7:30 p.m., Fri., Nov. 13
Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts, 801 N. Rampart St., 287-0351; www.mahaliajacksontheater.com
When Ron White brings his comedy tour to the Mahalia Jackson Theater Nov. 13, it'll be his first time performing in New Orleans, but not his first time in town. He's played Slidell and all over the state, but his trips to our sinful city have always been purely recreational in nature. Any stories you care to share, Ron?
"Not that I could tell your readers," he says in his Scotch-and-cigar-soaked drawl. "It was total and complete debauchery. That was a peak in my worst behavioral problems. Sex and Ecstasy and vomit and booze ... I don't think we killed anybody."
White, who grew up in a tiny town in north Texas, had struggled as a comic for years before coming to prominence in 2000 on the PG-rated "Blue Collar Comedy Tour" with comics Jeff Foxworthy, Bill Engvall and Larry the Cable Guy. Since then, he's branched out with material that's both more cerebral and more adult — no "You might be a redneck if ... " one-liners — but still based in the blue-collar ethic with which he grew up, an approach, he says, that resonates equally with Southern and Northern audiences.
"I'm smart, but you can't prove that on paper," he says. "I don't have a high school education, but I read a lot. I was retarded; I went to classes for slow people. It took me so long to acquire any self-esteem."
Since the Blue Collar Comedy Tour, he's steadily established himself as a major talent in his own right — a little less Foxworthy, a little more Hunter Thompson. In 2006, he had both a bestselling album (You Can't Fix Stupid) and book (I Had the Right to Remain Silent ... But I Didn't Have the Ability). His Comedy Central specials are some of the network's most popular, and his solo performances have gone from comedy clubs to major venues. Film, White says, is another story.
"I've been offered starring roles in shitty movies. I won't do it," he says. "My fans trust me that I won't drag 'em to a pile of shit Larrythecableguy," he adds slyly. "I did this little role in the new Sex and the City movie that I can't tell you about, or I owe 'em two and a half million dollars." The tempo of moviemaking doesn't suit his restless brain, either: "The hours are long as shit and movies, the time just crawls by. You have eight lines and it takes three days. Then you have bosses and all that shit. ... If I do standup, I don't have to answer to a bank or a money guy."
He's been burned before. White's big foray into episodic television was the aborted 12 Miles of Bad Road, a critically acclaimed series for HBO by Designing Women creator Linda Bloodworth-Thomason. It starred Lily Tomlin, Mary Kay Place and Gary Cole, and was set in modern-day Dallas. Six episodes were shot but never aired after a top-brass shakeup at the cable network. Texas Monthly called the show a "hairspray-spritzed, bourbon-soaked mashup of Dallas, Desperate Housewives and MTV's Cribs," and the episodes — still unaired and unavailable by legal means — are a hot item on the online trading circuit. "I loved it," White says of 12 Miles, "but when it was cancelled, I told the Canadian press the [new] president of HBO was a ball-less, soulless [insert graphic, imaginative sexual practice here]." He sighs. "That's when I stopped doing interviews drunk."
Self-censorship doesn't seem a problem for him, though. White has made no secret of his pot use and battle with depression. Celebrities aren't off-limits either. Regarding the new Jay Leno Show, he says, "It sucks. I like Jay, but the show is just ... I watched it the other night to see Dr. Phil. Dr. Phil is a friend of mine, we play golf — and Jay did a horrible show with the doc. My name came up in the context of being anti-marijuana, and let me be clear: I am pro-marijuana. It's good for my depression: I get bummed when I run out of weed! My brain is just f—in' not normal."
It's a bit of a surprise, then, when the true outlaw member of the Blue Collar Comedy Tour talks about his reading habits. "I'm really kind of an Oprah's Book Club kind of guy," he says, a bit shyly. "My favorite book is I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb. Just a delicious book. I also liked She's Come Undone. I don't read true crime. I might read some historical fiction, but straight-up history is just too right-brain for me, man."
Last question: Should any of his fans want to bring him a gift at the Mahalia Jackson Theater, exactly what is in that ever-present glass he sips from onstage?
"18-year-old Macallan!" White crows.