Comedian Ron “Tater Salad” White is bringing his humor, cigar, and tequila back for the fifth time to the Embassy Theatre on Sept. 13.
White’s comedy career started in 1986 when a comedy club opened nearby White’s workplace. After a coworker visited the club one night after work, he approached White about performing there.
“He said, ‘Ron, you’re funnier than these guys. You should go do that,’” White said in an interview with Whatzup.
That was 33 years ago, and White has been performing stand-up comedy ever since.
Learning from the preacher
In that time, he’s performed more than 20,000 shows, sold 12 million albums, been nominated for three Grammy awards, acted in various films, written a book, and now, has a Netflix special.
“The name of my Netflix special was, If You Quit Listening, I’ll Shut Up,” White said. “Well, nobody quit listening, so I just didn’t shut up.”
White’s uncle, a Baptist preacher, whom he lived with for part of his childhood, was his biggest influencer. As a young kid, he loved to go to church and listen to his uncle preach. White said he just sat out there watching a great orator and learning rhythm and timing.
“When we moved away, we got another preacher,” White said. “He was a little dry and not much fun to watch, and I probably unlearned some things watching him.”
The first time White walked on stage, however, he already knew how to deliver his material, merely from watching his uncle preach.
According to White, something has to happen to make someone famous, and for him, it was a comedy album.
“It’s very rare these days to get famous off of that,” White said. “I got famous off of 18 minutes of material, which is absolutely the best thing that could happen, because then you have a whole show to tour with that no one’s ever seen.”
Generous Advice from Foxworthy
White has always stayed ahead of the writing. He doesn’t spit out specials very often, as it takes him about three and a half years to write one that satisfies him.
“I’ve worked really, really hard at this for a long time,” White said. “I also got lucky with the Blue Collar Comedy Tour. That propelled me. I have no idea where I’d be without it.”
Comedian Jeff Foxworthy was the headliner in the club of the first open mic night White ever performed, and he saw White’s entire first set.
“He came up to me afterward and said, ‘Hey, you’re really funny, but you need to put the punchline at the end of the joke,’” White said. “Foxworthy is generous to a fault.”
White recalled Foxworthy sitting down with him, a brand new comedian who’d done stand-up one time, and assisting in writing out his four jokes that night.
“You can’t teach somebody how to be funny, but people can learn structure and writing, and it was amazing that he did that,” White said. “Some days I wish I was more like him.”
The challenge in the comedy business is to stay sharp and stay relevant, according to White. In order to continue progressing as an artist, he’s on stage almost every night, even if it’s improv in one of his current residences of Los Angeles.
Each of his shows are different, to an extent. Right now, about half of his material is content from his Netflix special, and the other half is new content he’s written since then.
“I try to do the best hour and 15 minutes I’ve got,” White said. “It changes week to week, but only a couple jokes at a time.”
Cigar and drink
Despite switching up jokes, White stays true to one key element — his iconic cigar in one hand and drink in the other. White’s fans may have noticed a change in his drink of choice about six years ago.
The initial change was due to an extraordinary tequila he found, which later led to him owning his tequila company, Number Juan Tequila.
“What I’m drinking right now, the Extra Anejo, is the best drink of liquor I’ve ever had,” White said.
At the current stage of his comedy career, White feels that he’s at a rebuilding point.
“My new stuff is some of the funniest stuff I’ve ever written,” White said. “I was starting to lose confidence, but all of a sudden I just had a big ole spree. The old man’s still got it!”
One of White’s proudest moments was being made an honorary member of Harvard Lampoon, an undergraduate humor publication. He was voted in by about 50 current students, and was invited to attend a big party in a “very secret” building.
“It was a big honor,” White said. “It was really their parents who turned them on to my comedy, which is just flat bad parenting, but I can’t hold it against them.”
the pure joy of stand-up
Doing stand-up is pure joy for White. He loves walking on stage and feeling the love the audience has for him.
“My fans are true fans and they love what I do,” White said. “That’s humbling to have them just go crazy when they see you.”
According to White, that’s why it’s really hard when it’s over.
“When it’s over, it’s over,” White said. “They just go home, and you’re left to figure out what to do with your head.”
As long as White’s still drawing big crowds, he’ll continue to perform. White feels that comedy is in great shape and that there’s room for everyone right now.
In regard to his upcoming Fort Wayne show, White said, “If you promise not to bring your children to my show, I promise not to come to your house and cuss.”