Dear Jon seeks inspiration in a post-Dave Barry world.
In today’s feature, written because the only letter to Dear Jon I received this week said, and I quote, “Dear Jon, i8” and nothing else, the hairier, whiter aspects of my character are given expression. If this is hairier and whiter than you can stomach, then please, stop reading now and write something for the PO yourself, since you likely represent some of the diversity we are hoping to recruit.
Now the purpose of this article is not to be funny per se, as you can tell already, but it is about being funny. Especially, it is about what white guys find funny. If you want humor, you have to write me a letter, something like, “Dear Jon, If a man has forgotten about Valentine’s Day, what is the best way for him to make it up with his wife or girl-friend? Sincerely, In the Dog House.” No such letter appeared this week.
For 25 years, syndicated Miami Herald humorist Dave Barry inspired a generation of guys to be guys in all our guy-ness. Dave Barry gave us permission to stand up and say, proudly, that we had spent an entire afternoon at a truck-pull. Barry encouraged us to pursue our unique guy dreams, for example, of getting rich off a patent for a new diesel-powered toilet flushing system (one advantage: the diesel fumes mask any odor you produce).
I am persuaded that the best advertising consultants for beer commercials have studied Dave Barry. Many beer advertisers understand what makes guys tick. The commercials that have a guy thinking that the right beer will mean he will score with a supermodel are not designed by readers of Dave Barry. Other beer commercials, which feature a man cleaning his apartment by stuffing everything into a closet, and then the closet collapses all over the woman he is trying to impress, are designed by readers of Dave Barry.
The funniest man I know, who has only written occasionally for the Partial Observer, is an avid Dave Barry fan. At least he was. I have not talked with him much since the “foul ball” in the Cubs 2003 play-offs. (I’m allowing for a “cooling off” period.)
The “retirement” or whatever of Dave Barry left a strange, empty feeling in my soul. Who else would speak for the typical adult white male? We see white males all over the place: news anchors, televised preachers, presidents, senators, football coaches. These are not “typical” by any stretch. Academic theory is that because white males continue to dominate these high-profile venues, it follows that the typical white guy is represented and empowered. This is, in a family-friendly quotation of M*A*S*H’s Colonel Potter, “Horse Hockey!”
Of course, being a typical white guy, I do not have the connections to propel me into Dave Barry’s place as the spokesman for Typical White Guys. However, I am glad to report that some have stepped up to fill the void. In the mantra of a typical white guy’s prayer, I say, “Thank God for cable t.v.!” I am specifically grateful for the Comedy Channel phenomenon called “The Blue Collar Tours.”
Four white male comedians have gotten together and cooperated on some national tours and also a television series. These are Jeff Foxworthy (“you know you’re a redneck…”), Bill Engvall (“here’s your sign…”), Larry the Cable Guy (“get ‘er done…”), and Ron White (“They call me Tater Salad…”).
These are the Fab Four of white comedians, capturing the essence and even the diversity of the White Working Class. It is ironic to apply the Fab Four term to these guys, when their fans, if they cross-over from Country/Western to Rock and Roll, will definitely be “Elvis” people. They are also home-grown, not part of a pop-culture “invasion.” Probably none of them will claim to be more popular than Jesus, since to do so to their audience might get any one of them lynched. But they are the Fab Four because there are four of them, and I think they capture a spirit and aspiration within the culture.
David Letterman, Jay Leno and Jerry Seinfeld have burned the typical white guy out with their urban “metrosexual” humor. At least Johnny Carson, may he rest in peace, never forgot he was from Nebraska. Letterman having his Hoosier mother do some bits helped him out for a while, but the Blue Collar comics have definitely stepped into a gap in the entertainment industry.
The hairiest of these four men is Larry the Cable Guy. He is the least politically correct, but that is chalked up to his illiterate buffoonery. He is the most over-the-top with his Appalachian Trailer Park and Flea Market caricature. (I suspect that off-stage he is also the least like his on-stage character.) His sexually-oriented humor is for adults.
Jeff Foxworthy is the biggest draw, having already achieved a measure of mainstream fame with a short-lived situation comedy and some best-selling books. He is not nearly as close to the edge as Larry, but his moderate, politically-sensitive sensibilities allow the four to reach a broader audience.
Bill Engvall has the least pronounced drawl. He is from California but not from the beach. With Foxworthy having cornered the “redneck” routine, Engvall presents himself as a more typical everyman: “Blue collar” can include city and suburb, not just trailer parks, and “country and western” is not limited to “the Confederate States of America.” Considering that the southwest is the fastest growing region of the country, getting him on the ticket is strategic.
Ron White is the Darth Vader of this crowd. A former bronco-riding cowboy from Texas, he now presents himself in Johnny Cash black. His stage persona is of an unredeemed, unrepentant, unrecovered alcoholic. His humor is cynical, but the deepest cuts are self-effacing. Of the four, he is the only one on stage who admits that he does not like to hunt, because, he says, “it’s early in the morning, and it’s cold, and I don’t want to go.” Dear Jon says “hear! hear!”
In Blue Collar II Ron is seated on the opposite side of Larry, with Jeff and Bill in between. While Engvall connects with the “thinkers” or “college boys” among blue collar white guys who function along mainstream sensibilities, White connects with the dark side in that same crowd. These are the guys who get to go to New York City on business, think they have come into their own, and then, well, they get thrown out of a bar and arrested for drunken and disorderly conduct. Larry, meanwhile, can even leave Jeff speechless. Jeff presents himself as the self-examined redneck able to paint broad strokes about his cultural millieu, while Larry is the redneck with no self-awareness, embodying Jeff’s most extreme exaggerations.
These guys work, and the four of them together provide a glimpse of the spectrum among hairy (non-metrosexual) white males. For you urban, metrosexual readers of the PO, what I am trying to tell you is that these guys are fabulous. These “Blue Collar” comics take the pressure off of Dear Jon, and provide me the fuel to keep on writing this column.
Hairier Than Ever,