Jeff Foxworthy has long been known as the "redneck comedian." For the past two seasons, the comic known for his "you might be a redneck if..." one-liners has also hosted the Fox game show Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader? While Foxworthy jokes that he answers approximately 55% of the show's questions correctly putting him at about a third-grade knowledge level that hasn't stopped him from agreeing to host a new, daily syndicated version to complement the weekly broadcast. Foxworthy chatted with TIME about his pre-comedy career as a technician for IBM, his signature mustache and of course being a redneck.
You've talked about being inspired by Bill Cosby's clean comedy. Was hosting this show, which allows you to work with kids, your dream job in some ways?
Yeah, it was. When Mark Burnett called me about the show, I told him, "Whether I do it or not, just in its simplicity this is a wonderful idea." Because every adult thinks, "Well, yeah, I can do that." You find out pretty quickly that you can't. It's not just a game of chance. It rewards knowledge and it makes kids look good. Part of the appeal of it for me and I see it in fan mail is all these letters from teachers saying, "You've made it cool to be smart again. Thank you."
Until you started working on this show, you were best known for the redneck part of your comedy routine. Would you ever give that up?
Well, I had kind of resigned myself to the fact that that was what I was going to be the rest of my life. If I pulled into a gas station, somebody would go, "Hey! You might be a redneck!" But for the last three years if I'm in the grocery store, invariably, 10 people will walk past me and go, "I'm not smarter than a fifth grader." And I'd say, "Well I'm not either."
You went to college and worked for IBM, which some argue disqualifies you from being redneck. But would you say that you've always been a redneck at heart?
My definition of [being a redneck] is a glorious absence of sophistication. In my job at IBM, I carried a tool bag and fixed machines. Doing comedy has made me a wealthy man, but I drive a Chevrolet pickup truck. I wear jeans and T shirts every day unless I have to be on TV. I said to someone not long ago, "Here's the problem that the media makes: They tend to think if you gave rednecks a billion dollars they wouldn't be rednecks anymore." Look at Elvis he put carpet on the ceiling. We wouldn't wear Armani suits, we would just go to every NASCAR race. Once it's in you, I think it's always in you.
What's the least redneck thing about you?
I have a nice house. Some people get disappointed. They'll come to end of the street and drop by and they're like, "Oh, you don't live in a trailer." Not anymore I don't.
There never seems to have been a culture war about who's allowed to use the word redneck. But should someone from say, New York City, feel bad about using the term?
I think there's a difference between laughing with and laughing at [people,] and I think that's why it's okay for me to do it. The whole thing started because that's all people called me. I'd go to work in New York and Chicago and people would be hanging around saying, "Foxworthy, you're nothin' but an ol' redneck from Georgia." And I'm like, "Well yeah, I am." If I was in New York, I don't think I could get away with doing "You might be a Puerto Rican if..."
Recently you mentioned that Nadya Suleman, the Octomom, is the definition of a redneck. Are there other public figures out there who you would say are rednecks?
Jon and Kate. When you've got all those kids and [he's] got a girlfriend that everybody knows about, there's a little bit of redneck in that!
Over the years, your mustache has become one of your calling cards.
Golly, it takes so much abuse on those roasts. It's just a mustache. I think it's probably because I've had it forever.
When Alex Trebek shaved his mustache, it was headline news. People still ask him about it years later. Would you ever consider getting rid of your mustache?
I've had it since my senior year in high school. My wife and I have been together 25 years and she's never seen me without it. I don't even know if there's a lip under there anymore.
Do you have a favorite You Might be a Redneck If...joke?
It's kind of like picking between your children. When I wrote "If you've ever stared at a can of orange juice because it said concentrate...," that made me laugh.