Jeff Foxworthy | His Career, His Farm, and The Family That Has Kept Him Grounded
Since 1984, when he first took to a comedy stage in Atlanta, Jeff Foxworthy has hardly stopped working.
He has toured extensively—both solo and as part of the Blue Collar Comedy Tour—and his comedy albums have earned him multiple Grammy nominations and, according to his website, made him the largest-selling comedy recording artist of all time.
He’s hosted TV’s Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader and The American Bible Challenge, been a judge on this year’s Bring the Funny, starred in his own sitcom, appeared in or provided voices for a number of movies, and has his own comedy channel on satellite radio. Last year, he created Relative Insanity, a best-selling card game based on his comedy.
Oh, and he’s written more than 25 books and created, by his count, more than 8,000 “You might be a redneck if …” jokes.
But Foxworthy, now 61, is much more at home on his 3,000-acre farm in west central Georgia than jet-setting around the country. “Seinfeld and Leno and all of them buy Porsches and exotic cars, and I bought a farm and tractors,” Foxworthy says. “I made more money than I ever thought I’d make in my life, and on the days I’m not working, I’ve got on jeans, boots, and a T-shirt, and I’m on a bulldozer or a tractor, and I’m happy as a pig.”
Foxworthy found that happy place early on in life, hunting and fishing with his father and grandfather while growing up just outside of Atlanta in Hapeville, Georgia. “My granddaddy was a fireman, and when he wasn’t working, he was fishing,” Foxworthy recalls. “He always took me with him, so that made me love the outdoors. And my dad had grown up on a farm, and before my mom and dad divorced, when I was 5 or 6, he was taking me squirrel hunting and dove hunting and quail hunting. … My dad bought back the farm he grew up on when I was about 10 or 11, and that’s kind of where I got introduced to deer hunting. I could still take you to the place I saw the first deer track I ever saw in my life.”
Similarly, Foxworthy can still recall the moment that launched his comedy career into the stratosphere. At the urging of some co-workers at IBM, he had entered and won the Great Southeastern Laugh-Off at the Punchline in Atlanta, and he was touring the country with his folksy, observational humor. “I always wore jeans and boots, and I drove a truck, and people would always say, good-naturedly, ‘Foxworthy, you’re nothing but a redneck from Georgia,’” he recalls.
One night in 1986 at a club outside of Detroit, Foxworthy was getting kidded about his redneck ways. “The club we were playing in was attached to a bowling alley that had valet parking, and I said, ‘Listen, y’all don’t think you have rednecks in Michigan, but come look out the window—people are valet parking at the bowling alley,’” he says. “I went back to the hotel that night and I thought, ‘Heck, I know what I am, but apparently a lot of people don’t know what they are.’ I wrote 10 ways to tell you might be a redneck, and I went back to the club the next night, and I did them. Not only were people laughing, they were pointing at each other. I thought, ‘Heck, there’s something here.’”
There definitely was something there. Those 10 jokes became 50, and then 300, and they were followed by best-selling calendars, albums, and books. Foxworthy’s redneck humor ran the gamut from hunting (“You might be a redneck if you’ve ever been involved in a custody fight over a hunting dog”) to religion (“… if you’ve ever made change in the offering plate”) to home décor (“… if you own a home with wheels on it and several cars without”). The jokes—along with Foxworthy’s more observational stand-up—became one of the centerpieces of the Blue Collar Comedy Tour, which also featured Bill Engvall, Ron White, and Larry the Cable Guy. And whether the audience was in Alabama or Minnesota, people laughed at them.
“What I found traveling the country was that if you get 20 or 30 minutes outside of any city, people are the same,” Foxworthy says. “The accents change, and the scenery changes, but we’ve got rednecks wall-to-wall in this country. That’s why I think it worked so well.”
Foxworthy defines redneck as “having a glorious absence of sophistication” and says that has nothing to do with socio-economic status. “You think if you gave rednecks a million dollars, they wouldn’t be rednecks anymore, but all they would do is buy bigger trucks and nicer boats and go to every NASCAR race,” he says. “Lord, Elvis had a billion dollars, and he was putting carpet on the ceiling and shooting at the TV, so it didn’t have anything to do with money. It was just kind of a mindset.”
And that mindset, Foxworthy found, was one of pride of belonging rather than taking offense at a comedian’s jokes. “I’ve had people bring the books for me to sign, and they’ve had check-marks by ones they’ve done, like a scoring system or something,” the comedian says. “I think the reason was I wasn’t laughing at somebody. I was laughing with them, because half of the dang jokes I’ve ever written were about my family and friends.”
At the center of that family is Foxworthy’s wife, Gregg, whom he met at the Punchline in Atlanta the same night he made his comedy debut. “That was a pretty good night,” he says. “I won the contest, and I won the girl the same night, so that was pretty cool.”
They’ve been married 34 years and have two daughters, Jordan and Jules, whom they raised in Atlanta shortly after the end of The Jeff Foxworthy Show. “That was about the time we started having kids, and I just wanted my kids to grow up around their family, so we moved back here in ’97 and kind of never looked back,” he says. “I had people in LA going, ‘You’re killing your career by moving back to Georgia,’ but apparently they were wrong because I’m still getting away with it.”
The career never slowed down, but Foxworthy made sure that he was around for his family. “When they were growing up, I rented a plane to get to my gigs, and I’d come home every night, no matter where I was, and get up and take them to school,” he says. “Then I’d get back on a plane, fly to the next city and do another show. The result was it gave me 100 more days a year with my kids, and now that they’re grown, we have a fabulous relationship.”
For Foxworthy, life is all about family. In addition to the farm, he and Pamela have a home in Alpharetta, an Atlanta suburb, next door to Foxworthy’s brother and not far from his mother, mother-in-law, and two daughters, all of whom live nearby.
Everyone will gather at the Foxworthy farm for Thanksgiving. “We’ll have 30 to 35 people there,” Foxworthy says. “I’m just a big family guy, and the fun thing for me is we started doing this when nobody had kids. And then we had kids—and now the kids are grown— and they all still come. That’s one thing I’ve loved about the farm, is it’s always served as a special place for my family and my extended family. There are just a lot of fabulous memories there.”
Life On The Farm
Foxworthy has had the farm, which he calls Beloved, for about 20 years. There, he helps tend to about 400 planted acres, hunts, and, mostly, relaxes. “I always feel like that when I drive through the gate, I go from being Jeff Foxworthy to just Jeff,” he says. “I get there, and my farm manager, Glenn Garner, gives me my marching orders for the day. He’s like, ‘Well, I need you to go plow this, this, and this,’ and I’m like, ‘Alright.’ So I work for him once I get on the farm.”
Foxworthy has hunted all over the country, but he does most of it right at home, on the grounds of Beloved. For about 15 years, he has stuck mostly to bowhunting and bowfishing. “One of the perks of people knowing who you are was I got to do a lot of the hunting shows and got to go all over the country,” Foxworthy says. “I shot a lot of cool stuff, but it was kind of like, once I had done that, I thought, ‘Alright. I want to take it to the next level. I want to do it the hard way.’”
“I kind of knew that I was going to be missing some good opportunities, because you go from a gun that could shoot 400 yards down to a bow,” he adds. “But the first time I ever shot a deer with a bow, I sat there and shook like I did when I was 15, and I said, ‘This is how I want to feel.’ Once I got into it, I just kind of never looked back.”
Foxworthy is hard-pressed to single out a favorite hunting memory, but a 2017 hunt for moose in Alaska ranks right up there. “Being on the ground with a stick and a string and hunting something that’s 7 feet tall at the shoulder and weighs 2,000 pounds, only my laundry man knew for sure how excited I was on that little ride,” Foxworthy says with a laugh.
But most of his hunting memories, he says, have nothing to do with the hunt itself. “It’s not so much where I’m hunting or what I’m hunting, it’s who I’m hunting with,” Foxworthy says. “I’ve had the same group of friends for forever. We get together every fall. This is probably our 25th year of doing it. We’ll cook out and sit there and tell the same old stories and laugh at them. … I’d pass up going somewhere exotic just to hang out with them. It’s such a great escape. It’s kind of that thing that keeps you grounded, I think.”
That grounding has served Foxworthy well, even though he’s still a superstar in the comedy world, continuing to tour extensively and sell out comedy venues around the country. “I never took the celebrity thing seriously, and I so appreciate the gift that God gave me,” Foxworthy says. “I love the fact that I get to make a living making people laugh. That’s just a cool, cool thing. So I’ve tried to never take that for granted, and I’ve tried to never take success for granted.”
When he’s not performing, Foxworthy lives what he says is a “relatively normal” life, working on the farm, conducting a weekly Bible study for the homeless and, recently, getting more into painting, mostly outdoor scenes. “I’ve always been artistic, and that’s probably what I would’ve done if I hadn’t become a comedian,” he says. “If this comedy thing doesn’t work out, we can still try that.”
You Might Be A Redneck If…
you’ve ever written your resume on a cocktail napkin.
your wife’s job requires her to wear an orange vest.
the biggest sign on your place of business says “Minnows”.
you list “beginner’s luck” as a skill on a job application.
you spend 40 hours a week at Wal-Mart, but don’t there.
you were baptized on a boat ramp.
you’ve ever missed work because of chigger bites.
you’ve ever been paid in tomatoes.
your lifetime goal is to own your own fireworks stand.
you think the stock market has a fence around it.
you think you are an entrepreneur because of the “Dirt for Sale” sign in the front yard. work
you’ve ever financed a tattoo
you’ve ever been involved in a custody fight over a hunting dog
you’ve ever spray-painted your girlfriend’s name on an overpass
you ever got too drunk to fish, you might be a redneck.