Entertainment Profile

Closeup Magazine

 

(Tim Wilson, Cledus T. Judd, Tom Mabre, Roy D. Mercer, Rodney Carrington)

 

Country is enjoying its highest position in American culture yet, and it’s not only moving up; it’s moving out. One of the most remarkable areas of expansion is Country comedy. Jeff Foxworthy has become a household name, and Minnie Pearl is an American icon. The competition is increasing for these established entertainers, though, as talented funny guys carve highly specialized niches for themselves in the changing face of Country’s Mt. Rushmore. 

 

One of comedy’s funniest rising stars is Tim Wilson, a stand-up comedian, songwriter and singer who makes “bland white boys” the target of his act. “To say that Country comedy is all the same is kind of stupid,” he explains. “It’s like saying Lyle Lovett sounds like George Strait just because they’re both country singers, but he doesn’t. People who don’t know any better have a tendency to lump it all together, and that always irritates me.”

 

After talking with five comedians who have shared the spotlight on Country and comedy charts, one thing is perfectly clear - they are completely unique. Anyone who has complained about predictability in Country Music albums can turn to the genre of comedy for originality, variety and, more often than not, a personal affront. If you’re looking for interactive entertainment with a bite and without the risk of repetitive stress injury or the cost of Mario upgrades, it’s about time you jumped on the Country comedy bandwagon.

 

TIM WILSON’s latest album from Capitol Records, GETTING’ MY MIND RIGHT, is his second with the label and includes reflections on his childhood aspirations. “I always wanted to be a cult leader when I was a kid,” he asserts.  In a way he’s accomplished that goal by establishing what he calls “a little cult following,” a group of disciples with thick skin who agree to keep it all in the family. When asked to describe a typical fan, Wilson says it’s the same guy who inspires his jokes. “I pick on the people who are there (at the shows). It’s not my job to pick on black people, and it’s not my job to have a whole lot of opinions on Asian people. I just decided that I would pick on my own pretty much. I’m real hard on them, but you know, they laugh. As long as you say it right to them they don’t mind.”

      Wilson is a husband and father of two who deals with irritating neighbors and home repairs just like the next guy. His daughter Sophia is 10, and his son Ari is almost one. He met Terry, his Israeli wife, at a wedding in his hometown of Columbus, GA. “Luckily I was as good lookin’ as I was ever going to be, in a tux and everything,” the funny man maintains. After moving to America from Israel, Terry adjusted to hillbilly humor nicely and now helps write songs and bits for the act.

 

Most of the time Wilson’s fans have no problem laughing at themselves, but occasionally he runs into a group of non-energetic, serious audience members. It’s never anything he can’t handle. “I rarely ever get a heckler. Sometimes you get guys who are overly enthusiastic. They may be familiar with what you do, and they want to help. And sometimes they don’t realize that their trying to help is really hurting.”

 

Wilson majored in English at a Presbyterian college and says he “accidentally” minored in history.  One of the most articulate examples of his hillbilly interpretation of historical and political events is a character called Uncle B.S., a crafty old relative who has questionable alibis for his whereabouts during monumentally tragic moments in America’s history.  “I don’t really have a hook,” Wilson explains. “I do a lot of different things. I have my political mad guy, my Uncle B.S. character and my gas station people, and I do a lot of gun control humor. Uncle B.S. is some of the best stuff I’ve written. Honestly, Country comedy kind of bores me because a lot of it’s rehashed. I’ve always thought we need to stretch the envelope a little bit. That’s kind of what I try to do.”

 

When Wilson succeeds in his effort to come up with funny, original material, he considers it a victory worth celebrating. His theory is: “All comedians, in my opinion, will come up with something good once in a blue moon. Eighty percent of it’s junk; if you get 20 percent that ain’t, then you’re doing something. There’s nothing new under the sun, but I try to find something that nobody else really concentrates on. I watch the news a lot, and I read a lot. There’re a lot of redneck jokes, but it’s hard to write a joke about a bland white guy, and that’s what I want to do - try to take on things that haven’t necessarily been taken on.”

 

CLEDUS T. JUDD, aka Barry Poole, grew up in a little town called Cartersville, GA, and except for a four-year stint in Nashville, TN, has lived there his entire life. “It’s really small,” he muses. “I’m not sure of the population, but I can count ‘em from where I’m sitting right now, if that tells you anything.”

 

Judd may have come from small beginnings, but it didn’t take him long to start producing hit parodies of songs held near and dear to Country audiences. He’s parodied songs by Diamond Rio, Faith Hill, Trisha Yearwood and Garth Brooks, to name a few. Parodies are often born in an atmosphere of spite and sarcasm, the prime ingredients of most satirical material, but Judd accentuates the positive and gets warm responses from the artists and the audiences. “I’ve had Shania Twain, Vince Gill, Trace Adkins, Deana Carter; just about everybody I’ve ever parodied, has been in the videos. So I think it’s a compliment to what I do. They know it’s going to be done in good taste, and it won’t be something that makes fun of them personally. That’s a real thrill to get them in the videos.”

 

Judd is working on his eleventh video and fourth album and is writing an autobiography with an expected completion date next winter. The book, called “Just Glad to Be Here,” documents Judd’s beginnings in comedy as a kid, his childhood and the journey to his current successes. “It’s going to be funny and let people know what Cledus is about,” he explains.

 

Part of his childhood experiences include bringing home almost perfect report cards and fulfilling his role as the class clown. “My report card was always good until it got to conduct. They didn’t even grade it an A through F. I usually got a U in conduct for unsatisfactory. I’ve always had a real creative, flamboyant kind of personality, you know, but back then I didn’t know exactly how to channel it into making a living and recording records and doing videos. I feel like all of it did pay off. I’m just glad it didn’t go the other way where I’d ended up in jail or something!”

 

Judd keeps his material fresh and feels like he’s found his niche in the entertainment world. “I kind of have the market right now. I’m sure somebody will come along someday, and I’ll have to step aside, but hopefully I’ve got a long time left. I’ve always been a big fan of Minnie Pearl and String Bean and different comedians like that. I was a big fan of Weird Al Yankovich, and that’s similar to what I do. I didn’t start out to become the ‘Weird Al of Country.’ It just kind of evolved into that.”

 

     TOM MABE may soon become better known as “the guy in the red phone car.” He’s a Louisville, KY-based jingle writer traveling across the country in a Volkswagon Beetle he affectionately calls the “Revenge-Mobile.” Telemarketers are the source of his angst, and they’re in for a tough customer when they dial the home of Tom Mabe. He owns a recording studio in his home and writes jingles for companies like Kentucky Fried Chicken. He calls his jingle business his “bread and butter.” When telemarketers continuously interrupted recording sessions, Mabe decided to make a profit off them to make up for the money they were costing him with every minute they kept him on the phone. Just for fun, he would record telephone conversations with the unsuspecting salesmen.

“I just got frustrated trying to make a living, and they kept calling me,” he explains. “I was showing my buddies these tapes, and they said, ‘Man, Tom, you’re a great (song) writer and stuff, but this here is funny! You have a better chance at making it with this than you do in music.’ It’s definitely a niche.”

Is the success of his CD’s threatening to shut down the jingle business? “I have too much good business, too many hours and too much equity in my jingle company to just get up and leave,” he contends.

 

So where is this revenge-based career going to take Mabe? “My first goal is to try to turn people against telemarketers,” he outlined. The second goal is to try to get people to buy my CD, and along the way to educate people, especially senior citizens.” He’s spent over four years researching the damage fraudulent telemarketing companies can do to senior citizens, and he’s passionate about turning things around. He maintains, “The passion comes when you start looking at people who get ripped off. Some con-artist will travel from town to town and go to people and say, ‘Hey, we’ll black-top your driveway,’ and they just put something on top of it to make it look like it was black topped. It’s just a scam.”

Does Mabe have any other pet peeves? “I have a problem with drive-through windows, the ones who are always messing up my order,” he answered. Has he always been this way? He laughs: “Every report card said, ‘Tommy’s a nice guy and a real sweet boy, but he makes the other kids nervous. He’s always banging on his desk.’ I was a hyperactive kid who ate fruit loops or rocket cereal for breakfast, and I would go to school wired.

 

“The big picture is to make somebody say, ‘No matter how bad things are, I’m not going to rip off people or mislead them by being a telemarketer.’ My goal is to make someone go, ‘Man, no! There’s too much bad rap on telemarketers. I’ll be a waiter, or I’ll bartend, but I’m not going to be a telemarketer.’”

 

ROY D. MERCER is a creation of two energetic, smart radio guys, and without the benefit of even being a real person, has sold over 1.5 million copies of his comedy CD’s. Brent Douglas and Phil Stone work together at KMOD, a classic rock station in Tulsa, OK and have, together, created a famous disgruntled individual who’s the scorn of innocent business owners around the country.  “It was all pure mistake - an accident,” Douglas and Stone emphasize. “We were radio guys just trying to be funny on the radio, and one day Virgin’s Scott Hendricks, who heard a bootleg tape, called and wanted to make a deal.”

Neither of the men dreamed that the deal would blossom into a successful career for their fictional character. Most of the time victims of Mercer’s wrath recover with no major injuries; however, there is an occasional sour puss who can’t swallow the humiliation and retaliates. Stone recounts an encounter with a revengeful listener:

 

“Brent was gone for the day, and I was left up here. There was an FBI agent in the lobby, and they called me to the front. He pulled handcuffs out and was going to arrest me for making threatening phone calls. He flashed his FBI badge and started putting handcuffs on me. I was saying, ‘But I’m not the one! Brent, Brent!’ The guy started laughing and said he was actually just there to pick up a prize. He turned the tables right smack in the middle of my face.”

He continued, “Every once in a while you’ll run into somebody with no sense of humor at all. A lot of times after they calm down and think about it, they get a better sense of humor, but that doesn’t happen very often.”

 

With the popularity of the show comes the difficult task of choosing which requests to grant for a Mercer phone call. Phil and Brent make only two phone calls a week from their hundreds of requests. How do they determine who will be next? Stone explains, “We get tons (of requests). We get telephone calls, faxes and e-mails. We really have to be selective. Usually the ones who have the most details and who have concocted a pretty good story already with a funny angle are the ones that we choose.”

RODNEY CARRINGTON’s philosophy about comedy is that you have to have a certain amount of natural ability to really make it work. After his first experience in front of a live audience, which happened while he was in junior college, he developed the skill of deliverance, and since then hasn’t been nervous about appearing on stage. It comes naturally now. “It’s my job. It’s what I do,” he said. “If I get nervous or anxious about something, it’s only because I’m ready for it to happen. It’s like going to take a test. If you’re prepared, you’re just ready.”

The crowd, big or small, is what drives Carrington and gives him energy on stage. “As a performer you go out and you feed off the energy of the crowd. The performance really relies on whether the crowd’s into it or not,” he adds. The rewards go beyond the high of getting laughs and applause. “If I ever retire from doing this, I think all I would ever do is play golf,” he laughed.  

 

Comedy wasn’t Carrington’s life-long dream. “It wasn’t something I dreamed of,” he stressed. “I think I was destined to be in this, because I wasn’t excited about anything else. I never really took anything seriously other than the things I wanted to do. If I wanted to play baseball, I took it seriously. I wanted to do things that were fun, and comedy was fun.”

 

Carrington is married and has three children. When asked about his experience as a parent, he gave a little background information: “My mother was married five times, so I couldn’t pick a role model, because I knew it was going to change at any moment. For me, being a parent is a whole new thing. I didn’t have a real strong father figure around the house, so being a daddy is something I’m having to learn on my own. I love it. The topic of my conversations with my kids is how much I love them. I mean, I maul my children. The only thing that they’re ever going to have to complain about is the fact that daddy kisses on ‘em too much and loves on ‘em too much. I don’t care. When they’re 30 years old, I’m going to be the same way.”

 

His home life is the foundation for everything he does with his career. “My wife and my kids are my foundation,” he pointed out. “Without them I don’t have a real reason to be out here. My wife provided me with a focus I didn’t have in the beginning. She provided me with a reason. It was no longer just me out here running around partying and having a good time. She gave me a feeling of, ‘Ok, if I’m going to do this, I’ve got to put the hammer down.’ She’s my biggest fan, and to me, that means a lot.”

 

His children are also an inspiration. “My wife stays with my kids 24 hours a day, which is a harder job than anything I’ve ever been through. If I’m with them three hours I want to pull my hair out. I can’t take it, and they’re my children! My kids are well-rounded, well-adjusted, and it’s because of her,” he concluded.

     

Weslea Bell