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BEHIND THE FLANNEL: Comedian Dan Whitney describes the origins of Larry the Cable Guy

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STORY WRITTEN BY BRIAN BINGAMAN
bbingaman@21st-centurymedia.com
@brianbingaman on Twitter

“Is this Bruce Bingaman?,” says a cartoonishly-old-sounding man on the line.

The befuddled old man summons someone else in the room to the phone. In reality, the two voices belong to the same guy.

“It’s voice day,” Dan Whitney chuckles in his normal speaking voice, which bears practically no resemblance to his simple-but-affable, mischievous, plainspoken stand-up alter ego, Larry the Cable Guy.

Larry the Cable Guy (right) and Jeff Foxworthy take the stage at the Santander Arena April 30.

Larry the Cable Guy (right) and Jeff Foxworthy take the stage at the Santander Arena April 30.

An entertainment force to be reckoned with, one-liner funnyman Larry the Cable Guy and fellow Blue Collar Comedy Tour star Jeff Foxworthy will try out their latest humor with their “We’ve Been Thinking” Tour April 30 at the Santander Arena in Reading. After the comedians’ individual shows, they will come out on stage together and take questions from the audience.

“I’ve known Jeff 30 years. Jeff is just as funny offstage. He was one of the first comedians to come through the Comedy Corner, when I started in West Palm Beach,” said Whitney.

When asked if he’d take Foxworthy’s job as TV pitchman for the Golden Corral restaurant chain, over Larry the Cable Guy’s heartburn medicine commercials, Whitney replied as Larry: “I let him take Prilosec before going to Golden Corral.” Whitney called Prilosec OTC “an amazing product” that “really has done wonders for me.”

His favorite joke of Foxworthy’s is “if you have a complete set of salads bowls, and they all say ‘Cool Whip’ on the side … you might be a redneck.”

“He had to have written that, because he experienced it,” Whitney said, describing his own experiences of growing up poor.

“I grew up around this character,” he said of the real people he based Larry on. “I include a lot of my life in my stand-up.”

Mentioning the praise given to Stephen Colbert for supposedly never breaking character, Whitney was annoyed by a TMZ gotcha piece capturing him on video speaking in his normal voice. His response: “What, you think I’m Larry the Cable Guy all the time?”

Then again, Larry is so believable that he got his own voiceover credit as Mater in Disney/Pixar’s “Cars” movies.

“It’s fun to do, and I like it,” he said of Larry’s expansion into acting.

He was also billed as Larry the Cable Guy in the 2013 movie “A Madea Christmas.” Whitney revealed that the majority of his scenes with actress Kathy Najimy were ad-libbed, that he and Tyler Perry still text each other, and that he really likes Perry’s directing style. “He didn’t take a lot of time, like directors that record (a scene) from eight different angles,” he said.

Larry began as just one of many wacky, phone-in, rock radio morning show characters Whitney created on the fly during the ‘90s. Among the commentators he created were the old man, and “Rose from Boca,” a deep-and-raspy-voiced woman. “Rose from Boca was the other popular character I had, besides Larry the Cable Guy, but Rosie hurt my voice,” Whitney said, briefly going into the character.

IF YOU GO
What:
Comedy show with Larry the Cable Guy and Jeff Foxworthy.
Where: Santander Arena, 700 Penn St., Reading.
When: 7:30 p.m. April 30.
Tickets: $54.50.
Info: Call (610) 898-SHOW or visit www.santander-arena.com.

A working stand-up comedian in his own right at that time, Whitney was doing the radio call-ins — first on Orlando, Fla. stations WDIZ and WJRR, then in Tampa on WYNF — just for fun. However, not getting paid for his talent eventually wore thin. “I wouldn’t go to bed till 2 in the morning (after performing stand-up) and they’d (the radio station) be calling me at 5 in the morning,” he said.

One of Larry’s catchphrases, “git-r-done,” first slipped out on the air in 1991 on the “Ron and Ron” show. “I got no idea, but let’s git-r-done!,” Whitney said in Larry’s persona, emphatically stretching out the catchphrase, which he smartly copyrighted in 1992.

“I never knew how popular I was,” Whitney said, explaining how focused he was when creating all that theater of the mind for radio. He discovered exactly how popular he was when a club manager in Sarasota decided to put him on the marquee as “Dan Whitney, aka Larry the Cable Guy.” His two shows that night sold out. During the first, Whitney said, he went in and out of the Larry character. Larry the Cable Guy, as we know him, came into being when Whitney was asked to perform the second show entirely in character.

“It was so free and it was so awesome. I could say anything I wanted,” he said.

However, when Whitney got married and became a father, the content of Larry’s stand-up shifted. Bits about being single, irresponsible, drunk and going to strip clubs — the kind of stuff that led to gold-selling albums like “Lord, I Apologize” — have been phased out in favor of jokes about his wife and kids. “I don’t cross the line, I step on it,” he said.

Also, Whitney had to bow out of starring in the History Channel series “Only in America” as Larry the Cable Guy because the shooting schedule, combined with touring, involved too much time away from his family. Although he was told the door is always open to resume “Only in America,” Whitney said his favorite season was the last one in 2013 “because I didn’t care.”

“I had the attitude of Conan O’Brien when he knew he was leaving ‘The Tonight Show’,” he said.

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