Cross Words with Larry the Cable Guy

First of all, if you’re wondering about the title of this piece, no, Larry the Cable Guy wasn’t cross with me, nor was I with him. You’re probably thinking of that time I talked to Ving Rhames. (Remind me to tell you about that sometime.) To clarify, the Cross in our conversation was David Cross, and his name came up because I’d long been wanting to ask Larry about a little thing Cross once wrote called…”An Open Letter to Larry the Cable Guy.”

Oh, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

I came to chat with comedian Dan Whitney – decidedly better known by his stage name, Larry the Cable Guy – because I’d been given the opportunity to do a piece for The Virginian-Pilot on his upcoming appearance at the Ferguson Center for the Arts Concert Hall, in Newport News. Don’t bother making jokes about Larry the Cable Guy playing at a Center for the Arts: he’s almost certain to make a joke about it himself within a few minutes of hitting the stage. He knows his audience, and I’m sure he knows he can pull a laugh by poking fun at the concept of a guy like him playing a place like that. When it comes to his comedy, while I’ve never pretended to be a card-carrying member of his fan club, as someone who was born and raised about 30 minutes from the North Carolina border, I absolutely appreciate his act and understand why his fans dig it. Plus, the guy’s got serious charisma…and that goes for whether he’s in character or not.

When the phone rang for our interview, the first words I heard were, “This is Dan,” though he quickly added, “Larry the Cable Guy,” probably just in case I hadn’t done my research. (Hey, all journalists aren’t as anal about it as I tend to be.) For the first 14 minutes of our conversation, excerpts of which will appear in the Pilot‘s Pulse Magazine on Sept. 8, we talked about his stand-up influences, his History Channel series, Only in America with Larry the Cable Guy, voicing Mater in the Cars movies, and people’s perceptions of his comedy persona. The latter topic came about more or less organically, but it gave me the perfect opportunity to segue into asking about Cross’s “Open Letter,” and with such an opening before me, I couldn’t resist.

Sure, I knew the origins of the letter: Cross made a nasty comment about Larry in Rolling Stone, Larry fired back in his book, GIT-R-DONE, at which point Cross took pen to paper. Hell, I even quoted it at the beginning of my review of Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector, which holds up surprisingly well after five years – the review, not the film – even if maybe I was a little too gleeful as I was trashing it. But if Larry had ever responded to the letter, I’d missed it, and I was really curious to find out what he’d thought about it…and, yes, I admit, I was a little surprised that my AV Club comrade in arms Noel Murray hadn’t brought it up in his interview with Larry. As it happens, I now feel like I actually owe Noel big-time for not asking about it, though I don’t think he would’ve gotten the same answer as I did, anyway.

Y’see, as a result of Noel not asking about the letter, half a kajillion AV Club readers (this number is strictly an estimate, you understand) brought up the letter in the Comments section…and Larry read some of those comments. With the memory of the letter fresh in his mind, I was apparently the first person to ask him about it after that, and as a result, I got an answer that, from the sound of it, no one has ever gotten before nor is likely to ever get again.

Read on…

NewsReviewsInterviews: I grew up here in the South, so I watched Hee-Haw, I listened to Jerry Clower and Lewis Grizzard and all that stuff, and, y’know, I come from a background where I can appreciate where you’re coming from, but…I’m just curious what you thought about David Cross’s “An Open Letter to Larry the Cable Guy.”

Larry the Cable Guy: Oh, yeah, everybody… [Hesitates.] You know what? I never really…I just let it go. You know, back in the day, people were always trying to discredit me as not being a country boy, which is just bogus. I lived in the southeast corner of Nebraska, which touched up against…you could see three states from there – Iowa, Kansas, and Missouri – and I would probably say Missouri is probably the most Southern redneck state in the country. But, y’know, I got relatives who live there. I love going to Missouri. So… (Long pause) I don’t really give it any credence. He’s just another one of those people who…I don’t know if they’re jealous? He seemed like a nice guy to me. I got no qualms with David Cross. I’d never mentioned David Cross in anything I ever did until he did (the letter). I thought Mr. Show was funny. I mean, I really…I don’t know where he came off going like that. I don’t know. So I don’t really give it any credence, because I feel that people who continue to bash me and write letters to me, they’re obsessed with me for some reason. And he’s got a lot of mileage off that, apparently. I mean, if people think what I do is so bad, I don’t understand why they always use me to jump-start their struggling careers. I mean, I really don’t. Mind your own business! If most comedians spent more time working on their act and trying to figure out how to get popular like the comedians who are popular, maybe they’d be popular, too. I just don’t get it. I really don’t.

You know, the only person that I really hammer in any of my acts is Rosie O’Donnell, and the only reason I hammer Rosie O’Donnell is because me and Drew Carey both headlined a show in Las Vegas one time, and Rosie O’Donnell was a complete bitch to both of us. We never met her before, we never knew her, and she was a complete bitch. And, so, what goes around comes around. I’m nice! There’s never been any comics that I’ve ever been mean to while coming up through the ranks, ‘cause stand-up comedy is a tough field. It’s a back-biting field where people get jealous of one another, so I’ve always made an attempt to be nice to everybody. It’s a tough field, everybody’s struggling to make it, so I’ve never really done that, and I could never really figure out why he did that. I never said a cross… [Snorts at the realization of his word choice.] I never said a cross word to him at all. I’m just a comedian. I’m doing what I’m doing.

I don’t put a lot of thought into these jokes. You do a joke, and people go and just analyze it. “What did he mean by this joke?” I didn’t mean anything by the joke. It’s a fucking joke! It’s a one-liner joke! It’s stupid! I remember one time I did a joke…oh, in fact, that article I did (for the AV Club), I went on there and said something about a joke I used to do that was pretty funny: “I used to be a lifeguard until some blue kid got me fired.” That’s funny! But, oh, boy, everybody’s just, like, “Oh, that’s not funny, about a little boy dying…” It’s, like, “Would you lighten the fuck up?” I mean, seriously. All this analyzing…and there was no intent. I love little kids. If that ever happened, it would make me sad. But I gotta tell ya, it’s a joke. That’s where people find their humor: out of the absurd. And it’s people like David Cross, they just think the way they do stand-up is the way it should be done, and anybody who says anything that rubs them the wrong way, they’re all racist and they’re all… [Takes a deep breath.] You know, I just don’t get it. And to this day, if I ever met him personally, I think he’d like me, ‘cause I’m not a mean person. I’m a nice guy.

NRI: And that’s kind of where I was going earlier when I was talking about interviewing Megyn Price, when she admitted outright that Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector wasn’t necessarily her cup of tea but still said that you were the nicest human being in the world.

(If you can’t be bothered to click the link, the exact quote is, “Larry the Cable Guy, that guy, he is the greatest human being. I mean, I know his comedy is a little rough and whatever, but he is such a great guy!”)

LCG: That’s the thing…and good for Megyn. That’s how I feel a lot of times, too. Sometimes they’ll ask me to do projects, and I’ll be, like, “You know what? It’s not really what I do, but I’ll do it,” hoping that it’ll be a fun thing to do. That’s how Megyn is. She’s an awesome person, ‘cause Megyn understands that comedy is subjective. And that’s how I look at everything. I look at people by the way they act and their character. That’s what I go for. I don’t go any other way. When Megyn met me, we got along great. She’s like my sister. I still keep in touch with her, and every now and then she’ll send me a text, saying that she loves me and hopes all is well. That’s a good person.

Whenever people ask me about the whole David Cross thing, I literally just blow it off, because it just doesn’t mean anything to me. To me, it just seems like, “Here’s another bitter comic that’s angry at someone else’s success.” To me, it’s very open-mike-ish. And you can see comics that have made it successfully, they don’t do that, because they have careers, and they have kids and families, and they’re doing things. So I just don’t get it. I really don’t get it. Like I said, other than him writing that letter…I mean, not trying to sound mean, but hearing about that letter and reading excerpts from it, I just think that guy’s got a bigger problem than me. I don’t know what else to say. This is the most I’ve ever talked about it! [Laughs.]

It really is beyond me. I mean, we’re all human beings in the entertainment business, and everybody has an act, and aside from the act, we have lives. I just don’t get it. Like I said, I think he’s funny. I like his shows on TV, from what I’ve seen of them. I mean, I don’t watch a lot of TV, but…I never would’ve thought in a hundred years that he would’ve written something like that. I just thought, “Hey, he’s pretty funny.” And to this day, I hope that he becomes the biggest comic in the world. I could really care less, because I have a life to lead, just like everybody else.

NRI: Well, you know, since writing the letter, he’s done a couple of Alvin and the Chipmunks movies. So he’s probably not exactly hurting now.

LCG: [Laughs.] Yeah, well, y’know, people gotta work. I know he got flak for being in the Chipmunks movies, but you know what? People have got to make a living. That’s another thing. People who are in the entertainment business have got to make money, and more power to him. I hope he gets Chipmunks 4, 5, 6 and 7! I really have no bad will toward him. I hope he has a great career. And he’s had one! I just don’t understand why people have to rail on me. There are a lot of people that do worse stuff than I’ll ever think of doing but don’t get railed on. And let me tell you something else. Can I tell you something else?

NRI: Sure.

LCG: I might as well go ahead and open up to you! [Laughs.] I get sick and tired of the Bill Hicks thing. You always see people talking about, “Well, if Bill Hicks was alive…” When we first started doing the Blue Collar (Comedy Tour), people would always say, “Oh, this is so hackneyed! Whatever happened to people like Bill Hicks? If Bill Hicks was alive today…” Or, “Bill Hicks must be rolling in his grave…” You know, I was there the day that Bill Hicks told Jeff Foxworthy he had cancer, in West Palm Beach, in the Comedy Corner. They both hugged each other and cried in each others’ arms. Bill Hicks was a fan of Jeff Foxworthy and a friend of Jeff Foxworthy’s. Bill Hicks thought Jeff Foxworthy was hilarious. I was there at the Comedy Corner when Bill Hicks went up to Carrot Top and said, “Look, I don’t know how you do these things, I can’t do that kind of humor, but some of those things you create are genius. I wish that that’s the kind of comedy that I could think of. But I’ve gone to this…my comedy’s more of a dark type.” [Laughs.] I heard the whole conversation. And not just me. There were other comedians listening, because we all liked Bill Hicks. So people who run their mouth off about people they’ve never even met, saying, “This is what he would think,” are way off base. To people like me and Jeff and Bill (Engvall) and Ron (White), we know those things. When they say things about what Bill Hicks would like or wouldn’t like, we already know. Because we were there when all those things happened. And it just gets frustrating, but you can’t really do anything about it. That’s why I don’t even bother with it anymore. You’ve got a life to lead.

Earlier on my career, I used to read stuff, and it would get me irritated, and I’m, like, “Man, I’m just doing comedy! I don’t get it! I’ve got friends!” And the other I get, especially now that I’ve got kids, it’s just, like, “It’s not even worth it.” The only reason I bring it up now is that somebody sent me a Tweet about that article on (The AV Club), and…I liked the article. I was open and candid with (Noel), and I was forthright, and the only reason I read was because I wanted to see how it turned out. But I get to the bottom and I see a comment, so I said, “I wonder what the comment is.” And then I start reading a couple of them. After reading about 16 of ‘em, I was, like, “You know what? Why have I done this? I haven’t done this in about three and a half years.” But I got sucked in.

NRI: Even as a writer for the AV Club, I get sucked in, too. And the writers end up getting almost as much abuse as the people they write about.

LCG: I gotta tell ya, it’s literally…it’s like it’s mostly comedians who go on there. They’re doing bits. It’s like I was saying earlier about being open-mike-y. I just remember from doing open-mike nights, the minute one comic goes onstage, everybody just rips the guy a new ass, and then after he gets offstage, everybody acts like they’re his best friend. Y’know? It’s just…oh, my gosh, it just reminded me of the part that I hated about stand-up. ‘Cause I was one of those guys that…I had my core friends. You know, I started out with Billy Gardell and Darrell Hammond, Jimmy Breuer and Tom Ryan, Phil Tagliaferri and Carrot Top…guys like that. [Sighs.] We were all really good friends. That was the cool thing about how I started: we were all pulling for one another. But that open-mike thing, that was the part we all hated about it. You’d go somewhere, and…ugh. So, anyway, to answer your question… [Laughs.] I couldn’t figure out why he wrote that thing. It gets you frustrated, but you move on with your life, and…whatever.

NRI: You know, I really appreciate you talking so much about it. In fact, I know we set up this interview for The Virginian-Pilot, but if you don’t mind, I’d actually like to do a post on my own blog with this particular material about David Cross. You won’t have to worry about anything being taken out of context: it’d be a straight Q&A situation.

LCG: Well, yeah, I mean, if you want to. I don’t care. It’s just… [Hesitates.] I don’t know what else a person has to do. I know you’re never gonna be liked by everyone, but I’m one of those guys who likes to be liked. I have an awesome fanbase, and I love my crowd like you wouldn’t believe, but…

NRI: Oh, yeah, I know you can practically play stadiums at this point, but you still go out and try to meet all of your fans after the show.

LCG: I still go out and I meet everybody, and I do it because I like to. And I get really good feedback about the show. It’s just…sometimes it’s beyond me. It’s that thing where you always want to get respect from your peers. And when it comes to my peers, I do. Like Louis C.K. I’ve met him a couple of times, and he’s always been very complimentary of me.

NRI: That’s funny, because I was actually wondering if you’d ever consider showing up, say, “Louie” or “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and play kind of a slightly-skewed version of yourself.

LCG: Well, you know, I’d do it if they asked me. But I’m not really friends with any of them. Louis, I met him a couple of times and he was very complimentary of me. He was a really good guy. He came backstage at my show in Manhattan there, at Radio City Music Hall, and he was awesome. Nick DiPaolo’s a real good friend of mine. Lewis Black I used to work with all the time. So those guys, those are my peers. Those are people that really mean a lot to me. They like what I do. I mean, Chris Rock likes what I do. Chris Rock thinks I have great jokes. Those are the people that really mean something to me. They’re the ones that are successful, and they kind of can judge for themselves, so those are the ones who really have credence. But I just don’t understand that whole…well, like I said, I don’t understand the whole David Cross situation.

NRI: Well, I mean, obviously, it’s a to-each-their-own situation.

LCG: And it doesn’t…I mean, I go on with my life. Believe me, I didn’t even think about it until the other day, when somebody brought it up on the comments, and then you brought up before. Before that, I literally haven’t thought about it since it happened. But it’s… [Starts to laugh.] It kind of makes me laugh, actually. I mean, it doesn’t do anything to me. It just makes me wonder why people do what they do. I’m at a loss. I have no idea.

Post-script:

As we wrapped up, I reconfirmed that Larry was okay with me taking the David Cross material from our conversation and using it on my blog, reassuring him that it would appear in a straight-up, unedited Q&A format (that’s how I roll, you know), while he similarly reassured me that he usually doesn’t have much to say about the “Open Letter.”

“You’re not doing a hit piece on me, are ya?” he asked, with an audible smirk. “‘Cause if you’re doing a hit piece, then ask me more questions, give me a chance to address whatever questions you have.”

I assured him that the only thing I’d do on my blog was offer an intro that clarified how we reached this point in our conversation, then I’d start with the back-and-forth. But, I promised him, it’s absolutely, positively not a hit piece…and it’s a promise which, I hope we can all agree, I have delivered on.

He seemed grateful, explaining that he tries to take every interview that’s asked of him, using the AV Club as a perfect case and point.

“They’re obviously not fans of mine, but I did the interview because…well, ’cause I’m a good person!” he explained. “I’ll do the interview. I’ve got nothing to hide. But I’ve told my agent, ‘If they want to do a hit piece, have ‘em call me up and ask me questions. I don’t mind answering questions. I’d rather answer the question than have someone print something later and then go, ‘Well, wait a minute, instead of just putting what they thought, why didn’t they just ask me about it? I was on the phone!’ Look, like I said, I try to be forthright with everything. Life is too short, man. You’ve got to enjoy it.”

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17 Responses to Cross Words with Larry the Cable Guy

  1. murtry says:

    Why don’t you call him back and ask him specifically, why his “towel-head”, etc. jokes are not racist, or how he justifies it, anyway?

    • will says:

      Nah, I’m not going to do that. I wasn’t looking for controversy with this piece. I just wanted my curiosity satisfied, which is why I didn’t ask him about David Cross’s specific statements and accusations and instead simply asked the general question, “What did you think of the letter?”

      For my part, I don’t see why everyone gets so caught up in these accusations of racism, anyway. I might not find Larry the Cable Guy as funny as others do, but he’s just an onstage persona, a character that Dan Whitney plays. I mean, it’s right there in the piece that, when he called my house, the first thing he said was, “This is Dan.” It’s not like he’s in Larry’s shoes 24/7. Am I supposed to get upset at the cast of “Saturday Night Live” when they play characters who say and do offensive things?

      Look, I’m a huge David Cross fan. I’ve got all of his albums, I’ve got all the seasons of “Mr. Show,” and so forth. I don’t actually own *anything* by Larry the Cable Guy. But I’ve interviewed both of them now, and I enjoyed each experience, both coming across as pleasant, enjoyable guys. Okay, sure, Cross was a little snarkier, but for those who have always suspected that he’d be a real prick if you ever met him, sorry to disappoint you, but I’ve interviewed him three times now, and he’s always been nice to me. There’s stuff in Larry’s routines that’ll make you wince, but, hey, I go to church every Sunday, so don’t think I’m not doing the same thing listening to some of Cross’s stuff. But they’re just jokes. Every comedian, whether their material is semi-intellectual like Cross’s or relatively lowbrow like Larry’s, is still capable of offending someone with it. Don’t hold one to a different standard than another.

    • KP says:

      Why does he have to justify a thing, racist or otherwise?

    • jack says:

      Not racist at all..i am against Arabs..not any race..i think we should blow up all those towel headed ARABS..NO SHAME IN THAT

  2. Steve Jackson says:

    Whether or not you like his comedy (I don’t care for it myself), he does come across as a nice guy in the article. Nicely done on both ends (interviewer and “interviewee”).

    I found it rather fascinating.

  3. Todd says:

    Say what you will about Larry the Cable guy, but he really does have some great jokes, many of which are really smart. I’ve seen Cross be ironic funny, but I’ve never seen him just drop comedy bomb after bomb the way the Cable Guy can. Base level humor? Sure, a lot of it is, but who gives a shit? It’s takes real smarts to pull it off so well.

    In any event, whatever like I had for Cross is now forever dead. Nothing I hate more than a self-righteous douchebag–particularly one who starred in the Chipmunk movies. Also, way to choose your target, tough-guy. Maybe you can write another self-righteous, self-important screed dissing Hannah Montana or Tyler Perry.

    Big ups Larry for taking the high-road and helping Cross to eat his own ballsack. GIT R DONE!!!!!

  4. MattyJ says:

    I accidentally watched 5 or 6 episodes of Larry’s ‘Only in America’ show and I have to admit he/it was pretty entertaining. Moreso than John Ratzenberger.

    I watched about 15 seconds of Wondershowzen one time and I threw up a little. Horrible. Just horrible.

    I wouldn’t pay money to see either Larry or David perform but I have to say that Larry’s high-road attitude vs David’s pretentiousness is a bit more palatable.

  5. Brett says:

    Really enjoyed the interview. As someone from the middle of Missouri I come aross a lot of people who enjoy Larry the Cable Guy but probably equally as many who don’t. I’m personally not a big fan, but I can respect the guy for doing what he does. He seems like a nice guy. As long as he has an audience of people who think he is funny I don’t see what the problem is with him doing comedy. It’s not hurting anyone.

  6. Chris says:

    Lame interview. People who use phrases like “diaper head” seem to me to be pandering to a racist audience. If he’s not, and if he’s not a racist, why should he object about your asking him to clarify and how is that “looking for controversy”? Why is asking him about a joke he wrote controversy?

    So, you very, very nicely asked him about David Cross, and when he sidestepped the issue, you continued to kiss his ass. Nice. Great journalistic integrity there.

    Honestly, who cares if he’s a nice person one on one. David Duke is probably very kind to his in-laws. Who cares? If you make a living off hate, and if your material makes it easier for people to hate minorities, how is your kindness on set or in an interview situation worth anything? Watch “Hitlers Secretary” sometime.

    • will says:

      So, you very, very nicely asked him about David Cross, and when he sidestepped the issue, you continued to kiss his ass. Nice. Great journalistic integrity there.

      Oh, do fuck off, would you? I didn’t ask him, “Why are you pandering to a racist audience?” I asked him what he thought of the letter. He told me what he thought of the letter. I’m not Geraldo Rivera, for God’s sake. (I think that’s about as timely a reference as David Duke, isn’t it?)

      • Chris says:

        Don’t worry, I’m not going to belabor this subject beyond this response, but I do want to say that there was no need to to ask “why are you pandering to a racist audience?” You didn’t have to ask antagonistic questions, and you didn’t have to judge him guilty beforehand, or at all.

        But, as you’re a journalist, I’d think you’d want to pose reasonable follow up questions like “I understand you think Cross’ blog post was just a sign of bitterness, but wasn’t he responding to comments you made about him in your book?” Or “Granting that you’re just making jokes with no intention to harm, can you see how a comment like ‘diaper-head’ is more likely to sound like you’re mocking minorities, and giving people license to reduce minorities to antagonistic stereotypes than self-mocking the Larry character?” These are simple, and I’d think obvious, follow up questions that presuppose Whitney is a man of integrity who can explain his goals–and be given the opportunity to say “I have no respect for racism, and if racists think I’m one of them, I ask them to go elsewhere”

        Daintily asking about this situation with no follow ups suggests that, in fact, he *can’t* defend himself. Which makes him look worse than he would have otherwise.

        • will says:

          I don’t disagree that it would have been a reasonable follow up question to ask about specific aspects of the letter. The truth of the matter, though, is that having not read the letter since whenever Cross included it in “I Drink for a Reason,” I couldn’t readily produce any quotes from it. If I was doing the interview for the AV Club, it’s probable that I would’ve done the research and asked him about specific accusations from the letter, but as I was doing an all-purpose preview piece for The Virginian-Pilot, there was a very good chance that his answer was never going to end up within the resulting article. It was really just an end-of-interview throwaway to satisfy my own curiosity.

          BTW, you may feel that he comes off looking worse than he would have otherwise, and that’s certainly your right, but for my part, I think the only people who would feel that way are those who didn’t like him to begin with.

  7. Clayton says:

    I have to wonder if Lisa Lampanelli gets a lot of crap for the stuff she says, since her material (especially in print) is way beyond anything he’s done in his Larry the Cable Guy act.
    If you don’t like it, then don’t listen. I really enjoyed the other AV Club interview with Patton Oswalt where he discussed mellowing with age and experience. Also touching on how some of the people he admired were jerks while those he openly mocked turned out to be amazing people. Ultimately, the more you come to see others as just regular human beings with feelings and passions of their own, the less angry you get.

  8. Jordan says:

    David Cross and Larry the Cable Guy represent two sides of the same coin. One rails against religion, social conservatism, associated stereotypes. The other does the same for political correctness, moral relativism and liberal caricatures. The main difference I see between the two is a willingness to admit his prejudices on the part of Cross. I’ll be the first to admit that Cross seems condescending and self-righteous, at least he is proudly so. Dan Whitney seems to be all to eager to pass off his inflammatory comments as just part of an act and nothing but a big joke. I’m not suggesting the actor shares the views of his character, or that he should somehow defend his comedy as accurate (as Cross does), but he should be willing to acknowledge the ethos of his content as more than just “one-liners” with no relevance to the broader world.

  9. Joe says:

    I’ve always liked Larry. Some of his jokes are a little hackneyed, but he’s a genuinely funny guy. ‘Lord I Apologize’ is one of the funniest albums I’ve ever heard. He’s a lot smarter than people give him credit for. I also really like David Cross. It’s a real shame that Cross went after Larry like that. Comic-on-comic crime is never a good thing. You can dislike what another comic does, but Cross should be a little more understanding. He’s gotten so much shit for the Chipmunks movies and that’s no more intellectually stimulating than the worst that Larry has done.

  10. Pingback: Writing Craft, Vol. XIII: The AV Club contributor Will Harris talks about freelancing (Part Two) « John-Henry Doucette

  11. Ronnie says:

    Please tell me how a person can call Dan a racist in one breath, and then turn around and call him a redneck.

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