Larry the Cable Guy
When: 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Friday
Where: Orpheum Theater, 409 S. 16th St.
Tickets: $30 to $75
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Larry the Cable Guy barely participated in our interview.
Instead, we talked to Dan Whitney, the man behind Larry. Whitney is a Nebraska native and still calls the state home. Larry, of course, is a character, and he and Whitney aren't the same person. Most apparent is that Whitney speaks in a clean Midwestern accent, not Larry's southern Georgia drawl.
Whitney plays him extremely well — so well that Larry has been widely criticized for his acting in films such as “Delta Farce,” “Witless Protection” and “Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector.” It makes Whitney laugh because some don't realize it's a character and that Larry isn't actually him.
“Then they say I'm the worst actor they've ever seen and then ridicule me. Well, then I'm a pretty good actor,” he said. “Obviously my acting skills are freaking awesome. If you can't differentiate between what I'm doing and me personally. I find that kind of ironic.”
Even when he's not Larry, Whitney is still funny. Less than 15 seconds into the interview, he made his first joke.
“It's gonna suck,” he said of Friday night's performances in Omaha.
Then he laughed. Then he said, “It's gonna be great. The Orpheum is a great theater, and any time they need to class it up, they give me a holler.”
Larry the Cable Guy started as one of many characters Whitney did for radio shows, including the Chris Baker and Todd & Tyler morning shows in Omaha. He'd call in with a rant that began, “What the hell is this? Russia?”
Whitney never expected Larry to take off. It was his attempt at an Archie Bunker type — a simple guy who was funny. But he wanted people to like Larry. He's meant to be “everyone's buddy.”
Parts of Larry come from Whitney's life growing up in Nebraska.
“I grew up a rural kid, so my whole life was hanging out at the Pawnee livestock market. I hung out with a bunch of old farmers — pig farmers and cattle ranchers — and you study how they talk and what you can say around them and get away with,” Whitney said. “At a young age, I developed my timing. I learned that hanging out with pig farmers. I knew when to throw in a joke.”
With a father who was a preacher, Whitney also came to learn to lighten the tension. It all helped him develop his comedic timing, which Bill Cosby once said was the best he'd ever seen.
He went to college in Georgia, where he learned Larry's accent, and then he lived in Florida, where he met some of the “country folks” who inspired the cable guy character.
Though the cable guy is often pigeonholed as lowbrow comedy, Whitney likes to frame clever jokes through the lens of Larry. During the act, he'll often crack that attendees won't understand some jokes until they're on the way home.
Some of Whitney's biggest influences, including Steve Martin, were both irreverent and smart. He always enjoyed how Martin could go from a smart joke to a fart joke and make everyone laugh.
Whitney still keeps a copy of Martin's 1978 comedy album, “A Wild and Crazy Guy,” in his office next to his own album, “The Right to Bare Arms.” They're still the only two comedy albums to ever make the top 10 of the Billboard 200 albums chart, Whitney said.
It's not his only success. His films have been successful, as was his stint on the “Blue Collar Comedy Tour.” Larry's face is on a variety of foods that fund his nonprofit group, The Git-R-Done Foundation, and he was the center of the largest comedy show ever when he performed to a sold-out Memorial Stadium in Lincoln in 2009.
There's not much out there that Whitney hasn't accomplished in the comedy world, but he continues do the character because Larry makes him laugh. You can hear it any time he does stand-up when Whitney belly laughs after one of his one-liners.
If you offered him sex with a supermodel or the chance to write seven hilarious jokes, Whitney said he'd take the funny stuff.
“I'm paid to make people laugh, and that's what it's all about,” he said. “I love comedy. I love stand-up. It's what I do.”