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The Untold Truth Of Jeff Foxworthy

Before he hosted Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader? and anchored the incredibly successful Blue Collar Comedy Tour, Jeff Foxworthy was already one of the most popular and wealthy comedians of all-time. Like, how many other comics have launched a multi-million-dollar cottage industry, with a catchphrase that embraced (and lovingly exploited) an entire lifestyle? (Sinbad didn't come up with "you might be a redneck if..." is what we're saying.)

Foxworthy's still out there — hosting game shows, starring in commercials for Golden Corral, and proposing many more methods by which a person can ascertain whether they are, or are not, a redneck. Here's a deep dig on one of Georgia's most accomplished citizens, and if you read it all the way through to the end ... you just might be a redneck.

He used to work for IBM

One might assume a man so strongly connected with redneck culture would never work for IBM, or like computers much at all. But to think so is ... kind of classist, man.

Back in the early 1980s, Foxworthy actually worked for IBM, one of the biggest early names in computing. His was a fairly blue-collar position—Foxworthy was a repair technician who worked on giant, complicated mainframe computer systems. Not altogether happy with the job, he quit in 1984, finally giving in to his friends' suggestions that he was funny enough to try comedy professionally. As it turns out, he was — to the chagrin of every comedian who's ever struggled for years to find success, Foxworthy won an amateur comedy contest at an Atlanta comedy club, almost right away. Payin' dues is for city folk!

The place that inspired his "redneck" jokes: Detroit

Foxworthy's most famous bit — and his pathway to many millions of dollars — was his "you might be a redneck" series of jokes. The format: he describes something a "redneck" might do, and informs that if you've experienced this thing, "...you might be a redneck." (For example: "If you've ever cut your grass and found a car, you might be a redneck." Fact, by the way).

But Foxworthy got the idea for his calling card far away from his Georgia home, and the South entirely: It was at a bowling alley in metropolitan Detroit. While doing a standup gig early in his career, some of the other comedians on the bill mocked Foxworthy for his Southern accent, implying that he was a dumb redneck. His retort: "If you don't think you have rednecks in Michigan, look out the window. People are valet parking at the bowling alley." Indeed: His gig was at that bowling alley, and it really did offer valet parking.

Inspired, Foxworthy says he went back to his hotel room after the show, wrote another 10 "you might be a redneck" jokes, and performed them all the next day to an appreciative audience. As for those comedians who made fun of Foxworthy for being Southern ... who cares? Foxworthy has left them in the pickup-truck dust.

He's a tremendously successful recording artist

Comedy albums don't sell as much as music albums do (and thanks to online piracy, music albums don't sell anything), but they're still big business, and a way for someone to hear their favorite comedians live, both because that comedian likely won't hit their town any time soon, and if they do, they're probably performing at a bar, and comedy shows in bars are the worst.

So, who would you guess has sold the most comedy albums ever: Dane Cook? Richard Pryor? Larry the Cable Guy, the GIT ER DUN guy who — let's be honest — stole Foxworthy's thunder? Nope, it's Jeff Foxworthy (which you should've guessed, since that's who this article is about.) Foxworthy is the grand champion of the form. He released his first standup album, You Might Be a Redneck If... in 1993. It went on to sell four million copies, making it the best-selling comedy album of all time. (He even has a greatest hits album ... of comedy bits.) By 2005, he'd sold a total of 15 million albums, enough to make him the best-selling comedy recording artist ever. Whether you like it or not, hicks simply sell more than Bill Hicks.

His self-titled sitcom inexplicably failed. Twice

If there was one overriding trend in late '80s and early '90s sitcoms, it was "build a show around a well-known and well-liked comedian." Some shows in this vein: Roseanne (starring Roseanne Barr), Seinfeld (starring Jerry Seinfeld), and Home Improvement (starring Tim Homeimprovement). Into the fold in 1995, at the peak of Foxworthy's success, came The Jeff Foxworthy Show on ABC.

Foxworthy played a guy who ran heating and air conditioning company, while a pre-Sixth Sense Haley Joel Osment played his genius son. And yet, despite hiring Foxworthy because of his success as a Southern comedian, the comedian believes the network thought his brand of comedy was, ironically and stupidly, too Southern. They tried to de-Southify The Jeff Foxworthy Show by setting it in Bloomington, Indiana, which would be like hiring Bob Ross for a Spaghetti Western because all that painting he does is just too distracting.

Unsurprisingly, warmed-over Foxworthy didn't bring in too many viewers, and the show was canceled after one season. NBC then picked it up and made some changes, such as wisely setting it in Georgia, where Foxworthy's actually from. They also added in a best friend character, played by Bill Engvall, another Blue Collar Comedy Tour crony who had his own little craze in the '90s with his "Here's your sign" thing. (Where he argued stupid people should be handed a sign that says "I'm stupid" when they did or said something stupid. It wasn't quite "you might be a redneck," but people seemed to dig it for a while.)

The changes, both on-screen and off, didn't improve its fortunes much, and The Jeff Foxworthy Show was canceled again for the second time in two years, routinely beaten in its time slot by ratings juggernaut Monday Night Football. Putting a once-failed sitcom up against the NFL? Here's your sign, NBC.

His mustache is more than 40 years old

When you think "iconic mustache," you probably think of Tom Selleck and Alex Trebek. But Foxworthy's old-fashioned 'stache demands its place with the stalwarts of upper-lip hair. This is especially true since unlike Selleck and Trebek (who have shaved their faces clean here and there over the years), Foxworthy has never kowtowed to changing styles or the demands of a role, and gotten rid of it.

Fox says he first grew it out for real during his senior year of high school—which was 1976. He's not gotten rid of it since. He met his wife in 1984, and he says "she's never seen me without it. I don't even know if there's a lip under there anymore." Maybe there's a car.

He's an environmentalist, and a generous one

Jeff Foxworthy might secretly be Captain Planet. He has invested some of his vast fortune into a vast area of land in lovely — and rural — Harris County, Georgia, just outside of Columbus. His property adds up to about 3,000 acres, and in 2012, he legally granted a "conservation easement" on a solid one-third of that land to the Chattahoochee Valley Land Trust.

An easement, by the way, means that while he still owns the land, Foxworthy has legally pledged to keep that 1,000 acres totally natural and as-is. And, because he granted the easement to that land trust, it means that the land can never be developed by anybody, even if Foxworthy one day sells it to some young upstart comedian (or anyone else). If you protect a large swath of beautiful nature against encroaching development ... you might be a redneck. But a really cool one.

He's big on faith, but not necessarily religion

Foxworthy became actively involved in the Southern Baptist church when he was a seven-year-old growing up in Georgia. While he still identifies as a Christian, he's since parted ways with the Southern Baptist faith, finding their approach to be too strict. "I love God, but I can't act and dress like that," Foxworthy has said, referring to the denomination's stringent moral and dress codes. (He's a jeans guy, through and through.)

Today, he says he's more about faith and good works than he is organized religion. "It's more important that I live it out," he argues. To whit: For years, he's led a Tuesday morning prayer group for homeless men in downtown Atlanta. Living his faith also involves hosting one of the Game Show Network's most popular shows: The American Bible Challenge. He's not lying about that name, either — if you don't know your Bible cover-to-cover, you'll quickly find yourself in deeper water than any animal that didn't make it onto the Ark.

He still writes his own material

After 30 years, Foxworthy still challenges himself to write his own material, plumbing his personal life (a long-lasting marriage and raising two daughters) for jokes. He's also written so many "redneck" jokes that even 20 years after it first became popular, the concept is still being mined for page-a-day calendars, T-shirts, greeting cards, mugs, and lots more. No Jim Davis/Garfield-esque joke mill for him! Also, if you own more than one piece of Jeff Foxworthy merchandise, you might ... well, you know.

One thing Foxworthy didn't write, however, was a widely circulated email forward titled "You May Be a Muslim If..." Stealing a lot of redneck jokes whole cloth and just replacing "redneck" with Muslim, the list first popped up in 2007 as "You Might Be a Part of the Taliban If ...." Foxworthy's brother, Jay, confirmed for rumor-debunking website Snopes that Jeff Foxworthy did not pen this lame little bit of hate speech. Foxworthy only makes fun of one kind of people, dangit, and that's rednecks!