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"Cable Guy" makes it big

This segment was originally broadcast on Dec. 17, 2006. It was updated on Aug. 8, 2007.

If you like your comedy unadulterated and unsophisticated, this story is for you. It's about a man we're calling the "King of Comedy" based on the fact that he made more money touring this year than any other comedian. Who is he? We'll give you a hint: the King of Comedy is a country bumpkin, a tobacco-chewing, pig-raising hillbilly. And as we said last winter, he performs not in small comedy clubs, but before thousands in concert halls all over America.

Correspondent Bob Simon caught up with this comedic king at a packed house in Columbus, Ohio.

His real name is Dan Whitney, but if you know him at all, you know him as "Larry The Cable Guy."

If you're in the mood for subtle, sophisticated, urban comedy, you're in the wrong place. With Larry The Cable Guy, we're out in the sticks with our fishing rods and our hunting rifles.

"It's nice if people can finally loosen up a little bit and just go out laugh at silliness," he says. "I mean, people take themselves way too seriously sometimes."

Larry the Cable Guy is the epitome of a good ole' boy: he loves to tear across his 180-acre farm in Nebraska. And he's no slave to fashion either - he dresses like an average Joe, even at his own wedding. He loves Nebraska football and has a skybox where he and his buddies gather to cheer the Cornhuskers on to victory.

Unlike many comedians the 60 Minutes team has met, Larry is not angry, he's not depressed, he's not paranoid. He's a hard-working, supremely confident, happy-go-lucky funnyman.

But the question that always dogs him is: does he play mainly to rednecks?

"I do just as good in the Northeast as I do in the South. I do just as good in the Midwest, the Northwest, the Southwest," he tells Simon.

"You know, you are so vehement about that, it sounds like I've hit a sensitive spot," Simon remarks.

"I know," he replies.

Asked if he plays a blue state differently than a red state, the comedian says, "Not at all, I play it all exactly the same. I was just in Portland, Ore., I mean, shoots that's about as blue as they get."

Larry conceived his cable guy shtick on the radio, and worked out the kinks doing standup. But the routine really began to take off after he was invited to perform at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville.

"I went up there and I had a great set, did real good, killed as they say," he recalls.

He killed the crowd laughing. "Yeah, you don't wanna say it at the old folks home though," he adds, laughing.

It was soon after the Grand Ole Opry gig that Larry's career exploded. He played the voice of the tow truck in the Pixar-Disney movie, "Cars." His latest CD, "The Right To Bare Arms," won Billboard's comedy album of the year award. And he starred in a new movie called "Delta Farce." It's about American soldiers who think they're being sent to Iraq but mistakenly get dropped in Mexico. Only, they don't know it. For Larry, life just keeps getting better and better.

"You know what, it boggles the mind everyday. I'm just, I'm real thankful for it. ... It's a dream come true. It really is," he says.

Anyone who cracks jokes for a living is going to offend someone, and Larry is no exception. Rolling Stone Magazine recently described him as "slightly dim" and "completely redneck." And the magazine wasn't alone.

"There are some comedians who have accused you of being anti-intellectual, anti-gay, and racist," Simon remarks.

"Anti-intellectual! What the hell? They don't know nuttin'. Not even, well, you know what? That's I... I laugh that off. It's stupid to even say that," he replies.
"You joke about retarded people, which some people might find offensive. Are you tryin' to be offensive there?" Simon asks.

"No, not at all," he replies. "I don't mean any disrespect at all. It's a joke. It's part a what I'm doin'. And I move on with it."

Asked if he thinks political correctness in this country has gotten out of control, the comedian tells Simon, "It's gotten way outta control. You know. I really think that we're at a point in this country where people really need to take the thumb outta their mouth and grow up a little bit and realize there's a lot bigger problems out there than what a comedian did a joke about."

How did this comedian get to be King of Comedy? He can thank a tough and tenacious impresario named J.P. Williams, who took Larry out of the comedy clubs and exposed him to the entire nation.

"You know he's reachin' the masses now where six years ago he was workin' in clubs, makin' five grand a week to do eight shows. Now it's a different animal," Williams says.

How much is he making now?

"Anywhere from 250 to 300 thousand a night. Performing in front of anywhere from 12 to 20 thousand people a night. That's why he's the largest selling comedian, touring comedian in the last three years running," Williams tells Simon

J.P. Williams, along with Jeff Foxworthy, conceived the Blue Collar Comedy Tour in 1998. The blue collar guys, comedy's answer to the Beatles, came from small towns in America and became some of the most successful comedians ever. They toured the country playing not in clubs but in packed stadiums. They made three movies, which were the highest-rated films ever shown on Comedy Central. The first two DVDs alone brought in between 80 and 90 million dollars. And then there's a whole range of merchandise that brings in another $100 million a year.

"Did you ever think you'd be sitting here and talking about that kind of money?" Simon asks Williams.

"No. Never in a million years. Never thought I'd be sittin' here, period, even if I was doin' somebody's yard," he replies, laughing. "To be honest with ya, I never thought I'd be here in L.A."

J.P. came to Los Angeles from West Virginia. He's now a fixture in Hollywood, where he runs Parallel Entertainment. He's got huge ambitions and wants to create a new comedy television network. He's got a handsome home in Pacific Palisades and a Bentley in the driveway. He's a mover and a shaker beyond his wildest dreams. And yet, as the man behind the blue collar comics, in Hollywood, J.P. gets no respect.

Asked if he thinks Hollywood resents his success, Williams says, "They don't understand the success. They don't understand the appeal, because they don't understand much outside of Los Angeles and New York. And that's the problem."

Simon couldn't wait to accompany Larry back to the place he calls home. He was born, as Dan Whitney, in Pawnee City, Nebraska. It's where he grew up raising pigs, and where he's now a legend. There are thousands of Pawnee Cities all over America, places that Hollywood largely ignores. It's the kind of town where you can still buy a can of soda for a quarter, the kind of town where you never know who you'll run into.

When Larry hits the road, he travels across country in his spanking new Larry-mobile; he hates to fly. 60 Minutes joined him at the state fair in York, Pa. It was a rainy evening, and you had to wonder how many people would show up.

There wasn't an empty seat in the house. For background scenery, they filled the stage with bales of hay and live pigs, a sure sign this was no Jerry Seinfeld concert.

And then, an hour before show time, he tried out some of his new jokes on Simon

Asked if he's ever really bombed, he says, "Oh, shoot yeah. I mean that's a long time ago."

"Wish I could think back to that. Not now I don't because now I have sure-fire stuff I know's gonna get 'em laughing. And I'm more, more professional. I'm better, I get, you just get better every year. You know how it is, shoot. I seen an interview of yours 20 years ago, it was pathetic," he tells Simon, laughing. "Now look at ya."

Like him or not, you have to admit that Larry the Cable Guy is doing about as much as anyone to increase the level of human happiness on earth, and that's a mighty fine accomplishment.
Produced By Joel Bernstein

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