With a glass of scotch and a fresh cigar, Ron White is at ease on the stage. The 56-year-old comedian gained national recognition as a member of the hugely popular Blue Collar Comedy Tour, alongside Jeff Foxworthy, Bill Engvall and Larry the Cable Guy. On his own, White has released six comedy albums, four specials and a memoir, along with starring in several films. More recently, White tied the knot with singer-songwriter Margo Rey. But that won’t stop him from touring harder than ever, White will hit the road again, stopping at the Michigan Theater on Friday, February 21 for two shows. Brandon Doriot spoke with White, and his wife, about charity work, playing in Michigan and dealing with hecklers.
Thank you so much for doing this, I really appreciate it.
Ron White: No problem man, thank you.
I know you’re a busy guy. You just got married, congratulations.
Ron: Thank you, it was quite an event. Down in Dallas, we had a good time.
So are you taking a break or just keeping it moving?
Ron: I took about three weeks, then I was back out touring and doing stops for Brides Against Breast Cancer, which is my wife’s charity.
Really, what’s your involvement with that?
Ron: You know what, you want to talk to my wife about it. She’s much better at it than me.
That’d be great, throw her the phone.
Ron: Honey, honey, honey …
Margo: Yes, what?
Ron: This is Brandon with the Current Magazine. Can you tell him about Brides Against Breast Cancer?
Margo: Oh, hi! How are you?
Great, thanks. Congratulations on the your wedding.
Margo: Yes, thank you. We had a nice time being honeymooners even though we’ve been together for 6 years and known each other for 20. We’re still really giddy. It’s not often you can say that Ron White is giddy.
[Laughs] So tell me a little bit about your involvement with Brides Against Breast Cancer.
Margo: I am the national ambassador for BABC. It’s a fantastic nonprofit and what they do, unlike a lot of other breast cancer entities, is often times when you donate to a charity the money you put in goes into this nebulous pot of breast cancer research and you really don’t know how far your money goes. But BABC raises money solely for the purpose of funding The Center for Building Hope, which is a center in Sarasota Florida … They offer free, absolutely free, private home services to people who are affected by cancer. Not just the patients, but also the families.
So how does one donate?
Margo: We raise money by selling wedding gowns, donated by both designers and brides. We set up trunk shows around the country, and we sell dresses around the country at a very discounted rate from $99-$5,000. And if you don’t have a dress to help, volunteering is a fantastic way to get involved as well. Or by texting the word Bride to 85944 to donate $10 to the cause.Ron and I are constantly asked to do charity work and felt especially compassionate about this cause because we did our homework and saw that this charity donates 2 million dollars a year toward providing these services which comes to about 75-80 cents on the dollar. Which is fantastic compared to a lot of scammers riding the 501(C)(3). And in this case, I am a bride on my second cancer diagnosis and I was able to use my musical ability to help out. John Oates and I wrote a song called “Let the Rain” about four days after my initial cancer diagnosis and it’s now the charity’s anthem. It’s really giving a fantastic voice to the charity, and I couldn’t be happier with it. It was #17 on the Billboard charts for 22 weeks.
That’s great! So how does this work out with your schedules?
Margo: We try to plan shows in the same or close cities to each other’s shows to keep our little family together.
Ron: [In background] HOW COME YOU DON’T WANT TO TALK TO ME?!
Well now that we’ve got the charity stuff on the board, you can clean up with some jokes.
Ron: I only did that so I could take a break, I knew what she would do.
[Laughs] I appreciate it. So how has the road been treating you? Is it tough to get back after a break? Is there anything lost – like a boxer without training?
Ron: I’m just a comedian, that’s all I am. It’s very, very addicting, so really it’s tough to be away from. The energy and love the crowd gives you when you walk out on stage is unlike anything else, that’s something I don’t like to be away from for more than a week. You don’t lose it. I’ll be ready day one I’m back on the road.
So switching gears from honeymooning to winter in Michigan—that’s at least got to be a rough transition.
Ron: You know what, I’ve been playing up there forever, and I always have a great time. As many times as I’ve gone to the well up there, people always show up and support me.
Really? You’d think your biggest fanbase would be all in the South.
Ron: Oh yeah, we’re Southern but we sell way more tickets in Detroit than I do in Birmingham (Alabama).
Is there a difference in how comfortable you are with a crowd depending on the setting or demographic?
Ron: Not at all. Even though we smack talk a little different or whatever, what you realize after traveling is that the human condition is the same. Whether you’re from the South or wherever else in America, every day you have to get up and go do something to support your lifestyle, wife and kids, whatever, you feel that same burden of the human condition. That’s why we’re all out there, it just doesn’t change much. Although, I never liked doing shows in New York City until I did Radio City. Because they get you running around town, and all anyone wants to do is time you, whittle what you have to say down to little four-minute sets; and the crowds just get tired, you can’t really break through to them, you just do your time and everyone moves on. But Radio City changed that, and now it’s one of my favorite stops.
Is there anywhere you’ve ever given up on, that you just refuse to play?
Ron: No, I still play Atlantic City.
Is that a dreaded stop on the tour for you?
Ron: It’s not as bad as it used to be. It’s just a place where entertainment is second fiddle and mandatory. Vegas gets it, they want to keep you there for days but the average stay in Atlantic City is less than 24 hours. I mean this is where Greg Allman wrote “Whipping Post.” It’s just bad lighting and horrible sound. For a long time, no one really cared about the entertainment there but they’re working on it.
Do you ever do smaller clubs anymore or are you just working theaters on the road?
Ron: I do smaller clubs all the time, swing by open mics and guest spots. Back when I lived in LA I’d do three shows a night—The Impov, Laugh Factory and The Comedy Store. And I still do ’em. I just don’t perform in them for money.
So are you touring your most recent special or do you like to hit the road with all new material?
Ron: I would guess about half of it is new and half is the last special. I would worry about it if I felt the show had lost any power, ’cause I could tell, if everyone saw it. But I always feed people new stuff and work at it so that’s why I’ve been able to stay at the top of this little game for 10 years.
How do you vet material on the road? How often will you plug new stuff into your sets from show to show?
Ron: Every night just about. I travel in a little group on the tour bus and at night we work. So I’ve known the road manager since I was about 6, so that’s 50 years of friendship and the other guys for like 20 years. So everybody’s funny which makes it easy, especially when you’re having fun.
Like Steve, my road manager, is hilarious. He’s always trying to get us on the golf course every city we go to, which he’s very successful at but not 100 percent. So like Newport, Rhode Island, he’s calls this club, which is like one of the most famous blue-blood clubs in America. And he calls up, “Hey y’all know who Ron White is?”—Steve’s really rural—“We’d like to play some golf, we’ll throw you some tickets to the show.” And the club manager responds with “No, we wouldn’t let President Obama play here.” Steve doesn’t miss a beat and says, “Oh don’t worry, he’s not with us.”
So did you end up playing any golf or what?
Ron: Fuck no. They wouldn’t let us in if we had a tank full of money.
As far as the Blue Collar Comedy group, are you guys planning a reunion or anything in the future?
Ron: We talk every once in a while about getting together for charity. But back in the day we were playing like 20,000 people a show, which was way too big. None of us have ruled it out as a potential charity event, but they tour without me. To tell you the truth, I’m a little rowdy for those boys.
Are you telling me they’ve lost the edge? And you’re still the gunslinger of the group?
Ron: Ya know, I just go out to have a good time, I get arrested from time to time. I’m a good guy I think, I’m just a little rowdy for their taste.
When’s the last time you were locked up?
Ron: Nothing too recent. I had a pot bust a couple years ago in Florida. I got pulled off my plane with less than a gram of weed and they hauled me off to jail. But I had a show to do about 40 miles away. Which put me in a shitty mood. I took some bad mug shots. Over acting really is what it was. So I get out, and I know i’m going to be two hours late to this show, so I’m pissed off. And as I’m walking out there’s a huge truck load of kids sitting there with a big sign that says “FREE TATER.” Which was great, I wish to God that I would’ve taken a picture of that.
What should we expect material-wise this show? Anything you want to put out there now?
Ron: No, you’ll come out and get the full Tater squad. I’m not a tittle comedian, I’m a gut ’em comedian. I’m gonna leave ’em like I did last time. I’m gonna leave you holding your face.
Do you plan on having any hecklers in Ann Arbor, or are we an easy-going crowd?
Ron: I mean, I never seemed very approachable. So it’s never been a problem for me, even back in the club days. I just have that kinda look like I’ll walk out there and stomp on ya. And I have no tolerance for it. If I’ve got a theater full of people in front of me and somebody thinks it’s about me and them, they’re gonna find out real quick that they’re outside the building staring at the fucking wall, and I will do it so unapologetically. I’ll always warn ’em, but if they persist at all I throw ’em the fuck out. I’ve got all these people to entertain, and I don’t have a plan for that guy. I could sit and make fun of ’em, but that’s third grade comedy, and people don’t pay to see that from me.
And lastly, what are your thoughts on the current state of comedy?
Ron: I don’t watch it. I don’t watch it at all. I don’t watch other people when I go to clubs. I mean I’ll watch Dave Chappelle, and I’ll sit through a little bit of [Daniel] Tosh. I haven’t seen one of my specials, that’s how much I watch it.
Even through editing? Or do you just write it, perform it, and that’s it for you?
Ron: I’m a performer-writer, that’s it. And it doesn’t really matter to me. It would if I was trying to come up in this business, which is really tough to do. Then you have to be more engaged in all of it, knowing who the competition is, and all that. But if you get a big fan base, you don’t really compete on that level any more. Your fans will support you, and you’ll be able to keep doing it as long as they want you to.
Thank you for your time. I’ve enjoyed talking to you, and I can’t wait to see you.
Ron: OK, buddy, thanks a lot.