in a Facebook post to his 2.1 million fans on May 1.

Foxworthy, of the “Blue Collar Comedy Tour” fame, is one of the kings of redneck comedy. His throne sits is in his native Georgia.

He’s so much of a redneck that his style of humor attracted a member of Led Zeppelin to come see him in one of his early shows as a comic.

These days, the popular comedian has a newly released card game called “Relative Insanity.”

Foxworthy, who’s also an illustrator and painter, exhibited his artwork for the first time publicly at the Southeastern Wildlife Expo in South Carolina at the top of the year.

The veteran comedian will serve up laughs like hotcakes in a headline performance at The Freeman Stage at Bayside in Selbyville on Saturday, July 7.

What’s the most unlikely redneck situation you experienced?

Man, this is going back to probably the late ‘80s. I’m playing in Nashville at a club called Zanies. It’s in the middle of the week. As I’m on stage you can see people coming in the door. I’m looking at the back of the door and see Robert Plant, the lead singer for Led Zeppelin, and a buddy. They walk in, go upstairs and sit by themselves on the balcony. I’m going on with my material, but inside I’m thinking, “Oh my God, that’s Robert Plant from Led Zeppelin!”

After the show he comes down to talk me and says, “I heard you on the radio this morning talking about the rednecks. I grew up in Birmingham, England and the guys in London used to call us a bunch of hicks. So I’m listening to the radio and I’m laughing me bloody ass off.” I’m thinking: “Robert Plant likes redneck jokes?!” This is like a time warp or something. This is the last person on the planet I would’ve thought liked redneck jokes.

You wear so many creative hats. Recently it was reported you’re also an artist?

I’ve drawn my whole life. The thing about a comic is you’re always on the road. I’d sit there and sketch someone who looks interesting in an airport. Then I’d get on a plane, I usually draw in pen and ink, and I’d draw them and put an interesting caption on them. I’ve got thousands of these notebooks.

In fact, I’ve had friends who come over and say, “Go get your notebook.” They just want to read it. I also have a buddy who’s an art agent. About a year ago he said, “Dude, have you ever tried painting?” I said, “Nah, I just like to draw people.” He kind of got me into painting. In fact, I’ve stopped painting to call you [for this interview].

What were you working on?

I had taken a picture of this cool little bird out in the yard. I’m blurring out the background. And I’m making the bird read really detailed.

What response did you get when you showed your work at the Wildlife Expo?

That was the first time. I’ve given my work away to friends. But I never thought about selling them. For the Expo, I showed my detailed stuff. I had done these two roosters. I was told, “There’s an auction, so put those pieces in the auction.” I did. The first thing I ever sold I sold for $5,000. I was like “Oh, wow. That’s cool.”

Must be hard being a struggling artist, huh?

Well, I’m sure part of it was, you know, the name on it, I guess [laughs]. Artists spend their whole life trying to get someone to know their name, and I have the advantage: people know my name.

Is there any overlap between your creativity with comedy and illustrating?

I do a lot of black and white [illustrations]. But they’re real detailed. You can see every strand of hair, the little flannel shirt, [etc.]. I’m real detailed, so I want the drawing to be good. But there’s a billion people who draw. So once I found an interesting face or an interesting person, I’d come up with a funny caption for them. It was a way to combine the two, to take the art, but use the humor to make it funny.

Since the auction, has it inspired you to share more of your artwork?

It has. I’ve devoted so many decades to comedy. I’m never going to be a world-class artist. But there’s a niche in there where if I draw and it’s good, but it can be funny, that’s a niche where there’s not a lot of people in. Once I found out people like the way I paint or draw, it was like [game on]. I also create some stuff that’s not funny. But it’s just for me. I just found it relaxing and enjoy doing it. But the biggest thing people want to buy is the more humorous stuff.

How’d the idea of “Relative Insanity” come about?

I live in Atlanta. But I have a farm about an hour south of Atlanta. I converted an old farm into something like a lodge that sleeps 30 people. Every summer we’ll have all the cousins, grandmas, aunts and uncles - 30 people down there. We always laugh a lot and we play games. We get together at Thanksgiving and kind of do the same things. A couple of Thanksgivings ago, the kids (and I say “kids,” even though they’re all in their early 20s now) were playing “Cards Against Humanity.” I don’t know if you’ve ever played that. It’s a card game and it’s really funny. But it’s filthy. I can’t even play it with my girls. I’m too embarrassed. I went over there and said, “Y’all cant play games. Grandma is over there; aunts and uncles are over there. Y’all have to go down in the basement if you want to play that.”

I was sitting there thinking there ought to be a way to come up with something [more family friendly]. “The Blue Collar Comedy Tour,” I think it’s still the highest rated thing ever shown on Comedy Central; what made it that way is you didn’t have to turn it off if your aunt and uncle walked into the room. It wasn’t filthy. So I sat down and wrote over 500 punchlines, just things that sounded funny. Then I went back and wrote 100 setups, just involving relatives like: when my sister walked in with her new baby, my grandmother blurted out “blank.”

You have seven punchlines in your hand and you throw down the one you think is going to get the biggest laugh. I wrote them all out on note cards and I’d give them to people and said, “Here, go play with this with your friends and your family.” People kept saying, “Oh my God, we laughed for two hours.” I started shopping them around at a toy company and PlayMonster [circled] back.

How much of a gap was there before you were able to leave your day job to do comedy full-time?

I probably never should’ve been working for IBM. Like a lot of people who are young and you know you need to get a job… [at one point] I was working at a grocery store and was working lights for a band. My dad worked at IBM, so one of his friends said, “I’ll get you a job here.” I think I started off in dispatch answering phones. Then I worked my way up to repair machines. But it wasn’t what I was created to do, if that makes any sense.

I’ve always drawn. When I was a kid I was always the funny kid in school. So a bunch of guys I worked with at IBM, who would go to the comedy clubs, kept telling me: “Dude, you’re funnier than those people. You need to do this.” I never took them up on it. Then they entered me in — not in an open mic night — a contest for working comedians. It was called the Great Southeastern Laugh Off. It wasn’t amateur night, it had comics. I’m like crap, dude, I don’t even know what I’m doing.

So I went back and wrote five minutes about my family. The first night I got on stage I won the contest. I beat guys who were doing this for a living. I remember I was driving home, because I was scared to death to this [for a living]. I didn’t have any idea what I was doing. But I said: “I want to do this.” Probably for five or six months while I was at IBM, I’d be going up to every amateur night and every place that had a comedy night; and my wife, I met her the first night I ever did comedy.

She was there rooting for a guy who was a comic. She was kind of the only one who was saying, “quit IBM. You can do this for a living.” So I quit. And everybody in my family thought I was nuts. They told me you don’t quit IBM to become a comedian. But I always worked hard at everything I did. In fact, I told someone yesterday, I found a little notebook from the first year I was on the road. I did 406 shows; so I wasn’t afraid to work. I made $8,300. I wasn’t making anything. But I was getting better at it, because I was doing it every night.

From there, I had a string where I had eight years in a row where I did over 500 shows a year. I liked it, but I worked hard at it. The whole time I was doing it, I came up with the “You might be a redneck” stuff. They were just one liners. Then it became: if I could write 10, can I write 100? If I write 100, could I write 500? That ended up being a book that sold millions of copies. When you talk about show business, everybody likes the show part, but not everybody likes the business.