Ron White’s time in the US Navy left him with two things: a nickname (‘Tater Salad’), and what he has called a ‘pretty respectable drug habit.’ An eventual court-ordered treatment program for that habit went so well that Ron became first a counselor and then the program’s primary public speaker, which slowly translated into a fledgling career in stand-up comedy, traveling the country in a beat-up Nissan truck. In the year 2000, after many years of hard work, Ron (along with Jeff Foxworthy, Bill Engvall, and Larry the Cable Guy) founded and grew what came to be the comedy phenomenon that was the Blue Collar Comedy Tour.
Despite being the only member of the tour who did not go on to star in the spin-off Blue Collar TV series, Ron used that springboard to launch into hit comedy specials and albums of his own, and even film appearances including the just-released Horrible Bosses (with Jason Bateman, Jennifer Aniston, and Kevin Spacey). Sharply dressed and never without his trademark Scotch and cigar, Ron made quite the impression on Buzzine’s Nicole Rayburn at the tapings of Season 2 of The Green Room with Paul Provenza at The Vanguard in Hollywood, California.
Nicole Rayburn: I am gonna get to some questions, but I’m kind of just impressed right now, so I’m taking it all in: The watch. The socks. You are Big Texas…
RW: I wear wild socks, and because I do, people give me wilder socks. And my son, who is 20 years old and in college – he’s very, very funny – he was backstage with me doing a corporate gig where he goes to school in Orlando, and he goes, “Dad, those socks are gay,” and I go, “Chicks dig these socks.” He goes, “Chicks wear those socks.” All right, he’s my kid: You can stop those tests…
NR: So you’re an advocate of your son following in your footsteps?
RW: My son is a recording arts engineer, and he’s brilliant and fun, and I’ll support whatever he does… I don’t know that he wants to do standup, but whatever he does… What am I gonna do? Go, “Whatever you do, don’t follow your dreams - It never pays off: Get in a cubicle and stay there for as long as you can?”
Never work for anybody but yourself, seriously, ever, or you will get nowhere ever. You can learn a craft working for someone else, but always have a plan of taking that to an independent place where you can be in charge of your own future. Because if you dedicate your life to someone else, and at the end of they day they don’t pull it off, then you’re just out there unemployed at fifty-f***in’-four years old. I’m 54, but not unemployed because I work for Ron White, Inc. and I’m the Ron White part of that, so I will never fire myself, I predict…
NR: You are so Big Texas: I love it…
RW: You are flat cutein’ up the place. All right: Ask me a question…
NR: [Laughs] Now, when you get a mic in your hand, and start spouting wisdom, you didn’t start out with this wisdom, did you?
RW: I don’t think I started out with this confidence. The wisdom was for years stored in libraries… A lot of people don’t know that… there wasn’t always the Internet: At one point, you had to actually go to a library. If you had a question, you couldn’t ask your parents because nobody knew. You had to go to a library, learn a decimal system, and even then the knowledge that you seek might be checked out by someone else. And you’re like, “Where’s the knowledge? The knowledge is gone! We have no access to this knowledge….” I started to sound like Jerry Seinfeld: “We have no access to this knowledge.” I didn’t mean to do that.
NR: The cigar, I dig. But I don’t think it started out with cigars either. When did it become such a part of your being? Because you don’t seem to be without one…
RW: It started off with cigarettes, and then it really got to a point where I was having health issues. I was smoking three packs of cigarettes a day, and I don’t know how to do standup without holding two things in my hand. I never hold a mic – it’s always in a mic stand. I have a drink and a cigar, and the reason is it’s a great reason to not say something. It’s all about pauses. It’s all about the distance between words. And if we ever learned anything from George Burns… who died before you were born, right? How old are you? It doesn’t matter.
NR: Not that old.
RW: It’s a cute age, I’ll tell you that right now. Whatever it is, it’s a cute age.
NR: Thanks. [Laughs]
RW: But anyway, George would lumber up to a punch line, take a puff of his cigar, and then do the real punch-line, I guess. I mean, that’s what I do. And it’s a great reason to take a pause. Sometimes I don’t even drink it. I just make you think I’m gonna take a drink, and then I never do. I just do another punch line. But to tell you the linking rings of comedy, a lot of it is just about misdirection. I’m gonna make you think I’m done before I tell you what I really want you to laugh at.
NR: And then it looks like that thought just came to you, ‘cause you were gonna do something else and then you delivered the punch line…
RW: Right. Which was planned the whole time, and you were just buffaloed into it.
NR: That’s the skill.
RW: [Laughs] Well, it’s what I can do. I’m a one-trick pony. This is all I can do. And for years, it looked like I was a no-trick pony. I had no tricks at all. I was gonna stack cans in shelves and do no-trick pony things for the rest of my life, and it turned out I have a trick: comedy. [Laughs]
NR: When did this ‘trick’ hit for you?
RW: I started when I was 29 years old, which is a little later in life than some guys. But that’s okay because you need to experience life before you can talk about it. So I lived as a blue collar, get up and go to work every day, find a way to get the bills paid doing this, the washer is broke, I don’t have 48 other dollars, and I’ve got a broken… I did that forever. When I was 20, if my entire family had died at the same time and left all their money to me, I could maybe have bought a carton of cigarettes and a BIC lighter. So there were no success stories over in our camp, but I was able to find this one little craft and… a way to make a living.
NR: That’s an American success story if I ever heard one.
RW: It worked out the way it worked out. It is a good success story. I’m surprised as anybody else – all my friends, my mother – everybody sitting there shaking their heads going, “I can’t believe it worked...” [Laughs]
The second season of ‘The Green Room with Paul Provenza’ premieres new episodes on Showtime every Thursday night at 11:00 p.m. ET/PT beginning July 14, 2011.