Larry The Cable Guy Is No Joke

SONOMA, CA - JUNE 26: Larry The Cable Guy gives the command to start your engines at the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series Dodge/Save Mart 350 on June 26, 2005 at the Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, California. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images)
Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images
An awful lot of people think he's the funniest thing this side of the Mason-Dixon line.

But offstage, self-professed redneck Larry the Cable Guy is not really Southern and — on this recent afternoon at least — not really interested in being funny.

The native of Pawnee City, Neb., whose real name is Dan Whitney, is quiet, insightful and serious as he ponders the success he and other comics are having on the charts.

"I think people are way too into what comedians do," says Whitney, who spoke by phone with nary a whiff of the thick accent he puts on for his routine. "If people like you, you're a nice person and you're funny and you resonate well with them, they're going to support what you do."

Whitney, 43, a member of the popular Blue Collar comedy crew, should know. His album "The Right to Bare Arms" debuted at No. 1 on the country albums chart in April 2005 and is approaching platinum status (1 million sales) — rare for a niche market where production costs are relatively low and 100,000 units sold is a success.

He's no fluke. Comedy albums are doing well overall. Four others are among the top 75 on Billboard's country albums chart: "Blue Collar Comedy Tour: One for the Road," Roy D. Mercer's "Black & Blue," Ron White's "You Can't Fix Stupid" and the late Jerry Clower's "Classic Clower Power."

It's not just country. On the pop side, albums by Dane Cook, Lewis Black and the late Mitch Hedberg all have sold briskly, with Cook's "Retaliation" going platinum.

Industry insiders say people turn to comedy when times are tough, although no one is claiming that war in the Middle East or rising oil prices are the sole reasons for comedy's ascent.

"People are reaching for something to make them laugh rather than cry. That's when we see the swings in comedy in a big way. And we're kind of feeling that now," said Peter Strickland, vice president of sales and marketing for Warner Brothers' Jack Records.

Wade Jessen, director of Billboard's country charts, also thinks there's truth to the old adage about humor being the best medicine. The working-class — country music's traditional base — "certainly hasn't shared in this economic prosperity that the Department of Labor would like everybody to think is happening," he said.

Country fans have long mixed music and comedy, albeit a cleaner, folksier style than the expletive-laced routines of Richard Pryor or Andrew Dice Clay. From its earliest days, the Grand Ole Opry featured comedians such as Uncle Dave Macon, Grandpa Jones and Minnie Pearl.