#b#UPDATE:#/b# Due to the weather forecast, this showed has been postponed until Saturday, March 10, 2012, at 7 and 10 p.m. Tickets for this Saturday’s show will be valid on the new date.
Larry the Cable Guy remembers when his career reached a level that few comedians have ever seen.
He had been working comedy clubs for years, performing in front of crowds of about 300 to 400 people. Then came his mega-successful Blue Comedy Tours with Jeff Foxworthy and Bill Engvall. That led to him selling out theaters that hold about 1,500 people.
Then his representatives started eyeing even bigger stages.
“I remember they were putting stuff on sale at some arenas, and I was like, ‘Well, good luck with that,’” Larry says. “Literally, it was all happening to me so fast, and I’m thinking to myself, these guys have bitten off more than they can chew, we’re not going to be doing arenas.”
He was most concerned that he’d end up standing in the middle of a near-empty arena. Then his promoter called and gave him a rundown of his ticket sales: 11,000 sold in Pittsburgh; 8,000 in Hershey, PA; and 6,800 sold in Tulsa in just 90 minutes.
“That’s when I knew we hit it,” Larry says. “There were about 15 dates that he read off; all of them were over 8,000 people.”
That was in 2004, and while there have been a few comedians to play arenas over the years — Steve Martin, Eddie Murphy, Andrew Dice Clay — no one has done it as long as Larry (whose real name is Dan Whitney). That makes his performance at the 1,800-seat State Theater in New Brunswick on Saturday, August 27, something of an intimate performance for the man with famous catchphrase, “Git R done.”
Larry says he was thrilled when he began to find parallels between his career and that of Martin, one of his comedy heroes. In Martin’s memoir about his standup career, “Born Standing Up,” he wrote about his ascension to arenas, and even published his calendar in the book to show his ticket sales.
“I worked probably 80 percent of the exact same arenas,” Larry says. “I was looking at that going, wow, it looks like my calendar.”
He attributes his success to perseverance, a disregard for political correctness, and his no-nonsense comedy. He pokes gentle fun at his targets — including himself — and gets naughty without being offensive.
Over the years he has joked about Wal-Mart, observing that he likes shopping there because the clothes are so big he’s a medium, that the baby department has a husky section, and that the eye doctor at Wal-Mart tests your vision by asking how many teeth the cashier has.
About people who give out fun-sized candy on Halloween, he says, “If I’m gonna go trick or treating and walk around in hot pants and hooker boots, I want the whole candy bar.”
On getting older, he observes, “I used to be a chick magnet, now I’m a refrigerator magnet.” And when his wife offered him to run upstairs and have sex, he replied, “You need to pick one, I can’t do both of them.”
“I just go on stage and I do what I feel like doing, and if I think it’s funny, and I think the crowd will think it’s funny, I will do the joke,” he says. “I’m not mean, I’m a nice guy, and I love my fans, and I let my fans know that I appreciate them. And I think they just kind of sense that.”
Fans can expect to hear new material at the State Theater. Larry says he’s always writing new jokes, adding about five to seven new one-liners every week. For every new joke that’s added, older ones are taken out.
“When I go on stage, I can tell when I’ve done a joke long enough when it doesn’t get the laughs it originally got when I wrote the joke,” he says. “And then it’s time to throw out the joke.”
One new section of zingers he wrote at the beginning of the summer is devoted to the record heat in the country. Here’s a sampling: “I tell you what, it’s so hot, my mom made me boxer shorts out of a ShamWow. The last time I sweated this much, I got my wife pregnant. It’s so hot you can fry an egg on a sidewalk, and I know that’s true ’cause I saw two homeless guys having breakfast this morning. I sat through the ‘Smurfs’ movie just for the air conditioning.”
“If you’re laughing at the first one, you already missed three of them, which I think is a great way to do it because next time you come back people will go ‘I gotta go see that guy again because I don’t remember anything he said,’” he says.
His comedy influences include old-time masters of the one-liner like Charlie Callas, who died earlier this year. Larry and Callas were friends, with Callas joining Larry for one of his Christmas shows.
Another favorite is Don Rickles, with whom he talked on the phone about four months ago. “He was hammering me,” Larry says. “I love those guys, and I like to keep that part of standup alive now. In today’s modern world, people may say one-liners are easy but they’re not. One-liners are hard. If one-liners were easy to write, everybody would be doing it.”
And then there’s Steve Martin. Larry remembers buying Martin’s first comedy albums in 1978, long before he became a comedian himself. “I love doing the jokes where you’re like, ‘That was really clever,’ then I like throwing in a couple of fart jokes,” he says. “Steve Martin was good at that, Steve Martin could write the most clever joke on the planet, and right after he did it, he had an arrow in his head.”
Larry grew up in Pawnee City, Nebraska, where his family owned a big farm, and his father held several jobs — musician, preacher, and school administrator. His mother was a housewife. The family moved to Florida when Larry was 16, which is when he started to work on his southern accent. He attended Baptist University of America in Decatur, Georgia (which closed in 1987), where his two roommates, one from Georgia and one from Texas, helped him perfect his accent even more. (His real speaking voice is not deep south.) After three years in college, he left to pursue his comedy career back in Florida. He then started working clubs and went on to work in radio.
Early in his career, Larry was just part of the act. On an episode of “Only in America,” which Larry hosts on the History Channel, he tells the story of a club in Sarasota, FL, which promoted him as “Dan Whitney, AKA Larry the Cable Guy.” The crowd at the first show loved him so much that he became the star of the second performance.
As for his faux southern accent., he says, “You just pick it up. I tell everybody to this day, I defy you to hang out with a true Floridian and not talk southern in three days.”
In addition to standup and “Only in America,” Larry keeps busy with movie roles, including voicing the lovable tow truck Mater in Disney’s “Cars” films.
He compares the unlikeliness of his hosting a show on the History Channel to Charlie Sheen endorsing eHarmony.com, but it’s turned out to be a good fit. On the show, Larry visits people throughout the country — a great-great grandson of Emily Post to talk about etiquette in the digital age, a minor league umpire, and a fishmonger at Fisherman’s Wharf. On the show, his fans have seen him fire a cannon, eat an oyster, and water ski.
“I wanted to do this show because I wanted to cover a part of America that nobody covers,” he says. “And that’s just regular Americans who don’t have time to go out and protest because they’re too busy working for a living. It just shows America at its best. Every story is rooted in the fact that whatever business they’re doing or whatever activity they’re doing, it all started because somebody came here with nothing and was afforded the opportunity to build a business.”
He says voicing Mater in the “Cars” pictures is one of the greatest things he’s ever gotten to do. “A lot of people want to do a Pixar movie,” he says. “I not only got to do one, but I got to do two, and possibly a third, in one of the greatest franchises they ever had.”
Mater is also a favorite of his two kids, a daughter who is three going on four and a son who’s “four going on Ritalin.” Larry is especially proud that he voiced Mater not only in the movies but on all “Cars” merchandise as well, when many actors use “sound-alikes” for those products. “I go into a studio, and I do every single toy, every game, every video game, and there’s been hundreds of thousands of them,” he says. “And I do them because my kids know me as Mater. I’m Mater, so it would kill me if a toy had somebody else’s voice on it trying to be me.”
One thing that has eluded Larry the Cable Guy is critical acclaim. He has made a few movies that got far from great reviews, and while he himself pokes fun of epics like “Witless Protection,” he’s also proud to note that his fans love them and that the movies have made money on DVD.
The lack of critical approval doesn’t seem to bother him. In fact one of his favorite remarks about him came from a pan of “Cars 2.” “I always thought the greatest comment of all time was a critic who hated it. He hated me so obviously he’s going to hate the movie. But he said, ‘Thanks a lot Pixar, Mater is now the Jar Jar Binks of Pixar,’” he says of the oft-despised “Star Wars” character. “I’m thinking to myself, this guy is a complete dumbass because I don’t remember Jar Jar Binks making $10 billion, which is what Disney claims to have made from the Cars merchandise.”
Larry the Cable Guy, State Theater, 15 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick. Saturday, August 27, 7 and 10 p.m. “Tailgate Party” tour. Reno Collier opens the show. $39 to $89. 732-246-7469 or www.StateTheatreNJ.org.