May 22, 2011

Q&A With Ron White

Ron White, 54, was part of the Blue Collar Comedy Tour 2000-'03, which grossed more than $15 million. White loves to smoke cigars, drink scotch and play golf.

What's your first memory of golf?

When I was about 12 years old back in Houston, my Dad used to take us to the driving range. He was a wonderful golfer and a good athlete and we played golf at this refinery where he worked. They had a 9-hole course that was just awful, but I didn't know it was awful. It was the only golf course I had ever played. They'd drop me off with my buddies and we would play golf all day with balata balls that had big smiles in 'em. I didn't play a ball without a cut in it for years.

Did you stay with the game, or did you go away from it for a while?

I never really left it. There have been times when I played more than others, but I've been a road comic for a quarter of a century, so I've always played golf on the road because you have a lot of time to kill. You work 45 minutes a day, so you're looking for something to do. Golf fits in great. And usually, when I didn't have any money, I could trade golf for tickets to see my show. We still do that.

Is there a subculture of golfers within the world of comics?

Yes, absolutely. In the entertainment industry in general. They have the same problem as I do. We have a lot of time to kill. In my camp, we usually tour on a bus. I'll do a show at night, and I'll walk off stage, get on my bus, hang my suit up, make a drink, plug in a movie; my road manager has been my best friend since I was 6 years old, so he schmoozes the golf and gets it set up for the next town. So we drive all night, I usually wake up in the parking lot of a golf course every day I'm on the road. There are no cabs, no hotels, it's like I was FedExed straight to the course. Crawl out of the box and boom, here we are.

You just told me you had one of the best rounds of your life today. Why?

I've been working with Don Parsons from Santa Barbara who teaches a pretty simple V-shape move. Hands never get higher than the shoulders, great for a guy my age, but still powerful. So I've been working with him, trying to get ready for the Hope. I came out to Palm Springs on Tuesday, they have a five-star pro-am, which is for the people who pay the big money, and I played awful. I was so disappointed. My back was very tight and I wasn't turning on the ball. The next morning my wife came in, and she's a yoga master, and she stretched me a little bit and I played a little better. Then I had a Thai massage guy come in and he really stretched me hard. Then I was much better. He came in the next day, stretched me again, and I put a Demorol patch on my back, and I played like a 9 year old. I could coil up and let it go. I don't know what I'll feel like in a few days, but it was worth it.

Who sits around and writes the kind of jokes we hear on a golf course?

As in joke jokes? I don't know where most of them come from. Everybody I know is a joke writer. If their goal was to write that kind of material, which is the kind of stuff that comedians used to do, go up on stage and tell jokes: "Two guys walk into a bar ..." You can't get away with that anymore. I don't know who still gets away with it. Maybe guys in the Poconos, I don't know. But you can't do standup like that anymore. You have to talk about yourself, what's going on with your perspective on life; I don't know who writes those jokes.

How much time do you spend working on new material? And do you have people you work with and write with who are on your level?

All of my comedian friends are some of the best joke writers in the world. Robert Hawkins, David Attell, Lewis Black, Kathleen Madigan, Robin Williams; Jeff Foxworthy is an amazing joke writer. If you get stuck, and you're trying to write something, you call Jeff and he'll get you out of it. He's a prolific writer.

I believe everything creative is somewhat collaborative. If you're a painter and someone stretches your canvas, it was collaborative on some level. Ultimately I'm the writer for me, but also anytime one of my friends gets stuck with a bit, they can call me and I'm pretty good at helping them get there. I think we all work together on some level, but for the most part, we're on our own.

That's like golf. If I'm stuck with my swing I can turn to one of my golf buddies to help me out.

Absolutely. David Duval helped me out yesterday. I really played good early and then I got quick in the middle of the round. My only swing thought was, Don't get quick. And of course, I got quick. I started spraying everything. David said, "Do a little countdown before you swing. Go: four, three, two, one, back and through." Just to slow it down and to take my mind off it a little bit. And then, at the end of the round, I made some great pars coming in. And then I had that same swing thought all day today. If it goes sideways on you you've got to do something.

So tell me more about playing with David Duval. He shot 59 in the final round to win the 2002 Bob Hope and he was a former No. 1 in the world. How would you evaluate his game?

He hit the ball beautifully all day long. He was long, long off the tee. Our other playing partner was Greg Maddux, who's a zero handicap, athlete, who hits the ball a ton, and Duval was past him playing from the back tees. Duval had some big ol' guns on him, and such a limber waistline, and he makes this beautiful move on the ball, and then hits it high and accurate and far; he shot 68 and didn't make a putt all day. He hit almost every par 5 in two and then he'd two-putt. Every once in a while he'd hit one to a foot; he'd make those putts, but he lipped 'em out all day.

I played with Justin Leonard today and we started on the back nine at PGA West's Nicklaus course, and he shot 30 with 10 putts. 10 putts! The only time he was in trouble, he hit the ball in a bunker that was above the green, and he holed out from up there. Six birdies in a row. I've never seen anybody hit irons like he does. Shot after shot. He's not long off the tee, but longer if he wants to be. He's all about numbers. He tries to get to a number he can play from and then he plays from it.

Did you get a sense of what the number was that he wanted to play from?

No. I actually ran over his golf ball in the middle of the round. He had to call over a rules official. [Laughs.]

That's funny.

He didn't think it was.

What happened was, there was an exit off the fairway that I was going to go through. Justin was in a bunker off the tee and had hit it to 70-yards out, and he was in the rough on a par 4. I had hooked my ball and it was up in the rough by the trees, and I was about to go out the exit and then park on the cart path and walk down to it. A marshal pointed at Justin's ball and I thought he was telling me to go that way to get to my ball. So I ran over it; didn't know I had hit it. Justin came over, took a drop, which gave him nothing better. It settled back down into the rough. He hits it from there to a foot and made the putt, makes par. He was hitting it like that all day with his irons.

Did he give you a hard time about hitting his ball?

Not really. He was pretty encouraging all day. He would say, "Nice shot," every once and a while. Not quite as engaging as Duval was, but a nice guy, trying to get his work done. That's got to be weird for those guys. Playing with us. It moves slow out there. I asked David if it moves slower on an amateur week. He said no, because amateurs pick up. He said until they start putting the pros on a clock and penalizing them a stroke, it will never get better.

Can you imagine working with an amateur on stage? A guy getting up with you and you'd alternate telling jokes?

No, I can't. I admire their patience. And Leonard was patient all day long. I seemed to be in the wrong spot most of the time. I don't play in pro-ams very often. I just try to stay out of their way, but I really want to play, and I want to do well.

Who inspired you to be a comedian?

I was influenced by a lot of comedians. I was a huge fan of comedy when I was a child. I really understood a lot more about comedy after listening to Bill Hicks, who died at 32 years old. He's probably the best comedian who ever lived. Although you can't say that because of Carlin, Cosby and Prior.

There are two kinds of comics, there are the ones who build bridges, and then there are the people who walk across the bridges as though they built them. The bridge builders are few and far between.

Pat Paulsen built a bridge that Steven Wright walked across with straight-up deadpan comedy. Steve Martin was so unbelievably original; he built a bridge that nobody could walk across because it was a parody of comedy. I just loved that when I was younger. I had Let's Get Small on record, 8-track tape, cassette, and then on CD.

Sam Kinison taught us that you could really make a crowd genuinely hate you and still make 'em laugh, and that's very important. Very important. Doug Stanhope will take you down a dark twisted road that has wonderful punch lines if you don't mind getting a little dirty. I love watching Doug work.

Would you say you're a bridge builder, or do you walk across a bridge?

I'm a walker. The only thing that's good about me is that I'm true to my nature. I talk about myself, so, there's no chance that you're going to come up with similar bit that's my life. But I don't think that's a terribly original concept. Not many people do it, but still, I don't think it's an original concept.

Where's a good place to watch live comedy?

I did a show the other night at the Improv in Los Angeles. They have amazing shows every night. This show had me, Daniel Tosh, Louis Black and Kathleen Madigan.

Care to share one swing key for young comedians?

Here's the key to the whole thing: be true to your nature. You can't see something else and go, "I should be like that." You have to be like you. And it's going to go as far as it goes. That's the only common denominator between all successful comedians. Foxworthy doesn't cuss in real life and he doesn't cuss in his show. Foxworthy and Cosby could do their shows in a church or a saloon and get the same response. Richard Pryor talked about drugs and did drugs. Same for Tommy Chong, that's pretty much who Tommy is. Cheech [Marin] too, for that matter. Kinison was wild as a March hare, and that's who he was on stage, wild as a March hare. I smoke cigars and drink scotch on stage, but when I come off stage, I don't ask for a green tea. I keep smoking and drinking scotch. Be true to who you are. That's my advice. That's the only thing that matters. And let it go as far as it goes. And it should go far. People love that. They can tell when you're talking about yourself for real. It doesn't matter what kind of comedy you do, eventually you have to make it about yourself and about who you are.

That could also be said about your golf game.

Right. We have to know our limitations. When I swing to hit that 300-yard shot, it goes 90 yards, dead left, and ends up in a bunker that's out of play. It's that sweet fluid swing that I get every once in a while, and when I get that swing going, it's so much fun.

Do you have any good travel tips?

I always wear drinking shoes. Drinking shoes have good balance, nice footing, a rubber sole that doesn't slip much. I'd say, wear some shoes that you can get hammered in and still not trip or fall. All purpose drinking shoes.

I know you're in your bus a lot, but do you ever fly commercial?

I do. But I usually fly non-stop and I fly first class.

How do you deal with security lines?

Security can be a pain in the ass, but do what I do. I take two Viagra and demand a pat down. "What's that in your pants, Mr. White?"

"I have no idea, you're going to have to pat that down."

Make it fun, whatever it is, make it fun.

Are you a sleeper on planes?


Do you drink wine or take Ambien to help you sleep?

I take whatever I've got. Tylenol PM works great. It knocks me out.

It gives me nightmares.

You know, me too. I have weird dreams. I wake up refreshed going, 'What the hell was that?'

If I offered you an all expenses paid to trip to Pebble Beach, Bandon Dunes or Pinehurst, which would you choose?

I'm going to play Bandon Dunes in late August. I've played Pebble Beach, so I'd pick Pinehurst because I've never played it.

Tiger or Phil?


Jack or Arnie?


Have you ever met or played with any of those guys?

I met Arnie a few nights ago. He was gracious. Larry the Cable Guy has a benefit concert for the Arnold Palmer's Children's Hospital in Orlando. He was very nice. I don't think he recognized me, but he's a stand up guy. That's just the way he is, that's his intrinsic nature. He signs autographs; love that he has an autograph you can read. Most of these pros, man, the fact of the matter is, it won't be long until nobody wants their autograph ... that goes for me; it goes for anybody. Who do you think is looking for Jodie Mudd's autograph these days?

Not many.

But one day, he was probably turning people down for autographs.

So, to meet Arnie was special?

It literally brought tears to my eyes. I'm as big a golf fan as there is. I'm a bigger golf fan than any other sport. Our bus is the Golf Channel because we're usually traveling Thursday through Sunday, so we watch every tour. That's pretty much all we watch. And I read every golf publication.

If you had a 3-foot putt for your life, do you putt it, or do you call someone to putt it for you?

I'd call Justin Leonard; he didn't miss a putt all day. [Laughs.]