Anybody who has seen the Blue Collar Comedy Tour live, on DVD or on Comedy Central knows who Ron White is. What many don't know is how fate kept steering him in that direction even when he thought his career had gone south.
The Texas native said he was a huge fan of comedy from an early age and spent many hours listening to albums by Bill Cosby, Bob Newhart, Andy Griffith and George Carlin, to name a few. His penchant for comedy even crept in when he was a drug abuse counselor.
"I was in a drug abuse program in my early 20s and I went to work for them as a, counselor," White told Pollstar. "I would go around to high schools and churches, to anyone who would listen, and tell my life story three or four times a day. Then it got to where some of the schools were complaining the drug addiction talk was getting kind of funny. My position was, ‘At least they're listening.'"
White's first stab at a comedy career happened when he was working as a window, salesman in the mid-1980s and heard about a club in Arlington, Texas, called The Funny Bone. He said that even though he had always been a funny guy, he hadn't seriously thought about doing it professionally until then.
"Some guys at work had gone to an open mic night at a club that had just opened. They came back and said ‘Ron, you're funnier than these guys. You ought to give it a try,'" White said. "So I wrote four minutes of rip-snorting, hilarious comedy which was horrible. I actually did pretty good the first time, but the second time was terrible. After that, I caught on to it pretty quick."
That first stand-up appearance was also the night he met future Blue Collar tour partner Jeff Foxworthy. Their friendship got White an opening slot on Foxworthy's shows. That arrangement continued even when White moved to Mexico in 1997 to own and operate a pottery factory.
"I'm a little impulsive. At the time, I had a girlfriend who was applying mosaic tile to existing pottery. I thought it was pretty stuff and that somebody should go down to Mexico and hire a roomful of ladies and train them on how to make this," White said. "Even though I thought I was getting better as a comedian, I thought the ‘boom' was over. Clubs that were paying me X amount of money had cut that about 50 percent.
"Four years ago, I was insolvent with no hope of ever becoming solvent. The thing in Mexico left me broke and I didn't see any way out of it. I never really gave up [on comedy], but I didn't expect [all the success], either."
It was during the Blue Collar tour that Parallel Entertainment manager John MacDonald started working with White. MacDonald was with Cellar Door Productions then and hadn't done artist management, but felt White was the right person to take the plunge with.
"At the time, he was the opening act and I was the promoter. Then, I believe it was in August of 2000 that we started doing the Blue Collar Comedy Tour," MacDonald told Pollstar. "Jeff Foxworthy had been after his own manager, J.P. Williams, to manage Ron. J.P. really wasn't looking to manage anyone else, so they sort of came to me. Actually, I think I volunteered. I'd been doing concerts for 10 years at the point, so I'd been around it.
"I'd seen Ron perform and I knew he was extremely funny. And, quite honestly, what did I have to lose? I was starting with a guy who lived in Mexico and had a pottery factory. If it didn't work, I figured it would be a great learning experience."
White said that teaming up with MacDonald is just one of the things that really helped his career skyrocket.
"John was the president of Cellar Door Productions and his uncle owned it, so he had a great background. We've worked with tour promoters and there's not a lot of people who know more than [John] does," he said. "To the letter, everything that we've tried has worked. I was surprised because nothing I ever do works that well.
"The first time I heard Jeff talking about the four of us (including Bill Engvall and Larry The Cable Guy) touring together, I said, ‘That's retarded.' That's how big a visionary I am."
MacDonald has a lot more faith in White, who's been spending about 230 days a year on the road in support of his debut album, Drunk In Public, which hit the top spot on the SoundScan Comedy chart at press time.
"Ron takes a lot of pride in his stand-up. When he goes onstage, he's looking to deliver a great show and there's been a lot of thought put into it," MacDonald said. "It's unbelievable what he's doing and it keeps growing."
White gives a lot of credit to Foxworthy's perseverance in helping launch his career, but had one side note about that:
"Jeff's generosity throughout my career, well, it just makes you shake your head," he said. "It was Foxworthy's goal to make me famous but to tell you the truth, he's not very good at it. It took him forever."