How Dan Whitney channeled vision of Larry the Cable Guy

by Alison Bonaguro
Special to the Tribune

(The Chicago Tribune, Published January 26, 2007


He doesn't care who you are. That's funny right there.

Larry the Cable Guy says it all the time during his standup comedy routine. And he's right. Sometimes things are funny regardless of where you stand on politics, what your sexual orientation is or how you were raised. Funny is funny.

And Larry, born Dan Whitney, knows exactly how to get those laughs. In fact, he's so good at it, he makes anywhere from $250,000 to 300,000 a night. That's a serious night of comedy, which he's bringing to the Rosemont Theatre on Saturday night.

It wasn't always sell-out crowds at big arenas, though. Back when he was still performing as just Dan Whitney, Larry used to work Zanies when he came through the Chicago area. "He hadn't found his character yet, so his comedy was all over the place. But that's common in young comics," said Bert Haas, the executive VP of Zanies. "He's always been a very likable, fast-talking, one-liner comic. But now he's found his voice."

In a call from his home in Florida, Larry said it was the crowds in little clubs such as Zanies that helped him form that voice. "I'd get billed at a comedy club as Dan Whitney, but then people who'd seen my show would be yelling `Do Larry, do Larry,'" he said. "I had an instant following. The name meant everything, and Larry was easy to write for."

The bits he wrote for Larry turned into catch phrases that have made him one of the top-drawing comedians in the country. His southern drawl has made "git-r-done" famous. And his "Lord, I apologize" line came from growing up as the son of a preacher.

But unlike so many comedians who make their livings mocking strangers, Larry keeps it close to home. Picking apart his own family is key to his comic genius.

His overweight sister, his deaf brother and his grandma who has a flatulent walk are all brought to life in his show. How do they like being the stuff laughs are made of? "My grandma laughs harder than anyone else," said the comic. Fans love it best when he makes fun of himself, though, with stories about getting drunk, spying on women and racking up phone-sex charges.

Part of his likability is his undeniable hillbilly way. He's like Jeff Foxworthy, only more so. While Foxworthy throws around loose definitions of redneck, Larry talks the talk. He calls Victoria's Secret a "grown feller's Chuck E. Cheese's" and edible underwear "eatin' britches." And he looks the part, too, in a ball cap, jeans and a sleeveless flannel shirt.

It's a look he honed growing up in Oklahoma. When he moved to Florida, he took a day job as a bellhop at the Hyatt Regency in West Palm Beach and eventually started doing comedy locally.

That was more than 15 years ago. Now his certified gold CD "The Right To Bare Arms" (which debuted at No. 1 on the comedy charts) has made history as the first comedy album to hit No. 1 on the country chart. And he's selling out multiple shows at big venues in cities such as Chicago, Detroit and Poughkeepsie. (But while he's laughing all the way across the country, there's one thing that he takes seriously: his fear of flying. "I hated it before 9/11, but then it got double-scary," he said. "I'm scared of mechanical problems, and all those rude people in airports." )

Larry contends that when he does poke fun of others in his shows, he does so in a funny, not hateful, way. "Besides, when did the (homosexual) community become the holy grail? And how come some have a sense of humor and some don't?" he asked. He does catch flak from other comics about his ignorant ways, but Lisa Lampanelli, from the new Comedy Central special "Dirty Girl," said Larry is her hero regardless. "Other comics aren't paying your bills, the audience is the only one that counts," she said. "There's no line you can't cross in comedy, no envelope to push. You can make fun of anything if you're good."

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