By Eric Barton
City & Shore Magazine
There will be a moment at some point during the elegant and buff-polished car show that is the Boca Raton Concours d’Elegance this month when the gears shift and maybe grind a bit. Imagine the place, the Boca Raton Resort & Club, all done up for the biggest black-tie event of the year. Name a designer and you’ll find the tag on attendees in their starched tux shirts and haute couture gowns.
Then in will walk a total redneck.
A self-admitted bumpkin. Maybe he’s got a jacket up top, but then there’s blue jeans below. There’s little doubt he’ll be wearing his black cowboy boots, the ones he wore to the White House. And then, unlike if you or I tried to pull off such a sartorial display, everybody will cheer as Jeff Foxworthy walks in.
“One of the great things about being the entertainment is that they’re not going to kick you out for what you’re wearing,” Foxworthy says. “So I will do black tie from the waist up, and from the waist down it’s usually blue jeans and cowboy boots.”
Maybe you’re wondering whether the guy who is most famous for “you might be a redneck” jokes is really the right guy to be the headliner of the Boca Raton Concours d’Elegance. Can the guy who comically karate chops through commercials for Golden Corral also be the face for a night of glamour?
Yes, Foxworthy tells you, and the reason is that he’s just, well, one of the guys. An average Joe putting on a fancy jacket for the night, one arm at a time.
As for comedians with car-guy cred, Foxworthy is no Seinfeld or Leno. He doesn’t have a garage full of classics or trophies from best-in-show honors. But he does have a legit eight-cylinder resume.
His first car memory: Foxworthy remembers standing on his father’s lap when he was 3 or 4 and steering the family sedan. “If you do that now, they’d probably put you in jail,” he says.
His first car would not have instantly elevated him to car-guy status. It was a Ford Pinto, lime green with a white corner panel on the back left side, which was “not really a chick magnet.”
Foxworthy saved up from his job at a grocery store to buy his first ride worthy of car-guy credibility. At 19 he bought a new off-the-lot silver and black Rally Sport Camaro. He added an equalizer and booster to give the Camaro a rocking stereo. His father would come out of the house to find Foxworthy, beard and hair down to his shoulders, sitting in a car vibrating from the noise. “My dad would walk out and say, ‘Hey, Jesus! You want to turn that down a little bit?” Foxworthy recalls.
In his garage now? “It’s not like Seinfeld’s.”
He’s partial to his Ford pickup. But his real motorized pride-and-joy is on a farm that his family owns an hour south of Atlanta. He has three John Deere tractors, a bulldozer and an excavator. He has an idea that Seinfeld should shoot an episode of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee from behind the wheel of one of those old tractors.
Foxworthy doesn’t own a classic car, although he has eyed a few from time to time, especially late ’60s muscle. His favorite is the ’69 Camaro Super Sport. Maybe some day, he’ll think to himself, before reality gets the better of him.
“I kind of think about getting one, but then I’m like, ‘You’re just going to get yourself in trouble.’”
Back before Foxworthy became the guy known for the redneck one-liners, he lived in Sarasota and worked for IBM, just as his father did. And just like Dad, he was button-up by day, redneck by night.
“When he got home, he’d go out on the back porch, pop a beer and laugh at the bug zapper,” Foxworthy says. “He’d just sit there being entertained by the bug zapper. I was like, ‘I don’t care how far you’ve worked your way up the ladder, you’re still a redneck.’”
Foxworthy, then a computer repairman, occasionally drove across Alligator Alley to sample all the potential trouble offered by South Florida. This was Miami Vice-era Miami, but Foxworthy soon realized South Florida was just as country as the rest of the state.
“Florida is one of the production hubs for rednecks,” he says. “A lot of people don’t think that about Florida, but Florida has contributed a lot of great rednecks to the country.”
Often they’re undercover, suits during the day and jacked-up pickups on the weekends, PowerPoints on Fridays, swamp buggies on Saturday.
Whenever Foxworthy has to put on a suit jacket, there’s no doubt something’s going to be inside, and it probably won’t be a perfectly folded pocket square.
“If I’m dressed up like in a suit coat, you can probably reach in one of the coat pockets and pull out either a wedding invitation or funeral notice. That’s one of the things I’m grateful about, is that I’ve been able to make a great living in jeans and T-shirts, you know? Going through life comfortable, that’s really cool.”
Though not everyone always agrees with his “cool” approach to dressing up – or is that down? When he went to the White House for a black-tie event and wore his black cowboy boots, the ensemble earned a stern eye roll from his wife.
“As soon as we walked into the Oval Office, George W. Bush went, ‘Oh, man, I love those boots!’” Foxworthy says of the 43rd president. “Then I’m nudging my wife going, ‘Yeah? You see?’”
No matter how famous Foxworthy has become, he says he has always been just an average guy.
“It’s kind of one of the biggest compliments I get, when people meet me and they go, ‘Oh, you’re just like I hoped you would be.’”
That’s not as easy as it sounds. When Foxworthy first got started in show business he could keep himself grounded by fitting in with the crowd at the Bass Pro Shop. If he tries that today, without a good disguise, he gets mobbed by fans wanting selfies. He’s too nice to say no, because that’s what most celebrities do.
So, if you’re getting dressed up for the Boca Concours d’Elegance or some other gala affair this season, and the tux shoes begin to pinch and the ball gown starts to suffocate, keep these words of advice from Jeff Foxworthy in mind: Never forget to be you.
And remember the redneck kid sitting in his dad’s lap steering down the driveway, enjoying a few laughs later in front of the bug zapper.
Everything you need to know about Jeff Foxworthy
Born: 1958 in Atlanta.
Spouse: Pamela Gregg, since 1985.
Secret to a long marriage: “It sounds corny, but she’s my best friend. We wake up talking to each other, and go to bed talking to each other.”
Which one of them likes to dress up: “She likes to get all girlie-fied, and she pulls it off well.”
Low point: Evicted from the Sarasota Ramada Inn, where he was performing, so that a paying customer could have a bed.
High point: Two Grammy nominations, in 1999 and 2001, for comedy albums.
Thing that made him famous: Redneck humor. For example: “If your dad walks you to school because you’re in the same grade, you might be a redneck.”
Last real job: Fixed computers at the IBM office in Sarasota; says he did a fine impression of the boss.
IF YOU GO
Boca Raton Concours d’Elegance
The Boca Raton Concours d’Elegance, a benefit for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Broward County, runs Feb. 10-12 at the Boca Raton Resort & Club. Nighttime festivities begin Friday with the duPont Registry Live Hangar Party. The Concours d’Elegance Grand Gala Dinner, Auction & Show will be Saturday. Judges, including Grand Marshal Wayne Carini, will give out awards Sunday on the show field. For parking, head to 1515 S. Federal Highway in Boca Raton for shuttles. General admission is $75, with entrance to the show from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. each day. A seat at the Gala Dinner, which includes entertainment by Jeff Foxworthy, runs $500. For more information call 888-302-5439 or visit bocaratonconcours.com.