On stage, he’s a witty, irascible comedian who drinks and smokes. But behind the scenes, Ron White’s just a witty, irascible comedian who drinks and smokes. The chart-topping Grammy-nominated comedian and Blue Collar Comedy Tour O.G. just announced a tour stop at the Santander Performing Art Center on August 5, 2016. (Tickets go on sale on June 24 at 10 a.m.) In turn, we pulled our January 2011 interview with White from the vault. (Best enjoyed with a stogie and a single malt.)
Ron White is many things to many people – a loyal friend, a hilarious comedian, a redneck. But to label him with only one title (especially redneck) limits the complicated nature of the hard-drinking, hard-living, quick-witted Texan.
But one thing is for sure with White: What you see on stage is what you get behind the scenes – a sharp humor and someone who enjoys every moment of life as he performs hundreds of shows across the country each year.
Throughout his career, White says people have suggested he clean up his act to be more marketable and reach a wider audience. But White, who hit the big time in 2000 while performing with Jeff Foxworthy, Bill Engvall and Larry the Cable Guy on the first Blue Collar Comedy Tour, found early on that the best way to be successful is to stay true to his nature.
“I cuss, I drink, I smoke, I like women, I like golf, I like fun, I like stimulation,” White says. “Every club I go to is full of people that drink and smoke and party, and I was like, ‘I think I’m just going to be me.’”
On a chilly night in November, White steps on stage at The Grand Opera House in Wilmington, DE, like a rock star. A cloud of smoke pours from his Davidoff cigar and a glass of Macallan 18-year Scotch rests in hand. White’s image is so synonymous with cigars that Davidoff has made him their world ambassador.
His rumbling bass voice rasps out an hour and a half of self-deprecating and highly animated humor that’s as raunchy as Richard Pryor’s or Eddie Murphy’s in their prime.
Very few topics are taboo in White’s act. He tosses out jokes about having a small penis, his big body and enjoying a warm stream of water to wash his ass in a hotel room. He whistles the tune to The Andy Griffith Show while telling a blowjob joke.
He talks about his marriages, including his current marriage to singer-songwriter Margo Rey.
And it’s definitely not advisable to heckle the comedian during one of his shows; in his act, White equates talking in a live theater to “shitting in the street – it’s something you just don’t do.”
During the Wilmington show, White lights his cigar and someone from the audience yells out, “Stop smoking.”
“Quit shitting in the street,” White blasts back. “If you want a smoke-free stage, you came to the wrong fucking show.”
On the Bus
After the show, as White makes his way back to his tour bus behind the theater, things start to get interesting. His bus is like a small palatial mansion. There’s a built-in Scotch cabinet filled with bottles of Macallan, as well as a humidor loaded with some of the world’s finest cigars. There are granite tabletops, granite walls and a bed that takes up the entire back portion of the bus.
A small group of White’s touring companions sit around a giant flat-screen TV, drinking Budweiser and watching the Patriots manhandle the Steelers.
“Everybody’s their own fucking captain on this ship,” White says. “The road is great, but it’s a lot more fun when you’ve got friends along.”
He introduces Pat McCollum, the bus driver and owner of Nashville Coach, the company that constructed White’s tour bus. It’s McCollum’s 57th birthday, and the crew’s preparing to go to the local “tittie bar” to celebrate.
“Jeff Foxworthy saw a way to bring his comedy to millions of people and build a really secure life for his family, and I saw a way to get free beer. I looked at it and thought, ‘If I play my cards right, I could be drunk every night.’ It turns out we were both right.” – Ron White
Then there’s Steve Cooke, White’s tour manager and best friend since the age of 6. Cooke’s the pre-show all-purpose guy, running around to make sure everything’s in place, including White’s bottle of Scotch and a lighter for his cigar.
Finally, there’s Todd Sawyer, a comedian from Seattle who has been White’s opening act for two years. Sawyer says the big misconception about White is that he’s simply doing redneck humor. He calls White’s material more cerebral, more a commentary on Southern culture.
Sawyer, who says he hasn’t had a drink of alcohol for nearly 20 years, admits that it’s not easy being on the road with a crew that likes to drink every night.
“My career wasn’t tracking quite like Ron’s when I added liquor,” he says.
“And when mine really got out of focus,” White cuts in with a laugh, “was when I was eating a lot of acid.”
Up In Smoke
When it comes to psychoactive material, White makes no apologies about ingesting illegal substances. He’s an unabashed supporter of marijuana, smoking on a nearly daily basis to deal with his anxiety.
“You want to take a picture of my medical marijuana license?” White asks as he whips out his prescription card from California. He then pulls out a glass pipe and starts puffing away.
White says the California medical marijuana system has helped many people and
has treated smoking pot with some level-headed tolerance.
“I’m a good citizen,” White argues. “I really support the military. But I do smoke weed. I endorse most of our laws whole-heartedly, but I don’t give a fuck about a couple of them. Some societies just can’t get past the fact that I don’t really care about their pot laws, and they’ll fucking lock me up.”
White found that out first-hand in Florida in 2008 when he landed in his plane in Vero Beach for a performance. It’s an incident he jokes about in his act. He says cops were waiting outside of the plane to confront him about an anonymous tip that he was running drugs. (White says the “anonymous tip” came from two of his former pilots whom he had fired.)
After an hour and a half of searching the plane, the cops found nothing. Then they had the K-9 start sniffing his shoulder bag. White says that’s when he thought, “Ruh-roh.” They found less than a gram of marijuana (about the equivalent of one joint).
White ended up only receiving a citation, but he had to go before a Florida judge. While in court, White compared marijuana laws to alcohol prohibition and described a story about how his grandfather was arrested for making beer.
“This was a man who worked hard every day of his life, and because he liked to drink a cold beer, they put him in jail,” White says. “And I went, ‘Now, that’s not true, but it could have been.’”
Although White can still be a little rough around the edges, he says his life has calmed down these days. He is a loyal husband who just happens to drink and smoke. Most of his free time is spent golfing. He even got to play in the Bob Hope Classic golf tournament last year with Bill Murray and PGA pro Troy Merritt.
White’s also no stranger to philanthropy. He recently raised $60,000 in less than a minute working as an auctioneer at a charity auction in Tennessee and he received a Patriot Award in 2009 for raising money to help wounded soldiers.
Since starting as a comedian 26 years ago, he has looked at his career as a vehicle to live the life that he always wanted to live.
“Jeff [Foxworthy] saw a way to bring his comedy to millions of people and build a really secure life for his family, and I saw a way to get free beer,” White says. “I looked at it and thought, ‘If I play my cards right, I could be drunk every night.’ It turns out we were both right.”
Ron White’s Nutcracker Tour comes to the Santander Performing Arts Center (136 N. 6th St., Reading) tonight. 7:30pm. $46.75/$56.75. Click here for tickets.