While many stand-up comedians present themselves as life's underdogs, Ron White's not afraid to be the dog that got paid.
Comedian Ron White does pretty much what he wants. When he performs Saturday night at the Mahalia Jackson Theatre, his wife—singer Margo Rey—will play afterwards. When we scheduled our interview, he understandably wants to involve her, but I told his publicist that I didn’t want to interview both. She said no problem, but when I asked White about how Rey’s show connects to his, he said, “She’s right here. I’ll put her on.”
White has an uncommon comedy persona. Stand-ups are frequently underdogs, losers in love or the job market, guys trying to get a grip on their lives or their cultures. White made his name on the Blue Collar Comedy Tour in the early 2000s traveling with Larry the Cable Guy and Jeff Foxworthy, but he presents himself as one of life’s winners with a good cigar and a glass of scotch onstage. His “Rontourage” vlog entries feature him traveling by private jet from show to show.
“The only chance I have as a comedian is to be true to my nature and talk about what’s going on in my life,” White says. “Foxworthy and Larry went by the school, Never ever let them know you have money. I think they can do the math. There’s 3,500 people here at $75 a head. But these are all things my fans gave to me, and I don’t think they resent it at all.”
White is partly aspirational—the blue collar guy who did alright for himself, the success story who never lost the common touch. The finer things are the payoff, and White’s okay with that. “I like a good steak and a good cigar,” he says. “I like the good life, I do.”
White has worked for it, though. He started performing stand-up comedy in the 1980s, but joining the Blue Collar Comedy Tour changed his place in the comedy world. “The Blue Collar tour opened up all markets for me,” he says. “Those were the biggest selling comedy albums of all time, and that made me famous. That made me be able to go wherever I want and do shows.”
Traveling with Foxworthy and Larry the Cable Guy took White to big cities and smaller markets that don’t normally see touring stand-up comedians, and he continues to take those dates today. “I do it because they’re sitting there,” he says. “People like it and I like it, so why not? I’m from a little bitty town in Northwest Texas, so I like small town stuff. If you’ve got 50,000 people in your town and a building that holds a thousand, I’ll come there on a Tuesday night. I love it. I think those are the jewels.”
He frequently does casino shows as well, playing in Tunica, Mississippi and a few regional casinos this fall, as well Las Vegas for a couple of stretches. He gambles a little on football and golf, and his fans are good business so the casinos are happy to have him. “They know what Rascal Flatts crowds do. They know what Dane Cook’s crowds do. They know what everybody’s crowd does. They monitor it,” White says. “Mine like to gamble and drink, so that’s why I get my pick of the casinos. They want me to play Vegas all the time, but I still sell hard tickets, so I like to go out where the people are.”
One of the appeals Las Vegas holds for White is Shadow Creek, his favorite golf course in the city. His affection for the game goes back to his childhood when his dad would drop him off to spend the day playing a nine-hole course in Houston owned by the refinery his dad worked for. “It was the worst golf course in the world, but I didn’t know because it was the only one I’d played on.”
White warms to the topic of golf’s lessons and its pains.
“I played Augusta National and that was too tricked out for me,” he says. “I was about a 10 handicap when I played it and shot a 96 and played well. I just couldn’t putt those greens.” Still, “Golf brings me pure joy. It allows me to release completely from my world. I like to play well but it doesn’t always happen, and that doesn’t determine whether I have a good time on the golf course.”
He still has the private jet, and it has made it possible to play some smaller markets when conventional transportation logistics are daunting. “I don’t use it as much as I used to because I’m so good at math,” White says. “I also rent a bus, and if I can use the bus in combination with a commercial flight, I’ll do that. I’m not so smart I own a plane. I just own a plane.”
As for Rey, she and White used to see each other more often on the road when he’d do a stand at The Mirage in Las Vegas and she’d perform across the street at B.B. King’s. “That was our gig that we got to do a lot together,” White recalls, but it ended when B.B. King’s closed. Rey still has her own Los Angeles-based career, and she travels to 10 or so of his dates a year to play in sympathetic cities.
“Margo went on after me last time [I was in New Orleans] with a funky little band that was sourced locally,” White says. “We found them in a restaurant.”
“I paid my rent all the way through school with it,” Rey says of singing jazz. That’s not her main gig, though. She’s an adult contemporary singer/songwriter who most recently charted with “Colours” earlier this year. Saturday night, she’ll bring her own band.
Shows like Saturday’s are things White and Rey do to maintain a relationship. He doesn’t really stop touring, usually doing at least three nights a week. “The schedules definitely conflict, but there’s nothing I love more than watching her perform,” White says. “She has more talent in her little finger than I have in my whole body. Come out and see it and it’s true.”