Ron White is not messing around. When the acclaimed comedian discusses his February 13 show at Stamford’s Palace Theatre, it is like a grizzled boxer stepping into the ring. “I’ve been doing standup comedy for 33 years. Tonight, on my night off, I’ll do three sets. One at Laugh Factory, one at The Comedy Store, one at The Improv. I do that every night. So, what they are going to get is the next generation of stuff, and I’ll beat ’em to death with it. I’ll do what I always do when I come to town: I’ll beat ’em to death.”
Despite White’s pugnacious prose, this is the same comic who will discuss at length the honor of cheering up troops with his jokes or the joy of acting in a film about orphans being given a second chance. The fact remains, however, that White is said to be among the top-grossing American comics on tour — a three-time Grammy nominee who has appeared in films like Sex and the City 2 and Horrible Bosses, as well as lauded TV shows, like JJ Abrams’ 2016 drama, Roadies. All four of his albums have reached No. 1 on the Billboard comedy charts, and White is an original member of Jeff Foxworthy’s Blue Collar Comedy Tour. He became a New York Times bestselling author for his 2006 book, I Had the Right to Remain Silent… But I Didn’t Have the Ability, and he recently wrapped a Netflix comedy special, not to mention his past Comedy Central standups, among a host of other sitcom spots.
Yet White wasn’t exactly glued to the tube when evolving his own act. “I don’t get my comedy from the television. My success, I think, has come from me being able to be true about my nature — completely true about it,” he shares. “When comics ask me what piece of advice I can give them, I say, ‘Be true to your nature.’ As simple as that sounds, it’s almost impossible to do, because you wonder if your nature is interesting enough, but for sure, anything you pretend to be is not interesting enough.”
White credits Jeff Foxworthy as one of the first to help him transform this sincerity into cogent comedy. “You can’t teach somebody how to be funny, but you can learn structure in writing, so that’s what he was willing to teach me,” White says of Foxworthy. “The most influence came from my uncle who was a Baptist preacher. I used to love to go to church when I was a kid, and he was just one of the best-paced orators I’ve ever heard in my life. The first time I went onstage, I could already do it because I could emulate my uncle, since there’s nothing better than the rhythm and timing of a preacher.”
But White is no preacher. After a 2008 arrest for an incredibly small amount of pot (7/8 of a gram), White grew more outspoken in his support of legalization and worked the kerfuffle into one of his most famous bits. “They can still put you in jail for [marijuana] in most states in the U.S.; however, the dominos are falling, and they will continue to fall because this prohibition has been the most ridiculous, unfounded thing in the history of our country,” he says. “It’s so obvious that alcohol will kill you and marijuana will not kill you, so let’s take it from there.”
White does not look at pot as a panacea but rather more of a personal creative decision. “Do I recommend marijuana to everybody? No, I do not. I think it’s interesting if people don’t smoke pot. I’ve smoked it occasionally since I was 12, albeit really shitty pot, and it’s always been a part of my life, and it’s always given me a great release,” he says. “Some strains are very, very creative. Everything I’ve done was written that way, just about.”
As for these creative endeavors, he is currently knee-deep in a virtually constant touring schedule. Comedy is also something constantly on White’s mind, and when asked about the rise of cancel culture — in which a cadre of likeminded people boycott a performer because of a particular act, behavior, or statement they find objectionable or offensive — he offers a candid response.
“I think comedy’s born from tragedy. That’s the truth. So, if you are a good enough writer to address these subjects, then you can do it, but if you’re not, you can’t,” he says. “If you can truly find the angle that makes it funny — I don’t care if its 9/11 or abortion or whatever — something that makes it pertinent and funny, then you have a license to do it. It just depends on how it comes off. There are angles to everything if you are good enough to find them. And I don’t think I am, so I don’t address a lot of those things…. I just hope to put something out there that’s worth putting out there.”
Ahead, White will be putting out a bit more screen work along with his stage time. “I just did a film called 12 Mighty Orphans, which was filmed in Fort Worth, and it is a great, true story about an orphanage that came six yards away from winning the state championship the first year they had any kind of sports program at all,” White notes. “It is a beautiful story. Luke Wilson stars in it. I did a scene with Martin Sheen, which was fun, and Robert Duvall is in it, as well.”
White’s first love, however, will always be standup. “I don’t think you can be a very good part-time comic, so I do all these sets because that’s what it takes for me to stay sharp. If I am going to do it, I am going to be all in,” he shares. “Every day I don’t do standup, I feel like I am not doing everything I could to give the fans what they are paying for, which is me killing it. That’s all that matters to me — that I can go onstage and murder it. That’s what they want, and that’s what I can do.”