A Brief Chat with Jeff Foxworthy
You might be a redneck if you’re a fan of Jeff Foxworthy…but, then again, you might just enjoy good stand-up comedy, a commodity which he consistently delivers. Whether you live south of the Mason-Dixon line or not, it’s easy to appreciate the man’s likeable delivery, which might explain how he came to be the host of Fox’s new game show, “Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?” With a plum timeslot for its first few airings – right behind “American Idol” – the show’s got a premise that Foxworthy believes will cross demographical lines and draw a wide variety of viewers…and he’s probably right. Bullz-Eye chatted with Foxworthy about the show, the next few books he’s due to have published, why it’s hard to find his line of barbeque sauce these days, and, yes, whether he himself is smarter than a 5th grader.
Bullz-Eye: Hey, Jeff, how are ya?
Jeff Foxworthy: I’m well, William, how are you?
BE: Not bad. Nice timeslot you’ve got there.
JF: Yeah! (Laughs) That’s not too bad! I was just saying last night that I’m not really used to being on a network that actually promotes a show that I’m on! Usually, they try to keep it a secret!
BE: That leads right into my question. You’ve done a sitcom, you’ve done a variety show, and now you’re hosting a game show. How does the new gig compare to the others?
JF: You know what? I had a ball doing it! And it was one of those things, y’know, when I walked in there the first day, I was, like, “I don’t know if I can do this or not!” But it’s…you get to use a lot of the stand-up, especially the fact that we’ve got a classroom with five kids in it, I kind of find…it’s like me being back in elementary school, and my goal is the same: I’m still trying to make the class laugh, only now I’m getting paid for it!
BE: And I’m sure others have asked you this already, but how many questions did it take for you to realize that you’re not as a smart as a 5th grader?
JF: Well, I have a 6th grader and a 9th grader, so I knew the answer to that one already! (Laughs) But, you know, that was kind of the appeal of this show to me. When they first called and talked to me about it…and I live in Atlanta, and I was quite content just doing stand-up and writing books at this point, y’know, and taking my kids to school every day…but when they told me the idea for the show, I said, “Whether I do it or not, this is a great idea.” Because it’s just got that appeal across the board, like “American Idol,” in that kids are gonna like it because it actually shows them being smarter than adults, and the adults like it because they think, “Well, sure, I can do this.” And then they get out there on the stage, and we find out pretty quickly that, uh, they can’t!
BE: Here’s one I think most every first-time game show host gets.
BE: Were you influenced by or thinking of any other hosts when you first went out there to do it?
JF: Hmmm. Well, you know, I’m 48, so people of my generation, you grew up watching “The Match Game” and “Hollywood Squares” and all…but when I first went out to try this, I tried to just start with a blank slate – which is pretty easy with my mind – and I said, “Lemme just see how it feels.” And what I found was that I didn’t do very well just standing still next to the contestants and doing it, that I did better if I could walk around, and walk over and look at the kids’ papers, and just kind of walk around the classroom…which is kind of the way that I do stand-up. I have a very hard time just standing in one place. But there were parts of it, like the suspense…I mean, I had never had to do anything like that, when you start messing with people, going, “All right, the kid said this, and you said that…” That kind of came naturally. (Pauses) And they didn’t give me Carol Merrill (from “Let’s Make a Deal”), so I was kind of on my own out there.
BE: You said a minute ago that you’d gotten into a comfortable groove before you were pitched the show, writing books and whatnot. I know you wrote your Redneck Dictionary in 2005; are you working on one at the moment?
JF: Well, I just finished another volume of that, and I just finished…a kids’ book. ‘Cause my girls are now 12 and 15, and for years they’ve kind of nagged me because…I’ve always got little piles of stuff going on, but I’d kind of done these silly little poems and things, and they were kind of nagging me to do a kids’ book. And I would go to the bookstore, and every celebrity book I would see would be a book book, a story and all. And I was trying to think back…because I did read with my girls; every single night, I would read with them…and I was trying to think, “All right, what kind of stuff did they like to read over and over again?” And it wasn’t really stories; it was, y’know, those silly little Dr. Seuss poems and things. So I sat down about seven or eight months ago to write this thing…and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever written in my life. You’d think it would be easy, but I would just have to start writing, and it would take about an hour or so to kind of get back to being four years old and to think about it from the perspective of not “Will an adult like this?” but “Will a kid like this?” But it was fun. It was kind of rewarding at the end of the day to sit there and go, “Well, that’s cool!” I just read it for my youngest daughter, and she loved it, so I guess that’s my audience!
BE: And just in closing, I’m a little concerned that the official website for your Redneck Barbeque Sauce has two of its three flavors out of stock.
JF: (Laughs) Well, it’s probably because they’re in my garage! We run such limited runs on this stuff, and I really like it, and so…we’re probably producing 10 or 12 bottles a month of that stuff. You know, they did a thing in “Consumer Reports,” and they rated it the second best barbeque sauce. But you know what? You might be a redneck if you even know how much of my barbeque sauce I have in stock!
BE: Well, there you go. Thanks very much.
JF: You bet, William.