Dan Whitney gave up a job he loved to do standup comedy full time 29 years ago.
“I was a bellhop at a hotel,” Whitney said. “I loved it! I like people and it was an opportunity to talk to a lot of people, interesting people. I made big bucks and had a lot of job offers.”
But comedy won.
Whitney’s character Larry the Cable Guy is one of the most recognized in standup comedy as he always wears a ball cap, a plaid flannel shirt with the sleeves torn off with jeans and talks with a thick Southern accent. Larry’s signature lines include “Git-R-Done” and “Lord, I apologize for that.”
Larry the Cable Guy will perform two shows, 7 and 10 p.m., at The Event Center at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races, in Charles Town, West Virginia, on March 18. Tickets start at $75, and you must be 21 or older to attend any show at The Event Center.
Whitney’s character Larry the Cable Guy found initial fame in radio. He used to call in to radio stations, including in Baltimore, with daily commentaries.
“He was a character I used to do on stage,” said Whitney in a recent phone interview. “I started looking for a name, and Larry the Cable Guy just stuck. It became popular and got syndicated on radio. It started with a guy who owned three stations — in Orlando, Texas and Baltimore.” Syndication grew to 27 stations around the country and Whitney did that for 13 years, five days a week.
Back then, his stage comedy incorporated other characters, including a little old lady from Russia. “But that hurt my voice so I had to stop,” Whitney said.
In 1985, he tried his hand at comedy in West Palm Beach, Florida. “Comedy clubs were opening up all over the place. You could go anywhere and tell jokes for 25 minutes and make 150 bucks,” Whitney said. “In the late ‘80s, comedy was the thing to do.” And he did. Whitney dropped out of college and focused on comedy.
“I started at a comedy club in West Palm Beach that opened in 1986. It became my hangout and whole social life for six or seven years,” said Whitney. He watched and learned from all the other comedians who came through.
“Then I quit my job and that’s all I did, comedy,” Whitney said, recalling that happened in May 1988.
His road to stardom included the Blue Collar Comedy Tour, which grossed more than $15 million. The cast of comedians included Bill Engvall (“Here’s your sign.”) and Jeff Foxworthy (“If you …. you might be a redneck.”)
“Foxworthy and I have been friends for about 30 years,” Whitney said. “He showed me the ropes. He was the first stand-up comedian I knew to make it big. He taught me about show biz and that there are two different parts to that: the show and the biz. He said you need to concentrate on the biz and the show will come. If you treat it like a job and are reasonably funny, you’ll make big things happen.”
Whitney listened well.
He has released Larry the Cable Guy albums, DVDs, authored his book “Git-R-Done” and won multiple awards, including Billboard’s 2005 Comedy Artist of the Year and Comedy Album of the Year, and received the Billboard’s Top Comedy Tour Award in 2006. His film credits include “Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector” (2006), “Delta Farce” (2007), “Witless Protection” (2008), “A Madea Christmas” (2013) and he’s the voice of Mater in the Disney/Pixar “Cars” series, including “Cars 3,” due out in June.
For three seasons, he hosted a show on History, “Only in America with Larry the Cable Guy.” It featured Larry visiting various sites across the country revealing bits of real history while immersing himself in new and different lifestyle jobs and hobbies that celebrate the American experience. The show was wildly popular, but Whitney said the travel for that show, combined with his comedy gigs, had him away from home six days a week.
“I quit because I don’t want to miss my kids growing up,” said Whitney, who turned 54 on Feb. 17. He and wife Cara have two kids, Wyatt and Regan, and live on a farm in his native Nebraska. “I told my wife when I hit 50, I’m going to slow down and I did. I’ve got my priorities. My family comes first.”
Politics is rarely part of his comedy, he said.
“I know what my role in life is,” he said. “I’m a comedian. People pay good money to come out and laugh.”
Whitney said some comedians are storytellers, some are observational, but he’s a one-liner. “My jokes are rooted in reality then it turns the corner and does a weird twist,” he said. Like the one about a girl he was seeing. “I was seeing this girl for about eight months … then someone took my binoculars.” (lol!) Or the one about being bullied by a fourth-grade boy on the school playground. “I walked away, back to the car and told my wife she’ll have to go pick up our son from now on.”
“Everybody texting, tweeting, you all do that Twitter?” he asked an audience during a show in 2015. “I do the country version, Conway twitter. All my tweets start with Hello Darlin’.”
Now that’s funny, I don’t care who you are.