Even though he started his career in computers, Jeff Foxworthy says he’s a bit of a throwback.
“IBM would have fired me a long time ago,” he says. “I write everything in longhand.”
To prove as much, the 58-year-old comedian keeps a stack of notecards in his back pocket and a yellow notepad on his bathroom vanity.
“The best ideas come when I’m in the shower,” Foxworthy explains. “You can tell because there are drip marks on the paper.”
Good friend and touring partner Larry the Cable Guy is more tech savvy, tweeting frequently and using recording devices to capture his flashes of brilliance. But, Foxworthy says, there’s a method to his madness. “I read something not long ago that said if you write it by hand you remember it better – 80 percent better.”
Considering his mind will only hold two hours of material at any given time, that’s a technique worth mastering. Need proof? “People will come up and say, ‘Tell that thing you said when you saw your grandmother naked’ and I’ve got to say, ‘Tell me how it started.’”
To test new material, Foxworthy hits a club in Atlanta, his home, on Sundays. “Don’t go Friday or Saturday night. Go when maybe there are 20 or 30 people in the crowd.”
After a while, he says, he has enough new stuff to fill an act. “If you laid carpet for 30 years, you would know what works and what doesn’t work. With standup, the only way to write new stuff is to go to itty bitty clubs and test it out.
“Before an act, if I were to pick the four jokes that would work best, I would be dead wrong on two of them. If I said, ‘This is going to kill,’ I’d hear nothing. And if I said, ‘This is stupid,’ people would be snotting on themselves.”
When jokes don’t work, “I can hear one person laughing maniacally – my wife. She loses it when they bomb.”
Thanks to cellphones, Foxworthy says, those new gems don’t stay hidden for long. At performances, “I can see 20 people with their cellphones up. I don’t get it. If you’re too busy thinking, ‘Have I got it centered?’ how can you enjoy the show? When we were doing the Blue Collar Tours, they’d have these huge screens up and there’d always be someone in the third row looking up at the screen. I’m 15 feet in front of them. I don’t get it.”
While Foxworthy ditches his phone while he’s working on his farm, he knows cellular technology is like a drug for many people. “It’s almost like idol worship,” he says. “I used to know people’s phone numbers. Now, I don’t even know my daughter’s.” He’s not too gung ho on social media, either. And he isn’t one to chronicle every minute on Facebook.
Instead his albums and specials offer the best snapshot of his life at any given time.
His latest routine, Fact of Life, came about while talking with one of his daughters. He couldn’t come up with a piece of information and she said, “There’s no excuse not to know it. Just Google it.”
Foxworthy saw that as a challenge and reasoned there had to be some things you couldn’t Google, you had to learn through life. (Example: “Fact of life: You can have a wife with long, beautiful hair or you can be on time.”)
Fans worry that the new segment has replaced his “Redneck” rant. Naah, the Grammy nominee says, even in the heyday of “You might be a Redneck,” “they only lasted five minutes in a two-hour set. They’re easy to retell and if you’re not guilty of it, you’ve probably got a relative who is.” (Still worried? They could figure into his encore.)
Foxworthy’s real bread and butter is storytelling. He gets big laughs because he can recount events in his own life that audiences find awfully familiar.
Those intelligent turns on television? Smoke and mirrors. On something like “Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader?” or “The American Bible Challenge,” he gets help from producers through an earpiece. “If they didn’t give me the answers on ‘Fifth Grader’ I might not know them.”
The Bible challenge? That’s trickier. Whenever he mispronounces a name, he just reverts to an old excuse: “That’s the way my mother says it.”
For eight years, Foxworthy has hosted a Bible study for homeless men every Tuesday. “That’s close to my heart,” he says. “God put different things on different people’s hearts. We don’t have to be moved by the same things.”
Many of the men recognize Foxworthy but his celebrity quickly disappears when they realize he’s there as Jeff, someone who wants to help.
“I don’t think we can do anything for God except say ‘yes’ when He whispers to us,” Foxworthy says. “There are so many more qualified people than me to do his. But it’s at the top of my list, priority-wise.”
Consider that the Foxworthy Fact of Life you probably didn’t know.