You might be a redneck if you’re a fan of Jeff Foxworthy’s, but you certainly don’t have to be. He’s sold more than 13 million albums, becoming the biggest-selling comedy artist of all time. “My wife said, ‘You’re probably always going to have that record, because nobody buys albums anymore,’ ” Jeff, 61, exclusively tells Closer with a laugh.
But he still does sold-out stand-up tours, writes books and hosts TV hits like Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? and his new A&E show What’s It Worth? All the while, he’s remained a humble family man with a wife of nearly 35 years, Pamela Gregg, and their daughters, Jules, 26, and Jordan, 28.
How does he stay grounded? “When they asked NASCAR driver Richard Petty one of the secrets to life, he said, ‘Don’t outgrow your raisins,’ which in the South meant: Remember where you came from,” Jeff shares. “I’m still that kid from that little [Georgia] town. My best friend from the fifth grade is my manager. I always worked really hard, but I don’t want a whole lot. I mean, for a kid that grew up with a dirt yard, I think, ‘God, I’ve had a crazy life!’”
Keep scrolling below for Closer‘s exclusive Q&A interview with Jeff Foxworthy.
How are you doing, Jeff?
We’re good. I’m very fortunate. We have a farm about an hour south of Atlanta, so for the first big wave of [COVID-19], we spent nine weeks there. I don’t think in my adult life I’ve ever gone 14 days without being on an airplane! It was probably a couple of the best months of my life, to just be still.
Jim Gaffigan told us he feels the same.
There are certain people — he’s one of them, [Jay] Leno, [Jerry] Seinfeld, Brian Regan — who, no matter what else we do, we’re stand-ups. My goal wasn’t to be on a sitcom or a TV show, so all the rest of it was gravy.
So much is going on right now…
Comics are supposed to be the last bastion of truth. We hold it up and go, “Isn’t this weird?” So in a time when we’re needed most, we’re not able to do what we do. I’m supposed to do a Netflix special, but unless the vaccine comes along … when you laugh, you’re expelling things out of your mouth, so we may be the last people to come back.
Gaffigan did a drive-in show. Would you?
[Laughs] Maybe! It’s time to think outside the box. At the end of last year, I decided, “I’m starting over from scratch. I’m not going to depend on any of this stuff I’ve been doing.” And that’s scary, because you’re giving up things you know are going to get a laugh. [Prepping for] the Netflix special made me go back to little bitty clubs and really write, go and try things on note cards. It’s a labor of love, but it’s hard. I’d just gotten it to the point that it was really starting to click, and then lockdown came. I’m like, “Oh no, no, no!”
What have you been up to?
I’m writing, and I’ve been lucky. I came up with a game called Relative Insanity that was number one on Amazon for a while. So I’ve been coming up with [more] games.
How did What’s It Worth? happen?
A&E and I enjoyed working on my Biography episode. They came to me with an idea: People find things in their house, bring them in and do an online auction live. With COVID, you couldn’t do that, so they said, “Now everybody’s cleaning out their attic or basement. What if people can take their phones, show what they found and have an expert say what it’s worth?” I collect all kinds of weird things, like arrowheads. So it’s right up my alley!
Did any moment put you on your path?
After my parents divorced [when I was 9], we moved to where my mom grew up. Her brother, who lived with us, collected comedy records. I’d listen and learned that I could make people laugh, which in a weird way was a sense of power. People liked the funny kid. I never dreamed you could do it for a living. When I worked at IBM, everybody would be in the break room hearing me do an impersonation of the boss — and the boss would walk in!
What was it like at the beginning for you?
When I started in 1984, I was a warrior! I was onstage every night for eight years, over 500 shows a year. My goal was to be on Johnny Carson. It took me five years, but I did it!
You’ve done a lot since then, too.
The Blue Collar Comedy Tour was one of the most fun things I ever did. I’ve written, like, 28 books, done seven or eight albums. I think I’ve done The Tonight Show 50 times. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d go into books and calendars. I’m not that smart!
Do you run jokes by your family?
I run everything by my poor wife, stepping out of the shower going, “Is this funny?” She’s got great instincts. She’ll go “No,” or “That’s funny, but you need to add this.” When my kids were little, they didn’t know I was talking about them. They got to be teenagers and were like “Dad, quit talking about me!”
How did you and Pamela meet?
I was working [as a technician] at IBM, and a bunch of guys entered me in a comedy competition. My wife was an actress and came down to support this guy. So the first night I was onstage, she was there, and I won the contest! She came up and talked to me. I was so nervous, I spilled my drink down her sweater and said, “I guess you’ll never go out with me,” and she said, “Well, you haven’t even asked.” An hour into the first date, I was like, “Oh crap, I’m going to marry this girl.” So I met my wife and started my career on the same night!
Ha! Did becoming a dad change you?
It made me really responsible. And I grew up without a dad, so I decided my kids were never going to know that. I came home every night. I might not get home until 2 a.m., but I’d get up at 6, take them to school and fly back out. They were the priority.
What are they up to? Any grandkids?
Jordan is in the film business, and that’s all shut down. And Jules is at a retail redecorating place, so she’s working a bit. She’s married, so we’re starting to drop a lot of [grandkid] hints!
Any mottos you live by?
We had a chalkboard nailed to a door to the garage that said “Be kind and try.”
You’ll be 62 on Sept. 6. Thoughts on aging?
I don’t really care. It’s funny: I miss my 30-year-old body, but I wouldn’t trade my 61-year-old mind for it! [Laughs]
Is there anything on your bucket list?
I’m trying to learn how to paint. I’d love to do a small, serious part in something, and nobody ever casts me [for that]. I bought a farm outside Atlanta, and if I’m not working, I’m on a tractor or a bulldozer. I’m just so lucky to have healthy kids, a great wife I’m still crazy about, a job I love. [But] I think you get old when you quit being interested, and I’m still interested!
— Reporting by Diana Cooper