Jeff Foxworthy's "You Might Be a Redneck" comedy routine overtook the airwaves from the 1990s into the first decade of the 2000s. As the comic put it, you might be a redneck if:
-Your idea of a seven-course meal is a bucket of KFC and a six-pack.
-You've ever cut your grass and found a car.
-You wear a dress that's strapless with a bra that isn't.
Foxworthy's Southern drawl and ubiquitous presence made him a de-facto spokesman for rednecks – a term he says simply describes a "glorious lack of sophistication."
Foxworthy drew from his childhood in small-town Georgia
Foxworthy was born in 1958 in Atlanta, Georgia, a major city, but his roots are purely small-town Georgia. He spent his early years in the Atlanta suburb of Decatur before his family settled in the quiet hamlet of Hapeville (the birthplace of chain restaurant Chik-fil-A).
As he recalled in an early biography, No Shirt, No Shoes... No Problem!, Foxworthy grew up surrounded by would-be comedians. He described his dad, Big Jim, as having the "classic redneck sense of humor" despite his buttoned-up job as an IBM executive, and teamed up with his Uncle Jimmy to play the dummy in their ventriloquist act.
He was also influenced by adults outside his immediate family who displayed the sort of behavior that wouldn't fly in high society. One friend's father, a truck driver, never wore a shirt and sported "a gut like the front end of a '55 Buick." Another pal's father once did a commendable job of judging a farting contest.
Like most small-town kids who grew up well before the internet (or even cable TV), Foxworthy and his cohorts found creative ways to amuse themselves and irritate the grown-ups. During a period when his younger brother was having trouble relieving himself, the siblings constructed a giant turd out of mud and pretended there was an accident in the bathroom. Other hijinks included hiding in a bush next to a road and yanking a stuffed animal across as cars approached.
Some activities were decidedly "redneck"-flavored. At age 17, Foxworthy broke his nose while attempting to leap from a moving pickup truck into a bale of hay. Another time, he and his friends were nearly arrested for shooting doves a little too close to the runway activity at an airport.
But for all his hell-raising, Foxworthy was a sharp cookie who largely avoided punishment by channeling his smarts into good grades. He studied computer technology at Georgia Tech and followed his dad through the doors of IBM, working as a technician until making the plunge into life as a stand-up comedian in the mid-1980s.
He believes in the universality of the redneck culture
While Foxworthy is a product of his place and time, he believes that the universality of his experiences is what fueled his successful career. Almost everyone can relate to or empathize with his stories of divorced parents, botched romances and friends egging one another into trouble, regardless of cultural affiliation.
Furthermore, the funnyman insists that rednecks are everywhere. In fact, it was during a performance in the very northern state of Michigan in the late 1980s, in a club next to a bowling alley with valet parking, that he realized this concept and came upon the routine that made him famous beyond his wildest dreams.
When a heckler called him a redneck, Foxworthy remembered, "I told him, 'Look out the window, for crying out loud. If you’ve got valet parking at a bowling alley… you might be redneck.'"
The resulting laughter inspired him to write out 10 of those jokes in his hotel room that night. And Foxworthy kept on writing, compiling the material that led to showcases on The Tonight Show, his own sitcom, the Blue-Collar Comedy Tour, a hosting gig on Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader? and more than two dozen books.
"Somebody said that with rednecks you're talking about the lowest common denominator," he later noted. "Well, I say it's the most common denominator. The majority of us are guilty of some [redneck behavior]. There are very few of us who are part of rich, highbrow society. When you live in L.A., you think everybody's hip and well-dressed. Get in your car. ... What's between New York and L.A. is what's real life."
Foxworthy still receives requests for his famed routine
Having long ago left behind the bright lights of Hollywood, Foxworthy is back in familiar pastures of his home state, with both a house in Atlanta and a farm outside the city. He still does about 70 shows per year, and while his routine has evolved to reflect the outlook of a man entering his 60s, he realizes that audiences are still waiting for the familiar redneck riffs.
"I did a show a week or two ago outside of San Diego, and I didn’t do any," he told the Daily Press in September 2018. "And as I was walking off the stage, a man right there in the front row shouted, 'You didn’t do any redneck jokes!' And I thought, 'I just made you laugh for an hour and a half.' So, note to self: Still need to do a few of those."