Ron White's Moral Compass Comes to San Diego
Veteran comic celebrates 26 years in comedy
Fans of Ron White may best remember him from his role alongside Jeff Foxworthy, Bill Engvall and Larry The Cable Guy from their highly successful Blue Collar Comedy Tour and film, but White’s core fan base knows he’s paid his dues over his 25 years in stand-up comedy. After emerging as one the standout comics in the Dallas/Forth Worth area during the 1980’s, White gradually honed his act while his contemporaries fled to Los Angeles in pursuit of sitcom stardom. After relentless years of touring the Midwest, and the immense popularity of the Blue Collar Comedy Tour, White finally found mainstream success and has since gone on to release several albums and one hour specials for Comedy Central, along with his book, Ron “Tater Salad” White” I Had the Right to Remains Silent. . .But I didn’t Have the Ability, which debuted on the New York Times Best Sellers List in 2006. On Saturday, September 17, White will celebrate his 26th anniversary as a stand up comedian onstage at Copely Symphony Hall in downtown San Diego.
SanDiego.com was fortunate to speak with White from his home in Atlanta and learned about his early years in comedy and how his signature story telling evolved over the years.
Do you remember the first time you did stand-up?
Ron White: Oh yeah, I definitely remember it. I was at the Funny Bone comedy club in Arlington, Texas, open mic night. I had to audition in front of nobody; just the manager with my four minutes to get him to let me do it. I remember the host said, ‘Please enjoy the comedy stylings of Ron White.’ That’s a weird way to introduce somebody anyway, but I had never heard anybody introduce me before. It kind of just dawned on me at that minute that I was a comedian all of a sudden, because somebody just introduced me and I walked on stage and I was a comedian while I was up there. And that’s all you have to do to be a comedian, is go be one. This was 1986. September 17, it’ll be 26 years.
So you’ll be celebrating your 26th year in stand-up comedy on stage at Copely.
RW: That didn’t even dawn on me until you started talking about it, but yeah, that’s cool. I saw Steve Martin there when I was 18 years old. I was in the A School in the Navy in San Diego when I was 18, and I’ve been a fan of comedy my whole life and I was a huge Steve Martin fan and still am. He was in town and I got to go see it, and then it kind of dawned on me one day when I was on that stage a few years ago that, that was the room I saw Steve Martin in and actually kind of teared me up a little bit when I was on-stage. Just the thought that I had come from one of those chairs to that stage; it was an amazing thing to have dawn on me.
After your first set at the Funny Bone in Arlington, Texas, what was the process for you in developing your material and stage presence?
RW: There were four clubs in the Dallas/Forth Worth area, and that’s where Arlington is. I figured out that usually the opening act was also the host of the show. So there were a bunch of us that were not quite funny, I memorized all the announcements, I didn’t have little pieces of paper in my hand, I tried to do it with some professional-show-business to it, even though I didn’t know anything about it. That gave me a lot of stage time, I would just be a good host and I would do my time, so every week I had eight or nine little shows to do, and there’s no substitute for stage time. You have to have constant stage time to make any improvements at anything you do.
Did you ever make the move to L.A. or New York, or were you always based out of Texas?
RW: All my friends were moving out there, but they were coming back to the Midwest to make a living. And all the best comedians from my generation were already there, and I had always thought, ‘I don’t know what they just stay in the Midwest where all the work is and sharpen the blade on the road.’ It doesn’t matter how long you do it, you can’t be too sharp for L.A. I would go out there every once and awhile and try to do a set, and try to get on at The Improv. Nobody knew who I was, I was just a guy from Texas that was trying to get stage time and it’s easier in the Midwest. So I just stayed out there for years, but really enjoyed those people and learned what makes them laugh. I was doing 50 weeks a year on the road doing 9 shows a week. So that’s a bunch of stage time.
Did you always have the scotch and cigar or did that slowly evolve into part of your act?
RW: it started off with a beer and a cigarette, and most of it was born from me not knowing what to do with my hands exactly. And then I’m a natural smoker and drinker. I took to it right away. Eventually my health wouldn’t allow me to smoke cigarettes anymore so I switched to cigars. With the $80 a month I’m saving not smoking cigarettes, I’m smoking $700 worth of cigars.
What’s your opinion on crowd work?
RW: I’m a pace, rhythm and timing comedian, and me bashing somebody in the audience until they look like a fool is something amateur comics can do. It’s like playing ping pong with a chicken, there’s no point in it. So I would rather have an audience that’s listening to me. Back when I didn’t quite have 45 minutes and I was getting paid to do 45 minutes I would stop and talk to the audience because I didn’t have any jokes, but as soon as I had enough jokes I quit. So now if somebody forces me to talk with them while I’ve got 3,000 people in front of me, it’s a brutal thing. I’m not very open-minded about that.
Can you recall any recent hecklers or any memorable moments onstage?
RW: Not memorable but in Savannah this year there were six people on the floor, elbows flying, just a brawl broke out in a fairly genteel southern town. Six people got thrown out, they were bloody; and rarely does anyone say anything to me. What it’ll start as is they’ll be talking loudly to somebody else and making it where people can’t hear, it’s just rudeness that I can’t tolerate. If somebody is dumb enough to actually talk to me while I’m performing for 3,000 people it’s probably not going to turn out great for them. Then last year in Houston, a lady fell out of a balcony 28 feet, landed on other lady; both of them leave in stretchers, I’m onstage and I knew something happened and I knew something fell but I didn’t know that it was a 180 pound woman just tumbled out of the balcony. Then on the next show the same night, a guy has a heart attack and dies. I was like, ‘What is this, an Indian burial ground?’