Northwest Arkansas Times: Feb. 6, 2009

Hi-Larry-ous: Famed comedian to crack up Fayetteville audience

These days, Dan Whitney is still I what refers to as being “under house arrest” in his central Florida home. For the past week he has been able to spend time with his wife and young children before he puts on the sleeveless shirt and camouflage hat of his famous alter ego, “Larry the Gable Guy,” who will make a stop Feb. 15 at Barnhill Arena on the University of Arkansas campus in Fayetteville.

The character is so rooted in him that while talking on the phone his voice fades in and out of his familiar hillbilly twang. Larry has become so loved that he will be the butt of many a joke during a roast to be aired March 15 on Comedy Central.

“I used to say it was 90 percent act, 10 percent me, and now it’s turned into 60 percent act, 40 percent me,” Whitney said. “And to be honest with you, when people say ‘How much of if the act is you and how much of it isn’t? I tell them I really don’t know…. My only question is, is it funny, and do you laugh?’”

Whitney, who, for the record, has DirecTV at his house, remembers developing Larry as part of his stand-up routine in the late ’80s. A friend who ran a morning show in Tampa, Fla., saw the act one night and asked Whitney to eventually do a weekly call-in on Fridays. Shortly after that, he became a syndicated force at rock stations across the country in the early ’90s.

In October 1985, Whitney was a collegiate baseball player at Baptist University of America in Decatur, Ga., who had decided to take a semester off to earn some extra money so he could concentrate on his job as a pitcher when he returned.

He was working as a hotel van driver at the Hyatt Regency in Palm Beach, Fla., when a college roommate of his made him enter an amateur comedy night at a local bar.

“There were guys there with clipboards and note cards, and I’m going ‘Man, these are professionals. I thought it was for amateurs,’” Whitney, who hails from the small town of Pawnee City, Neb., recalled.

Luckily, two of the “professionals” bombed, giving him the confidence to step on stage. He knew he could be funnier.

“I would say if those guys were good, I wouldn’t be doing it today because I never would have gotten the [courage] to go up and do it,” he said.

Now Whitney has been in the comedy game for more than 20 years. He was already selling out large venues before latching on with the Blue Collar Comedy Tour in 2000 with longtime friend Jeff Foxworthy as well as Bill Engvall and Ron White.

The tour earned him starring roles in three movies, helped him crank out six CDs and made a couple of catch phrases, such as the always popular “Git-R-Done,” part of the everyday vernacular.

“You can’t just sit down and go ‘Hey I’ll come up with a catch phrase,’” Whitney said. “They just happen.”

Although spectators can be assured they’ll hear a few of those phrases, the rest of the material should be fairly brand new.

“I always keep it fresh, so if they haven’t seen me in a year and a half, I’m going to almost be completely different from that. If they have my last album, they’ll hear a few repeat jokes, but other than that they won’t even recognize the act.

“I do a style that really nobody does anymore. I’m old-school. I’m not a storyteller. I’m a one-liner set-up punch guy…. From the minute I go on stage, I do not shut up until I’m done, so if you’re laughing at one joke, you’re going to miss the next four.”

Whitney will be celebrating his 46th birthday on Feb. 17, although he says he looks more like he’s 38.

“I’ve got good genes. I look like a kid,” Whitney said. “I actually got carded at a 7-Eleven a couple of weeks ago buying chewing tobacco.”

He has some advice for all male fans given that the show falls on Valentine’s Day weekend.

“The guys just need to know that Valentine’s Day is really more for their wife or their girlfriend, and so if you take them out to a really nice place to eat, remember that it’s all about them and try to hold your [flatulence] in for the whole meal,” he said. “If you can’t do that, at least try to time it with the wine cork.”

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