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Larry The Cable Guy's good ol' boy shtick rides the zeitgeist

Southerners know there is a specifically discernable difference between a redneck and a good ol' boy. It's a fine line, and Larry the Cable Guy is straddling it. His fans say he merely pokes fun at the down-to-earth worldview of red-state America's inner rube. His detractors claim he makes folks laugh by using an unvarnished, folksy persona to take cheap shots at minorities, foreigners and "PC assholes."

He's best known for his recurring catchphrase "Git-R-Done!," which translates roughly to "let's-cut-through-the-red-tape-and-bring-the-project-at-hand-to-fruition" and can be applied to any situation, from replacing a blown gasket to unilaterally invading an Arab country. He's also is one of the most commercially successful comedy acts in recent years, with two CDs that have gone gold, a top-selling DVD, and a starring role on the WB's Blue Collar TV. Larry the Cable Guy (real name: Dan Whitney) has turned what was once a bit radio call-in character into a cottage industry. He's the comedy equivalent of Nashville country, NASCAR and video poker.

Some of Larry's material is fairly innocuous. All of it is relatively sophomoric. He does a lot of scatological jokes. He has a good-natured take on Homeland Security: "Half these people look like they just got fired from McDonalds for ringin' up fries on the salad key. . ."

But there's a dodgier side to his routines. Take his rant about gun control: "Like it's the manufacturer's fault that DeWayne needed crack cash and knocked off a 7-Eleven." And they get worse. An April 2005 Rolling Stone article cited two of his homophobic punchlines ("I was more pissed than a queer with lockjaw on Valentine's Day" and "There'll be a new show out next week called Black Eye on the Queer Guy") and one another race-baiter ("This is a song about an illegal Mexican hitchhiking through Texas. I call it 'El Paso'.").

In the Rolling Stone piece, blue-state comedian and Arrested Development star David Cross says of Larry, "He's good at what he does. . . It's a lot of anti-gay, racist humor -- which people like in America -- all couched in 'I'm telling it like it is'. . . and anti-intellectual pride." Larry went on to address Cross' comments in his book, Git-R-Done, saying Cross takes himself too seriously. In December, Cross responded on his website with a tongue-in-cheek rejoinder.

Larry's country-boy shtick is part of a broader trend of mega-comedians whose acts are based on playing to a particular demographic that sees itself as the people who "get it" and are entertained by the notion that everyone else is a humorless crybaby. These enclave comedians include Carlos Mencia (the Latino comic who regularly takes shots at "lazy" whites who need Mexican immigrants to do everything for them, from cutting their grass to serving their fast food) and Dave Chappelle (whose skits and standup bitingly and outrageously satirize black America's day-to-day obstacle course through the minefield of covert white racism).

In the late 80s, Martin Mull's The History of White People in America was an extra-dry take on middle- and working-class WASP culture. In the 90s, Jeff Foxworthy -- one of Larry's co-stars on Blue Collar TV -- took trailer-park chic into the mainstream by turning his "You might be a redneck, if. . ." routine into a short-lived network sitcom, The Jeff Foxworthy Show. Larry the Cable Guy also borrows from Tim Allen's handy everyman from Home Improvement.

Unlike the works of his comedic antecedents, Larry's routine is distilled down to a straight-ahead, guffaw-per-minute caricature. Complete with his standard costume of a flannel work shirt with cut-off sleeves, camouflage trucker hat with Confederate flag emblem, beer belly and Southern drawl, Larry the Cable Guy is a composite of a range of hick stereotypes.

Where Larry the Cable Guy departs from his contemporaries is that he doesn't deliver his humor in the current stand-up style of meandering, sarcastic anecdotes. He mostly pumps out one-liners. In terms of technique, Larry is a throwback, ironically, to the Jewish American performers of the first half of the 20th Century, whose vaudevillian and Catskillian aesthetic is best recalled by the Henny Youngman refrain, "Take my wife -- please!" Style-wise, Larry's a bizzaro-world Sarah Silverman.

To the extent that Charlotte is an island of New South surrounded by a sea of old South, this area seems the ideal market for Larry the Cable Guy's folksy but sometimes stinging repertoire of impolite witticisms. One thing is certain: When Larry performs here this week, he will draw a large crowd of loyal fans. The question is whether or not he is funny and clever enough to draw a diverse assembly of all views and hues, or if Larry The Cable Guy will just be preaching to the choir of his core constituency: rednecks, good ol' boys and adherents to the philosophy of "Git-R-Done!"

Larry the Cable Guy's The Right to Bare Arms Tour comes to Charlotte Bobcats Arena on Jan. 14, 2006, at 8:00pm. Tickets are $40.75, available at

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