by Clint Burgess & r & A drunken crowd, a Radio Shack microphone and not getting paid isn't exactly the kind of stand-up gig that drives a comic toward the big time. In Jeff Foxworthy's case, it also wasn't the kind of setting that drove him to the top of the stand-up comedy heap.

"You know, no one ever thinks they're going to be a star," says Foxworthy from his home in Atlanta. "You just do what you do because you love doing it."

The jokes gathered over 20 years of his not-always glamorous career will fill the McCarthey Athletic Center on the Gonzaga campus Friday night, when Foxworthy's Blue Collar Comedy Tour hits our neck of the woods.

Success in stand-up isn't a sure thing. "It's kind of like a high-wire act," says Foxworthy from his home in Atlanta. "If it goes bad, it's gonna go bad in a bad way."

And there's no one else to blame up on the stage; it's just you and your material.

Foxworthy is most noted for his redneck comedy, but he has other redeeming qualities that have helped him maintain a long and illustrious career. His current TV show, Blue Collar TV, is a hit with viewers and allows him the freedom he craves as a comedian.

"This is a side of comedy that I don't get to do as a stand-up," he says. The payoff on the Blue Collar material is the interaction between Foxworthy and fellow comics Bill Engvall, Ron White and Larry the Cable Guy. "People rarely get to see comics laugh. On the show and on the road, we have the opportunity to laugh at each other."

As Foxworthy puts it, he and his colleagues are "winning the war on maturity."

Maybe it's a little outrageous to see grown men doing the things the Blue Collar boys are doing, but it strikes a chord -- millions tune in to their antics.

"We're doing the TV show in three-hour blocks at this big theater with, like, 1,500 people there, and there's all this energy," says Foxworthy. That energy translates into some off-the-cuff impromptu riffing that lands the cast and audience in full-on, bust-a-gut laughter.

This kind of freedom has come to Foxworthy after hoeing a very long row, indeed. He got his start when friends bet him to enter a company talent contest -- and he won. So he left his job as an IBM computer repairman for the glamorous life of a stand-up comedian. Cheap hotels, stinky nightclubs and 500 shows a year for eight years have given Foxworthy a perspective on his career and his life.

"Life is pretty full, but it's good," he explains. "Even after 20 years, I still love stand-up -- the thrill of the airport has kind of lost something, but being on stage is still as much fun as it ever was."

There would have to be some allure to a career that has spanned two decades and included more redneck references than even Foxworthy cares to count. (The "Redneck Joke of the Day" on his Web site on Tuesday: "You might be a redneck if your Christmas ornaments are made out of spent shotgun shells.")

While he may have plenty of frequent flyer miles, Foxworthy is very grounded. His work, no matter how outrageous, he says, is a way for him to connect with people and to connect people with each other. "The thing I found early on with the redneck jokes is that it wasn't the weird ones that people thought were the best -- things like having your working TV on top of your old TV. That doesn't work anymore. The more true they were, the better they were."

Foxworthy says he helps people find the humor in themselves -- that they might be a little out there, which is just fine. It's funny because it's true. Who knew laughing at ourselves would turn into such a phenomenon? Not Foxworthy.

"I remember thinking I'd do this for, like, two years and then go and beg for my job back," laughs Foxworthy, who adds he's never run out of material yet. "It has become the bottomless pit," he says. "I mean, I wish I could say I knew how successful it was going to be."

Jeff Foxworthy brings his comedy to Gonzaga's McCarthey Athletic Center, 701 E. Lower Kennedy Dr., on Friday, Oct. 21, at 8 pm. Tickets: $44.50-$49.50; $25, students. Call 325-SEAT.

American Original: The Life and Work of John James Audubon @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

Tuesdays-Sundays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Continues through Sept. 19
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