Senior editor John Spong on spending time with comedian Ron White.
texasmonthly.com: You mention Ron White’s sarcastic comment about staying “under the media’s radar.” Was he at all uncooperative with your attempts to write about him?
John Spong: Uncooperative? Yes and no. He was nothing less than polite while we were together, but that time was limited. Ron gave me about two and a half hours total, thirty minutes or so watching him greet his public at a book signing in North Austin, another forty-five minutes over lunch at a Tex-Mex place in South Austin, and then a little over an hour for the interview on his bus. And though it was clear from his tone and a couple sidebar comments he made that he’d rather have been doing just about anything other than sitting for an interview, he was funny and candid enough that I wasn’t worried about putting a story together.
But I would have liked more time. I nearly drooled when he talked about the “workshop” he’d been having the past week or so with his comedian buddies. If he’d let me be a fly on the wall while he and his friends were actually creating comedy, the story would have gotten some great material.
And I was disappointed when he changed his mind about hanging out after his show at the Paramount. White had indicated during the interview that he and his comedy buddies would be having a blow-out party on the bus to celebrate the end of their mini-tour/comedy-workshop fortnight. So when the show ended I waited for him by the bus with about a dozen of his friends. After about twenty minutes, White showed up, but just as I put out my hand to congratulate him on the show, his bus driver got in between us and told me, “It’s not going to work out tonight for you getting on the bus.” Then the driver and White, who’d walked by without looking at me, got on the bus, trailed by everybody else who’d been waiting with me for White to show up. So naturally I got in line behind the comedians to get on the bus anyway, but as soon as the guy in front of me in line had both feet in the bus, the driver shut the door on me. Then he drove away with me standing on the curb. It was a little disappointing and a little embarrassing. But then something occurred to me: While I’d always laughed when I watched dozens of clowns filing out of a VW Bug, I’d never actually wanted to be in the Bug with them. So ultimately I didn’t mind.
texasmonthly.com: White has been famous for a few years; what drew you to write about him now?
JS: Comedy is kind of a niche-y industry. If you’re not a pretty big comedy fan you might not be even remotely aware of the biggest name comedians. So just like White joked, he’s carved out a pretty nice career for himself without the attention of Texas Monthly. But once we at the magazine came to understand the Blue Collar phenomenon better, once we realized how much money it was making, and how much money White specifically was making, it made sense to do a story on just him.
texasmonthly.com: Is White’s stand-up routine funny to you? Would you call yourself a fan?
JS: I’ve never considered myself a comedy fan per se, although I do admire the real heroes like Richard Pryor and Bill Hicks, performers who actually change the way people think about the world. But I’ve never owned any comedy records besides a couple Richard Pryor box sets and one Redd Foxx tape I bought at a truck stop in Bastrop a few years ago.
But I do think White’s funny. And I greatly appreciate the fact that while his humor may straddle the red state/blue state divide at times, he doesn’t pander to anyone. And he has some lines—like his bit about soiling your pants being your best bet to keep from getting eaten by a bear—that are just really funny to me.
texasmonthly.com: Was it difficult for you to successfully (and humorously) write about White—whose comedy is performed orally?
JS: The real trick is to be careful you don’t try to write the story as funny as he tells his jokes; there’s nothing less funny than somebody trying too hard to be funny.
texasmonthly.com: Does White think that his “precision” joke-delivery is unique? Or does he talk about other comedians using similar methods?
JS: Another “yes and no” answer. On the one hand I got the feeling from talking to White and to his comedian buddies that a lot if not all comics choreograph their routines down to the second. So White’s not unique in that he’s precise. But his precision, meaning his particular style, has to be unique or he’d never have distinguished himself from all the other starving comics he used to work small clubs with.
texasmonthly.com: Have you heard if White got the HBO part?
JS: I‘ve no idea.
texasmonthly.com: What were the circumstances of White’s head-on with the SUV? It sounds like great material for his act, and if nothing else, a bizarre anecdote.
JS: According to White, when he pulled out of the golf course parking lot, he was driving on a wet road that had steep ditches on either side. When he saw a Suburban coming straight at him and Jeff Foxworthy, he had two choices: drive into the ditch or hit the Sub. He hit the Sub, banging up Foxworthy’s knee but more significantly to White, breaking a little glass pipe of his own. He said he screamed much louder than Foxworthy did; it was his only glass pipe.
texasmonthly.com: What was the most unexpected thing you saw White do or say that didn’t make it into the article?
JS: The only really stunning moment was when he made the Sarah Silverman crack, and that’s in the piece.
texasmonthly.com: Did you get a chance to speak with White’s wife? What’s her opinion of his touring lifestyle?
JS: I didn’t talk to her, but Ron was clear that his family and friends all understand that everything in his life is fair game for his act. And nowhere is that more clear than with his wife. His routine includes bits about their honeymoon and her menstrual cycle. White said she’s okay with that, and that she’s a very funny person herself. He added that she really likes cashing the checks he’s receiving for telling those jokes.
texasmonthly.com: As far as you can tell, how often does White have his “quieter moments?”
JS: There’s no way of knowing. But it was eminently clear that the onstage party-boy impression he gives is not an act. That’s really Ron.