"I couldn't think of anything to do with my hands," explains comedian Ron White. "It started as just a beer and a cigarette, and eventually evolved into fine cigars and great scotch."
Ever since he rolled with the Blue Collar Comedy Tour more than a decade ago, White's trademark scotch and cigar have burned up the Billboard comedy charts. The tour — a Jeff Foxworthy brainchild that ran for years and also featured Bill Engvall and Larry the Cable Guy — brought White out in front of the masses. Which is a place he hadn't necessarily planned to be.
"I started doing this around 29 years ago, when I was 29," he explains over the phone from his home state of Texas. "It was the suggestion of people I worked with, and we'd go into comedy club open mic nights and they'd say, 'You're funnier than these [other] guys. Get up there and do it.' So that's how this whole thing started."
That it hasn't stopped since has much to do with his sarcastic take on everyday minutiae, delivered with a hard-core twang. White also credits having gotten "hooked in" with a chain of clubs that has venues nationwide. "It's pretty easy to get on the road and be a broke comic," he says. "But it's fine — I loved it then and I love it now."
Broke or not, White has sold more than 14 million albums, counting his six solo CDs and appearances on four other compilation albums. He's picked up a few Grammy nods, for A Little Unprofessional and You Can't Fix Stupid. (Don't forget his book, either, I Had the Right to Remain Silent But Didn't Have the Ability.)
Yet with all his achievements in comedy — which include giving himself the nonsensical nickname "Tater Salad" as a teen — he never fails to acknowledge the moment his career shifted toward stardom.
"You know, we all have that moment that makes us famous," White says. "And I would not be standing where I'm standing without the Blue Collar Comedy Tour ... I owe everything to Jeff [Foxworthy], and Jeff specifically. Without his friendship I don't know where I'd be."
While he's at it, White also makes sure to acknowledge Bill Hicks, Sam Kinison and George Carlin as his top influences.
But he's also a huge fan of today's comedy: "I think comedy has really gotten bigger [than when I first started]," he says. "I think Chris Rock is the greatest living comic right now."
So what can you expect from White in his all-new Nutcracker tour? Maybe a little homage to Tchaikovsky?
"To be honest, Nutcracker has nothing to do with anything," explains White. "Someone asked me what we should call this show and I just said, 'Nutcracker?'"
As for what audiences can expect?
"Expect me to show up! Just like I did in all my shows."
Fine cigar and drink in hand.