The 2015 Moontower Comedy Festival gets under way on the evening of Wednesday, April 22, at the Paramount Theatre with a heap of 58-year-old “Tater Salad” and glass of Scotch, to boot. The festival, now in its fourth year, will stage its de facto opening ceremonies that night amid a cloud of cigar smoke with Ron White’s Texas Toasted.
In Part II of the Chronicle’s extended conversation with comedian and Texas native Ron White (read Part I here), the former Blue Collar Comedy Tour star talks about living high on the hog thanks to his legions of fans (at least one of whom gives him pause), his wife’s struggle to triumph over breast cancer, and how to achieve happiness on Earth.
Austin Chronicle: You’re fond of talking about the various extravagances that your fans have “bought you” over the years. What interesting acquisitions or experiences has their money paid for lately?
Ron White: Really, I just acknowledge that they bought me the plane. They’ve done everything for me. I used to do comedy for nothing, and for years did it for hardly anything. I did it all out of passion and love. Now I’m playing some of the same venues that bands play, but I don’t have 18-wheelers full of stuff, you know? I got a stool with a bottle of whiskey and that’s it – and an opening act that doesn’t have a bus or a big 18-wheeler full of stuff either. But they’ve given me a lifestyle that I never dreamed of. I really never dreamed of it. Even though I watched it happen to [Jeff] Foxworthy; he was standing right next to me when he exploded and turned into the biggest star comedy’s ever seen, I never thought it would happen to me. I didn’t even suspect it. Not for even one second did I go, "Well, maybe … it could happen to me, too." I just didn’t. Things like that just don’t happen to me. I also didn’t feel like I worked enough at it. I wasn’t really being recognized because I was kind of rowdy for whatever reason. So, you know, we live an amazing life, and it’s all because of the fans. It’s not because of something I did, because I haven’t bought one ticket or one record. My fans are so loyal and they just want to hear my next take, and they keep coming out.
AC: Though your nickname is “Tater Salad” and your fans give you potato salad as a gift more than anything else, I read that you don’t even like the stuff. But what are some of the coolest gifts you’ve received on the road?
RW: People buy me really nice bottles of Scotch, which is unnecessary because I don’t take the Scotch anyway. But they’ll buy me two-, three-hundred-dollar bottles of Scotch. One lady had a life-size rendering of my face on her right shoulder blade, tattooed – that’s a big commitment to a comedian. I don’t know if that’s ever been done. That’s pretty crazy. But I would say the tattoo – I thought it was weird, and then actually a couple years later she came back and had me sign it, and then the first time I saw her she had me sign underneath it and she had that tattooed underneath the picture. So you gotta figure that’s a pretty committed fan there.
AC: What challenges do you find yourself confronting at this point in your career?
RW: You know, it’s the same thing: I have to re-create it. I have to continue to write, and that’s not very much easier now than it was when I started – though it is. But it’s still really hard for me to write something funny enough to put in my show, and funny enough for me to look at my show and pull something out, because I won’t ever let my show get too long. So that’s always a challenge, but if I just keep my eyes on it, it happens. But that’s about it. The rest of it, you know, the travel’s crazy: 125 cities a year and then charity work on top of that, and now the tequila company that I work really hard at promoting, and I just have a lot of shit going on. So other than just being really, really busy and 58, I don’t know if there are any obstacles that are any bigger or smaller – it’s actually a little easier now because I have a plane and I can get wherever I need to get to, that’s for sure.
AC: Your wife, [singer-songwriter] Margo Rey, has twice battled breast cancer in recent years. What can you tell those of us who have never had to care for a loved one with cancer about the experience?
RW: It was like a long, long nightmare that wouldn’t go away. When it came back, that was more devastating then it was when we first found it, because when we first found it they said it was Stage 1, and when it came back it was Stage 2 – which is way worse than 1, even though it sounds pretty close. It’s not. Margo is easily the most talented person I’ve ever met. Easily one of the best vocalists alive. Big, big music stars will tell you the same thing. Nobody sings like her. Nobody can do as many different things with her voice as Margo can. It doesn’t matter if they can sing opera, she’s a four-and-a-half octave, classically trained opera singer singing whatever the fuck she wants to. She had a lot of really big, positive stuff going on with her career, and it just brought it all to a halt. She had to have 30 hours of surgery, taking her apart (and) putting her back together again, and then when it came back, she had to have chemo and radiation, which almost drug her down to the dirt. So, you know, we’ve been fighting it, just getting her back, to get her stamina back where she can sing a full set. So she’s there. Her voice is richer than ever, and she’s just beating the shit outta crowds.
AC: You seem like a guy who has life mostly figured out: So what are some of Ron White’s keys to happiness?
RW: Wow … Ron White’s keys to happiness. [Laughs] Well, it all starts at the house. It all hinges on the relationship with my wife, and that’s what I have to remember: who I’m standing next to and just the magnitude of her talent. She is not my assistant; she’s an amazing artist. But I think the rules are to be nice to each other and have fun, and always keep that in mind. Be kind. Make people laugh. Make people smile, you know? And I think that’s the key to happiness: Don’t be a dick. Don’t be a dick. Be kind. Be kind to people.
Ron White’s Texas Toasted plays Wed., April 22, 7pm at the Paramount Theatre, 713 Congress. For more information, visit www.moontowercomedyfestival.com.
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