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Catching up with Ron White, who has two sold-out shows at Cobb Energy

By RODNEY HO/, originally filed Saturday, March 28, 2015

Ron White is a stand-up comic who embraces who he is without compromise, a man who makes you feel cooler by just being in the same room as him. If he were born 40 years earlier, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin would have been his drinkin' buddies.

And his metro Atlanta fan base loves the 58-year-old part-time Suwanee resident in all his scotch swilling, cigar chompin' glory. He sold out two shows at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre March 28 weeks in advance. He had no need to do any advance promotion - but was nice enough to talk to me anyway.

My 2013 interview with White after I visited his Suwanee home.

My fall 2013 interview before a fundraiser he did at Buckhead Theatre.

He could have easily booked a third (and even a fourth) show at Cobb and sold plenty more tickets, but  he doesn't want to over-saturate the city.  "It's such an important market to me," he said in an interview earlier this month. "It's where I live. I really like to have a good show."

White typically comes to Atlanta every two years with a largely fresh show. "I let myself ripen on the vine," he said. Over time, he gradually drops older jokes and replaces them with new ones. "If I tried to a create a brand new show from scratch, it would suck for a year," he said.

White spends most of his time in L.A., where his wife and professional singer Margo Rey prefers to reside. But when he's in metro Atlanta, he regularly stops by local comic clubs like the Improv, Laughing Skull and the soon-to-be-closed Punchline to test fresh jokes.  "Not everybody knows me when I show up," he said. "It's fun for me."

Open mics, to him, is a quality control test to ensure material he uses for paying customers is worthy.

He said he will likely be in Atlanta for much of April because the spring time is great for golf. "Wherever the weather is best, I go," he said.

Margo, his lovely wife, recently battled breast cancer. Fortunately, he said, she is in remission and back to fighting form. He helps run her record company, which also releases his comedy DVDs. In this day and age, he said, owning your own material is crucial. He also recently began offering "VIP" experience packages for rabid fans at concerts.

VIP ticket holders get to meet him afterwards, take pictures with him, ask him questions. "You get seats in the first four rows," he said. Depending on the package, "you get a flask with my name on it, a DVD, a T-shirt. It's a way to get my huge fans something for their money." It also gives him and other artists pursuing similar ventures a new revenue stream since DVD sales don't generate much cash anymore.

VIP tickets often cost around $150 each, triple that of a regular ticket. "A lot of people have a bucket list," he said. "Some people have meeting me on that bucket list. When I first heard about this idea, I thought nobody would bother. But they do! They usually sell out fast."

And for him, "I enjoy my fans. They just want to love on me. Why not let them do it?"

White isn't a Luddite either. He is a Twitter man who will throw out occasional jokes that might have otherwise gone in the trash:

White recently taped his annual "Salute to the Troops" comedy charity concert, which will air at a later date on CMT. (Proceeds go to the Armed Forces Foundation.)

He invited his friends, including Kathleen Madigan, former Atlantan Finesse Mitchell , and a young up-and-coming comic he met at an open mic in New York Shane Torres .

"I do it because we're still at war," he said. "Kids are still getting f***** blown up. We need to take care of them."

He also owns a tequila company - Number Juan Tequila. That might seem odd on the surface, but he grew up in Texas and lived in Mexico for a time. "It took us three years to convince the family [in Mexico] to let us be their U.S. presence," he said. Although he is still a Scotch man, good quality tequila is part of his drinking menu as well.

"This is not the stuff you puke through your nose when you were 18," White said. "We let our plants grow eight years before we harvest them. Then they sit in a bourbon barrel for three, four years. It's clean. You don't get much of a hangover unless you're really stupid."

Naturally, White is thrilled that the trade embargo on Cuba is being lifted. "You can get Cubans now," he said. "I'm getting a hold of some really great smokes!"

He said he can't wait to visit Cuba with his wife. "Margo would love to sing salsa with some of the bands," he said.

And while no longer tours with Jeff Foxworthy, who is far cleaner than White, he has nothing but good things to say about his Blue Collar buddy, who is bringing back "Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?" on Fox this summer.

"I wouldn't be where I am without him," White said. "I owe my career to him. He's a stand-up guy, a great parent and great husband. And one of the most prolific comic writers I've ever seen."

White can't picture himself doing game shows like Foxworthy. "He can do a show in a saloon or a church and get the same response. If I do a show in a church, I wouldn't get the same response. Jeff does something that is very rare. I'm not on that level."

Showtime, the pay cable network, just shot a pilot featuring White focused on roadies and written and directed by "Almost Famous" and "Say Anything" creator Cameron Crowe. White plays the road manager. "There's a reason they picked me instead of a real actor," he said.

For now, "we're just waiting to hear what happens. Cameron Crowe is a genius. When I stand next to him, I feel like a blathering idiot!"

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About the Author

Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.