Lot’s of us grew up with Southern comedy being represented by the likes of Jeff Foxworthy, Larry The Cable Guy, Ron White, et al. In fact, I’m pretty certain my family had every “You Might Be a Redneck” album. While Foxworthy didn’t change the definition of “redneck,” he definitely made it funny for Southerners. Rednecks might have been the butt of the joke, but everyone was in on it.
“Those Foxworthy albums probably played a massive role in me identifying as a redneck in the first place,” muses comedian Trae Crowder, a.k.a. the Liberal Redneck. “Because yes, they were ubiquitous, and I loved them just as much as everyone else did. . . . In terms of comedy, I would say they were a huge influence but in a different type of way. They had demonstrated one way you could go about being a Southern comic, and I wanted to do that but about different types of subjects.”
Trae Crowder’s “Liberal Redneck” YouTube videos went viral sometime around the 2016 election cycle. Donning his sleeveless shirt, jeans and trucker hat, he uses his comedy, platform and thick-as-molasses Tennessee accent to explain his progressive stance on issues from gun-law reform to explaining climate change with Al Gore.
Crowder also has since written a book, “The Liberal Redneck Manifesto: Draggin’ Dixie Outta the Dark” (2016), with fellow Southern comics Corey Ryan Forrester and Drew Morgan. The trio now travels the country on their WellRED Tour, which will bring them to CFCC’s Wilson Center this Saturday night.
Some might think Crowder to be a unicorn in today’s world; a blue speck in a red sea. But for many Southern folks who share his frustrations with backward policies and narrow views, he’s funny as hell.
encore spoke to Trae Crowder before he takes the Cape Fear Stage this weekend.
encore (e): You’ve been a comedian for much longer than since the viral “liberal redneck” videos, WellRED Tour, etc.—how much has your comedy or focus changed since going viral? Do you make it point now to focus your writing or process in ways you didn’t before? Please, explain.
Trae Crowder (TC): As far as standup goes, my actual process really hasn’t changed at all. Basically, I have an idea or thought that I think could work as a bit, and I make a note of it in my phone, then when I’m going to have a writing session I’ll pick out a couple premises from that list and just start expanding on it; literally talking out loud as if I was on a stage until I have something close to an actual bit. Then I try it out at a show and go from there. And that’s pretty much the way I’ve always approached it. As far as content and subject material, I’ve honestly always gravitated toward that type of material from the beginning so nothing has really changed on that front for me.
e: In what ways does your work still resonate, albeit maybe differently, with many of the same audiences as the aforementioned Southern comedians?
TC: I have to be honest here and say I don’t know. I mean there are more liberal rednecks out there, and they come to our shows, too; and I bet a lot of them are probably Foxworthy fans and fans of ours. So they love it and relate to it on every level, and they are probably our favorite type of fans because we connect so closely with them. But all the Foxworthy fans who are on the other end of the spectrum—politically, I mean—I have to say I don’t think we’re getting too many of them, honestly.
e: Something many of us struggle with these days is basic discourse. Since 2016, or even before, how many productive conversations do you feel you’ve had with folks who disagree with you?
TC: I was back home recently and talking to my buddy Colby, who’s a pretty conservative good ‘ol boy about gun laws, and he was saying something like, “I just don’t understand why I should have to give up my guns when I’m a taxpaying family man with no criminal record.” And I said, “Buddy, I don’t believe you should have to give up your guns, either, but is there not some middle ground between you and a mentally ill dude who’s on an FBI watch list?”
And he agreed with me and we had a pretty good talk about it after that. My point is I think that most people on both sides immediately imagine that whoever they’re talking to on the other side holds the most extreme viewpoint imaginable, when in reality, they probably usually don’t. I think starting there can help.
e: Comedy is an art form that allows us to make fun of ourselves, allows us to point out the absurdity and terribleness in the world in ways we’re not often able to. How do you see comedy as a way to bridge the divide where we haven’t been able to otherwise?
TC: I hate my own answer to this question, but if I’m answering honestly, I don’t really believe comedy works in that way. I don’t believe comedy changes minds very often, unfortunately. But I still think it’s very important because it allows people to laugh about things that otherwise would just upset them or bum them out. And that helps, too.
e: What are conversations like between you, Corey Forrester and Drew Morgan? How do musings among friends turn into comedy routines and works to share with audiences?
TC: Well, for starters, they’re very absurd. We’ve been friends for so long at this point that we almost have our own language, and it’s all just so, SO stupid. But to answer your second question: pretty often, actually. I’d say conversations like that are the original source of material for a lot of comics, and we’re no different.
e: Do you guys workshop your routines with each other?
TC: Oh yeah, all the time. And yeah we try to be honest with each other, but I won’t just tell Corey or Drew “That’s terrible.” It’s more like, “I gotta be honest, I didn’t really get where you were going,” or that type of thing, but yes, we critique each other all the time.
e: You spoke with Al Gore about climate change—which is more surreal: A) Having a chat with a former VP of the US and presidential candidate; or B) Addressing people who don’t believe in climate change and science?
TC: [Laughs] Well, considering I experience the “B” scenario just about every holiday at my in-laws, I’d have to say that “A” was far more surreal. Yes, Al Gore coming to my house and letting me put him in my lemon tree ranks pretty highly up there among the most surreal experiences I’ve had in the past couple years, and I’ve had a lot.
e: What are you hopeful for as we move forward with 2018’s election season and beyond?
TC: A blue wave, of course. People being and staying motivated now that we’ve all seen the consequences of staying at home “in protest” and that type of thing. And I really believe it’s going to happen too. But we’ll see.
e: Now that we’re in the age of blurred lines between celebrity and politics (or no line at all)—where do you fall, or want to fall for that matter? Will you continue to be an observer, commentator, etc., or do you see yourself entering into political roles?
TC: I’m not ruling it out entirely but it will be very far into the future, if at all. Comedy is all I’ve ever wanted to do, as long as I can remember, so I definitely intend to ride this thing til the wheels fall off. But I will remain interested and engaged politically no matter what, because that’s just how I’m wired.
e: Is there another project, whether on your own or with Corey and Drew, in the works? If so, what can you tell us?
TC: Oh yeah, we have some irons in the fire. I’ve got a solo project I’ve been trying to get off the ground for going on three years now (so it goes), and me, Corey and Drew are developing an ensemble sitcom. Then there’s a couple of other things that I’m working on at various stages, but honestly they’re all in their infancy right now. So unfortunately, I can’t go into much detail, but we’re definitely working hard on getting something made.
e: Anything else you’d like to add about your current tour, your stopover in Wilmington or work to come?
Just that all of our best shows are always in the South, hands down, and North Carolina in particular has always been great to us. Outside of that, I haven’t been to Wilmington since all this madness started, but I had a hell of a good time the last time I was there, so I cannot wait for this show. It’s gonna be great. Skeeeew.