Ron White's "Tater Salad" Days
The Blue Collar Comedy Tour star on getting into stand-up and playing Austin
With the starter's pistol for the fourth annual Moontower Comedy & Oddity Festival in the free hand of a native Texan with a reputation for rowdiness, this year's swarm of world-class comics will take their cue from former Blue Collar Comedy Tour sensation Ron White. The 58-year-old Scotch-sippin' raconteur will headline the festival's opening night event, Ron White's Texas Toasted, at the Paramount Theatre on Wednesday, April 22, at 7pm.
The Chronicle kicked back with the renegade comedian known far and wide as "Tater Salad" to discuss his big break, his big beef with the state of Texas, and more in advance of this year's star-studded Moontower Comedy Festival.
Austin Chronicle: What all did you have to overcome as a young comedian to become the star you are today?
Ron White: Well, you know, I don't know if you can even look at it that way, because I didn't set out to become a star – I really didn't. I knew that my brain was good at something, but it wasn't very conventional, that's for sure. I got kicked out of high school. I couldn't do any conventional stuff, my brain just wasn't wired that way, but I knew I wasn't stupid even though they told me I was. They put me in stupid classes, but I knew there was something going on up there that was worth something; and so the first time I walked onstage and did stand-up, I'm like, "Oh, that's it: I'm a comedian. I'll be damned! I figured it out!" So, you know, the obstacles: You don't even see 'em, because you gotta go get work, you gotta get yourself booked. Well, I was funny, and I was cheap, and there was a comedy movement going on, so there was work. You could get stage time. There were four comedy clubs in Dallas, and then Austin and Houston, so even when I was just an amateur comic – which I was for two years – I had plenty of stage time. I could get around and do it.
So, you know, the obstacles are just ... if you look back at what I went through to get to where I am, I don't know that I would even do it again, because it's just such a crapshoot – and I didn't do it with this in mind. So it just happened. And it didn't happen because of television; it happened because of a comedy special, because of Blue Collar Comedy Tour: The Movie . That's what did it. It sold 4 million copies. So now 4 million people have my best 10 minutes that I've written in 16 years in their hand and were showing it to people, and so that's what did it. Something has to happen to make you famous – well, that's what made me famous. Not a sitcom, just that comedy special. That particular tour made me famous. And when Jeff first told me about the concept of that tour, I told him, "That's retarded! It'll never work. You don't need four comics, it's not a show, you need three." So that's how tuned in I am. But obstacles: I had a blast the whole time! I've loved every minute of it. Even when I wasn't making money, I was having a blast. I was doing stand-up fuckin' comedy; I was making people laugh, and they were letting me drink free. Back then, I would literally go around setting up comedy competitions in hotels that had a restaurant, and first prize would be dinner for two at that restaurant, and then I would only invite comics that I knew I could beat because I needed the food. [Laughs] I don't know if that's an obstacle or if that's just cheating or what it is, but I did it because I liked doing stand-up so much, but I also didn't have any money. So, I never saw it as overcoming anything. I always saw it as a blessing, even when almost nobody else would've seen it that way.
AC: How often are you asked if you'll ever reunite for a tour or special with the other Blue Collar Comedy guys?
RW: Every day. I do meet-and-greets after my shows, and that's probably the most common question: Will we ever get together and do it again? And quite frankly, I'm a little rowdy for those boys. They've all got crystal-clean corporate images and affiliations with ... now Jeff's got a Bible show, and Dan [Whitney] – Larry the Cable Guy – he works for Prilosec. You know, they really can't have me out there associating with them when I get busted with weed and, you know, I just don't match. I'm not a good match for 'em. So they tour without me, is what I'm saying. But they don't call it Blue Collar Comedy Tour, which I'm thankful that they don't.
AC: You've passed through Austin many times in your career. What do you remember about the comedy scene here when you were paying your dues back in the Eighties and Nineties?
RW: It was way too much fun, that's for sure. It was a big afterparty at the Velveeta Room, is what it was – and all my friends were there. All these brilliant young comics that were just hanging out drinking, laughing, you know? Musicians would come down to the Velveeta Room when their bars closed and sit around and jam all night. It was a blast. I couldn't get enough of it, quite frankly. The early days were just a blast, and nothing but beautiful memories of really, really creative people hanging out having fun, whether they were musicians or comics or whatever. That's what the old Velveeta Room was all about. The new one, I really don't know what goes on there. I go in there and do sets every once in a while ... but back in the day, man, it was one of the fondest memories that I have; and all the big comics that would come through town, we'd just hang, you know? So it was just something really, really special that I got to be a part of.
AC: As a native Texan, if you could change anything about your home state, what would it be?
RW: [Laughs] Well, you know, I wish they'd catch up with some of the other states with their marijuana laws that are so ridiculous it makes me gag – and it's the reason I don't live there, because I smoke pot, I have to. But, you know, one of my dear friends died of cancer in Texas and the only thing that helped was cannabis oil, the only thing that helped his pancreatic cancer, it helped control the pain. So even though he's dying, they won't give that to him. They won't give it to him. So I have to. Which means I'm committing felonies once a week bringing this guy something to relieve his pain for cancer. And I just want to grab the people in charge by the throat and tell them, "Wake the fuck up, you stupid fucking idiots. What the fuck are you doing?" You only have to look at two numbers: alcohol-related deaths, marijuana-related deaths. Story's over. Story's over. So I wish they would quit being idiots about that. I love Texas with all my heart. If they would change those laws, I would move back. Until they do, I'll come and visit.
Ron White's Texas Toasted opens the 2015 Moontower Comedy & Oddity Festival Wednesday, April 22, 7pm, at the Paramount Theatre, 713 Congress.