Ron White doesn’t do “topical or political humour”, but he does do whiskey. Paul Andrew speaks to the Stateside funnyman famously known as “Tater Salad”.
When US Comedian Ron White was a kid growing up in Fritch, Texas, learning difficulties like ADHD and dyslexia weren’t being diagnosed and managed as they are today. Doctors and specialists dismissed children like White as “profoundly lazy and stupid.”
“Yes, I was very frustrated as a child,” he admits, “but I got by. I was lucky enough to be a good storyteller and could make a story about a car wreck funny. My brain just processes information differently. It functions at a high level – just not all of the time. Sometimes the synapses don’t connect.”
The subject of early childhood and brain synapses came up during the conversation as we delved the origins of White’s comedy writing some 35 years ago. White was 20 at the time and a recovering alcoholic. “I’d been in the Navy for a few years and ended up with a pretty respectable drug problem,” he admits. “When I left the Navy I went along to a drug and alcohol rehab program and got a gig touring high schools talking about my problems and about my road to recovery."
“I always found it very easy to speak in front of people, to groups – as a kid too – and I also found it really easy to talk about how I got off-centre in my life. These talks were funny for the high school students; every incident I recounted about my own life made kids all across the country belly raw. In fact my talks were so funny they asked me to leave the education program forever. I began drinking again.”
It was a close friend and colleague of White’s at a window-making business who pointed out the obvious. “My friend told me politely that there was an open-mic night each week at a local Comedy Club, The Funny Bone Comedy Club in Arlington Texas, and that I should go along. He told me my stories were much funnier than anyone he had ever seen there. So I went along, told my stories and am still telling stories almost thirty-six years and 10,000 live shows later.”
Later White “discovered” that self-medicating with pot helped his brain synapses to function better “to make connections were there were none before... Living in Southern California where pot is legalised makes this an easy remedy. It’s when you tour to the other states that it becomes a problem. Pot is a federal issue and raids happen in states where pot is still illegal. There is a serious drug problem in our country, stuff like Meth. Pot is an entirely different drug.
“Whiskey also helps. Whiskey gets the electrodes that don’t fire right to make the synapses fire. My wife Margo, a classically-trained opera singer – who has more talent in her little finger than I do in my entire body – has suggested yoga will help me too. ‘You can touch your toes can’t you Ron? Then you can do yoga,’ she advises me. I keep telling Margo the only way I can touch my toes is if someone cuts them off and hands them too me on a plate.”
You can see Ron White in action on Saturday 18 August at the Metro Theatre.
Drum (Jul 10, 2012)