You’re right if you think Jeff Foxworthy is funny. But there’s a lot more to the number one selling comedian of all time than funny lines and redneck jokes. He is as down-to-earth as Georgia’s red clay and as solid as Stone Mountain– a loving husband and devoted father.
Describing a conversation with Jeff Foxworthy as fun is like saying going to church is religious. A church reader board said, “If Jesus is in your heart, please notify your face.” Many think Christianity is only about rules and to-don’t-lists. But there is no one better to challenge the notion than Atlanta’s native son and favorite funnyman talks seriously about faith and family.
Jeff’s love for Gregg, his wife of more than 17 years, and their two daughters was immediately evident. He talked about them often, and his genuine love for them was not only openly shared but refreshing.
“I tell guys a couple of things. Every time you are in a Hallmark store, go in and load up and keep a drawer full of cards. In seventeen years of marriage I’ve told my wife I love her at least five times a day. I have told her every day of her life that we’ve been together that she is the prettiest girl in the world. You get out of relationships what you put into them, and when you make people feel loved, that’s the way they respond.”
And oh how Jeff also loves being a father. “It’s not quality time, it’s the amount of time.” He grew up in the midst of divorced parents and saw how each parent worked at quality time versus the quantity of time. His dad was there on weekends and for visits. But memories of how his mom woke him up each day and washed clothes and dishes shaped Foxworthy as a father. “I’ve just made that decision. I’m driving my kids to school everyday. I’m going to pick them up every day. I read to them every night, Gregg and I alternate who reads to whom. And because of that they trust me and tell me about things in their life.”
As Jeff’s story unfolds, it is evident he grew up like many people in the south. He attended Sunday school, worship and Wednesday night prayer service. But it wasn’t until much later that the now famous comedy and television star realized how important church was to shaping his character.
“It used to bug me how the Bible says that we are supposed to love our wives like Christ loved the church,” he said with a serious expression that belied his vocation and set up the humor he couldn’t contain. “Some of the things I’ve seen in the church, I couldn’t imagine Christ loving us that way!” he concluded with a rye smile.
One quickly concludes that no one understands the great commission (Matthew 28) better than Foxworthy. Christ didn’t commission people to come into the church, but to go out into the world. Jeff is committed to the being the church everywhere he goes.
“It wasn’t until the last few years that I realized, this church is not this building. The thing that Christ loves is the body of believers- WE are His church. I am the church. You are the church. And, we are one rock in it,” Foxworthy surmises. “Sometimes for me church happens in the back of J.R.’s barbecue with a group of Christian brothers.” It makes you wish that you could sit-in one morning.
Jeff talks fondly about his mother’s legacy and how she once touched him so deeply that it brought him to tears. The occasion was Jeff’s mother’s sixty-sixth birthday.
He and his wife Gregg were sitting at his mother kitchen table when she decided to have a more serious discussion. She had typed a letter describing what she wanted to happen when she died, and she gave it to Jeff. Tough discussion, but one that his mom intended on having that day. “Go on and read it.” She said.
Jeff emotionally remembered, “In the last paragraph she talked about how her greatest joy on earth has been her kids.” The last sentence is one he said that he would remember forever. “I’ll see you when you arrive,” the mother wrote.
He still recalls his mother’s certainty of heaven and the joy that it brought to him that day. “What assuredness!” he said proudly. Of all the things his mom gave him, it was her faith for which Jeff is clearly most grateful. “She never wavered in her faith.”
How he started in comedy is funny, no pun intended. He grew up in a blue-collar family expecting to go to work. After attending Georgia Tech for three years, Jeff followed in his dad’s footsteps and went to work for IBM. He’d been at IBM for five years when a group of buddies dared him to go on stage at the “Punch Line” in Sandy Springs on amateur night. Jeff took the dare. As they say, the “rest is history”.
Television talk shows abound featuring people from dysfunctional upbringings lined up to share sad stories of how they cannot overcome their past. Part of Jeff’s success comes from realizing that one might as well make fun of an imperfect family, because the bottom line is that everyone has one. “I think I had a happy childhood, but looking back I would not call it normal.” Jeff’s parents were divorced when he was nine. His dad was married six times.
The new comedian’s only preparation was going in for a week and watching other novice comedians do their show. “After that I went back and wrote about my family.”
His routine was a hit. That was all it took, Jeff was hooked and knew that if he was going to attempt becoming a comedian that was the time before he had a family and settled down.
“I quit my job and my parents thought I was crazy.” My mom was like, “Are you on drugs, we can get you help.” “No, I’m not on drugs, I just want to be a comedian!” Five years later he appeared on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson. By then his mom wondered what took him so long in launching his career.
One of Foxworthy’s best-known features is the ever famous “You might be a redneck if…” jokes. That started as a result of his quite genuine southern accent. Hollywood and New York executives would consistently advise him to take voice lessons to lose that memorable accent.
But Jeff, proud of his southern heritage, was determined to hang on to that famous drawl. He added to that his jeans, cowboy boots, and pick up truck and soon it became an image that seemed to work. “Jeff, you’re just a good ole’ redneck from Georgia” people would say. In response to the comments, he then wrote Ten Ways To Tell If You Are A Redneck. It has been a hit that has lasted for years.
Success led to a move to Hollywood that would allow the production of “The Jeff Foxworthy Show”, a dream come true for most. Jeff quickly learned that his flexible lifestyle that allowed for family time was not the typical day for a Hollywood television star.
Long hours and flights to meet with affiliates took its toll, and the people he was working with didn’t have the good ole’ boy mentality that made business fun. A sad reality was to see first hand that many of the people he met were not near as happy as the roles they played.
“Hollywood is full of empty people. I’ve met many of them, and they don’t really look like the magazine covers,” he laments. “It’s all make up and lights.”
Asked what advice he would share if the world were listening to him teach them to laugh more, Foxworthy responded unhesitatingly, “Don’t take yourself so serious! Some day we will look back and see so many things that were just not important. The reason I’ve been successful is because I basically hold up a mirror and make people laugh at themselves. I make fun of things we all do. When I joke about people putting sea shells on the back of their toilet, people laugh because if they have not done it themselves, they know someone who has.”
All Christians hope to live God’s call for their life. In most churches when this is the sermon topic people show up with pen and pad ready for marching orders. The Purpose Driven Life is a best seller. Jeff Foxworthy is in the enviable position to be doing exactly what he feels “called to do”. Jeff took the plunge and walked away from a somewhat predictable career with IBM and did what he wanted to do. If he had stopped to consider that there were six thousand people trying to become a stand up comic at the same time, he might have considered that the odds were not very good. But God has used him in incredible ways since then.
When asked why so many people are confused about this issue, the comedian again turned serious. “Most people are miserable. A lot of people get in a car and drive to a job they hate. You have to love what you do, and if you are only doing it for the money, then money is all you are going to get and you will be miserable.”
“I think that is why so many people are unhappy. They are not passionate about their jobs, their relationships, their family, or even other people. When I was a kid I used to hear about that peace that surpasses understanding, but I never understood. Now I understand, I have love and therefore I have peace. Love each other, when you do that it creates passion.”
Jeff also believes that to have passion you have to slow down. “Be still and know that I am God.” You have to give yourself time to know. “All God wants from us is to hear from us and for us to hear from Him.”
At this time of New Years Resolutions, we just may hope and pray for definitive direction from God. Self help books tell us that achieving long and short-term goals lead to happiness. But for those who follow God, faith requires that we trust in the unknown! Foxworthy advised, “Don’t be married to the outcome. If you’ve been told to walk, you don’t need to see what is over the hill. You just walk till he tells you to quit walking and then go somewhere else. That is faith, letting go of the outcome.”
Contrary to conventional wisdom, Christians must trust God in order to learn that He is trustworthy. So, it makes sense to heed the counsel of a highly successful Christian man who walks the walk and talks the talk. Let this year be the year that the joy of the Lord becomes your strength. Laugh with your family, give praise to God, when all else fails, just smile and see what happens to those around you. I guarantee they will smile back.