Larry the Cable Guy Changes the World One Joke at a Time.
Larry the Cable Guy’s voice is instantly recognizable. Part whiny, somewhat gruff, and outrageously Southern, it’s been making millions of people laugh for three decades.
Whether he is delivering a side-splitting one-liner or making an astute, stop-and-think observation about the world we share, that unique and over-the-top accent automatically induces laughter. In real life, though, there’s very little drawl except for when he easily slips into character. Dan Whitney, the smart, creative man who inhabits Larry the Cable Guy, is soft spoken with a gentle disposition. And though his routine still includes good old-fashioned potty humor, this son of a preacher, comedy phenomenon has grown into a Christian family man with a generous heart.
Though the comic dialect is from the Deep South, the real voice and mindset are more or less Midwestern. The 57-year-old Whitney grew up on a pig farm in tiny Pawnee City, Nebraska, and got his early storytelling influence from the older farmers he knew. Back then, he says, his only ambition was to one day drive town to town pulling a fancy trailer full of cattle to sell at auctions. He certainly never dreamed of telling jokes that were funny enough to sell out basketball and hockey arenas, writing a book that would become a bestseller, acting in a string of hit movies, and having his own television specials and SiriusXM radio channel, and even his own Bloody Mary mix.
Larry the Cable Guy, a down-to-earth character dressed in denim, flannel, and camouflage, came into being 29 years ago as a standup comedian. “My character was based on people I knew along the way,” says Whitney in a surprisingly neutral tone. “It turned into this goofy guy who was going out to somebody’s house to install cable with a couple of buddies, and they ended up going to the wrong house. It got some pretty good laughs, and I started working on it more.”
That was back in 1991, when he was a regular performer at Comedy Corner in West Palm Beach. He remembers that comic actors David Spade and Rob Schneider, both hot at the time as Saturday Night Live cast members, were also on the bill. “When I came off stage, they both came up to me, and Schneider said: ‘Man, that’s funny. You should develop that character.’”
Soon, his new-and-improved redneck shtick gained more fans as he became a popular call-in guest on radio programs like The Ron and Ron Show, which was syndicated from Tampa’s WNYF-FM. The radio work expanded to include some 27 different stations over the course of 13 years.
Modest Dreams, Huge Success
Whitney never expected to break out and be a big star, he just wanted to make a living doing what he loved. Yet, the Cable Guy phenomenon caught on, big time, exploding into a multimillion-dollar and multifaceted enterprise. By the turn of the century, he was touring as part of a “good ol’ boy” comedy ensemble that included friends and fellow comedians Jeff Foxworthy, Bill Engvall, and Ron White. Their Blue Collar Comedy Tour took off like wildfire, and they hit the road on and off for six years. Also, they released a series of concert DVDs. His comedy albums sold big, and he showed up on the big screen in films like Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector, Delta Farce, and Witless Protection. In 2005, he lent his voice to Disney/Pixar as the lovable tow-truck character Mater in the wildly popular Cars animated-film franchise. In 2011, he signed on as host of the History Channel travelogue series “Only in America.”
Along the way, his character’s catchphrase “Git-R-Done” entered the public domain. Whitney says it was inspired by something his grandfather would say when they were feeding cows on the farm: “Let’s get it done.” It’s what fans holler at him when they recognize him in public and the title of his 2009 autobiography. “Git-R-Done” is also the name of his charitable foundation.
Asked why he thought his style of humor took hold the way it did, Whitney brings it down to basics: “I think funny is funny. People like to laugh.”
The Outdoor Life
Though he grew up on a farm and loves spending time outdoors, Whitney says he never was an avid hunter, unlike his colleague and friend Foxworthy. “He used to invite me on these hunting trips, but back then I was on a tour bus for as many as 280 days straight, so the last thing I wanted to do on my two days off was sit up in a tree stand in the freezing cold,” he says.
Yet he certainly understands the appeal. “I love shooting. I have gone deer hunting several times, but I’m really more of a bird hunter. I’ve got 180 acres out here (outside Lincoln, Nebraska) with two creeks on it, and we go shooting there quite a bit. He mentioned a recent acquisition, a Marlin .30-30 rifle that he likes a lot. His wife, Cara, has training in pistols and favors a Sig Sauer 223. “We’re Second Amendment people,” he says. “It’s one of the things that makes this country great.
A few years back when he was filming for his History Channel show, Whitney’s many memorable experiences included landing in a fighter jet on the deck of the USS Nimitz, visiting the War Room at the Pentagon, and flying a Space Shuttle simulator. A visit to the NRA’s National Firearms Museum in Fairfax, Virginia, stands out, too: “I was allowed to fire every gun used in military battle and skirmish we’ve had in this country, from the American Revolution through Afghanistan.”
Whitney has always been on the conservative side politically and calls Ronald Reagan (for whom is daughter is named) the greatest president in U.S. history. But he tries to not get bogged down in politics and says mingling with fans during his travels helps him keep a healthy perspective. “When you are actually out there and doing things and meeting people, you’ll find that the majority of people are very good to each other, and they don’t get wrapped up in politics and stuff.”
Whitney’s father, Tom Whitney, was a farmer and a pastor, but he was also a touring musician at times as well as a school administrator. It was a job offer from a Christian academy that led the family to West Palm Beach in southeastern Florida when the future comedian (the youngest of three) was still in high school. His mother, Shirley, was a homemaker for years before becoming a registered nurse. While his father passed away in 2005, his mother still lives in Florida and follows her son’s career with interest and pride. “She’s just a beautiful, sweet lady,” he says. “She’s 83 years old but looks 65. I gave her a gold and platinum record for every one that I got—she’s got four platinums and four golds, I think it is.”
He and Cara, a former Las Vegas radio personality who is also a published author, married in 2005. She grew up on a small cattle farm in Wisconsin, and he likes to say that when they first met they bonded over the fact that they both loved the smell of cows. Today they spend most of their time in his beloved Nebraska but also have a farm in her home state and a desert getaway in Arizona, where he enjoys playing golf. They had their two children early in their marriage—Reagan is now 12, and her brother, Wyatt, is a year older. “It seems like yesterday that my wife and I were looking at pictures of them when they were 3 and 4,” he says. “When they say don’t take it for granted, believe it. Don’t blink.”
It was their son’s birth that prompted the couple to start their charitable efforts, which total more than $8 million, according to the Git-R-Done Foundation’s official website. Wyatt was born with hip dysplasia, a condition in which the hip joint is partially or completely dislocated. They grew frustrated after getting a few different answers on how to treat it, so they contacted a specialist, Dr. Chad Price, an orthopedic surgeon at the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Orlando, Florida. “He’s literally one of the best hip doctors in the world, and he said if they had some funding they could train every pediatrician with the same standards. So that’s what we’re doing.” As a result of their $5-million donation, the International Hip Dysplasia Institute opened at the hospital in 2012.
Their charitable efforts have expanded to other causes that benefit not just children but also military veterans. The website for his Git-R-Done Golf Classic, a tournament held each June in Lincoln, Nebraska, lists nearly 50 different organizations that have been benefactors, including the Child Advocacy Center in Lincoln, the Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital in Omaha, and Operation Homefront, which provides housing and financial assistance to military veterans and their families.
A Few Adjustments
Professionally, his latest project is a television special and companion album produced by Comedy Dynamics, called Remain Seated. The live performance will be available in April 7th on Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV, Comcast, Spectrum, Dish and more. Releasing just a few days later on April 10th, the performance album will be available for purchase. Fans can expect the same classic style of material, but with some changes that are the result of his recommitting to his faith as a Christian a few years back. “I’ve made a few adjustments,” he says, to weed out content that was offensive or cruel. “There were certain things I had in my act that I had a heart change about so I stopped doing them.”
Whitney is at a stage in his career where he can scale back his number of live performances to around 30 a year, which gives him more time to enjoy life with his family. Looking back on all that has happened since his cable guy character’s popularity spread like wildfire, he can’t help but shake his head. “In my career, I’ve been so blessed. I’ve gotten to experience so many things that I could never have imagined doing, especially for a guy who grew up in such a small town.”