For Pig Farmer-Turned Superstar, Life is All About Faith, Family and Football

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"Unlike many comedians the 60 Minutes team has met, Larry (the Cable Guy) is not angry; he's not depressed; he's not paranoid. He's a hard-working, supremely confident, happy-go-lucky funnyman."                              --  CBS 60 Minutes Correspondent Bob Simon

When Dan Whitney, who’s better known by his stage name, Larry the Cable Guy, sold 40,000 tickets in one business day through the Nebraska Ticket Office, Tom Osborne was more than a bit perplexed.

A guy who wears a sleeveless flannel, a hunting cap and would like to buy a hot dog for every one of Nebraska’s 85,000 fans on a future football Saturday, Whitney got his dream gig of all-time, and he’s still pinching himself about being the headliner for Saturday night’s July Fourth tailgate party and celebration in Lincoln.

Larry the Cable Guy says he wanted to do the show for two reasons: 1) "to provide an affordable thank you for the most loyal fans in America”; and 2) "to give 50,000 Nebraska fans the opportunity to participate in the biggest taped stand-up event in the history of stand-up comedy.” (The show is being taped for Comedy Central and will be aired in January).

It’s hard to criticize either motive, but that doesn’t make things easy. Whitney and Osborne are both nervous about this July Fourth spectacular, but for different reasons.

After the event became a reality, Whitney assured Osborne that his material wouldn’t be any different than when he was the featured guest on “The Tonight Show” a record five times in the same week or the time he sold out Radio City Music Hall on back-to-back nights in New York City.

That doesn’t mean anything to Osborne. “I’m never up when someone like Jay Leno comes on,” he said.

Family friendly entertainment has two decidedly different meanings for Nebraska’s athletic director and one of America’s most popular comedians.

On his statewide radio show last week, Osborne felt compelled to remind fans that, in essence, PG-rated content isn’t suited for G-rated audiences. He also expressed his disdain for the use of innuendo in any kind of entertainment.

Osborne’s discomfort for today’s standards of humor, frankly, makes Whitney a bit uncomfortable himself.

Why? Because Osborne is, was and always will be Whitney’s all-time favorite Nebraskan.

And that brings us to the point of this column. Osborne and Whitney may be polar opposites in their personalities and their basic approaches to life, but in their own inimitable styles, they share the same priorities and passions.

Yes indeed, Nebraska’s hall-of-fame coach/athletic director and one of America’s favorite comedians, who grew up on a pig farm near Pawnee City, Nebraska, use the same guideposts to deal with being at the very top of their professions. Just like Osborne, Whitney is all about faith, family and football.

In his usual Git-R-Done style, Whitney stole the movie "Cars" as the voice of Mater the Towtruck. Now, for, the star of five movies and perhaps the most popular celebrity voice in Disney/Pixar history talks about his faith, his family and his passion for Nebraska football.

Larry the Cable Guy on Faith
“My upbringing was conservative, traditional and church-going. My dad (Tom Whitney, who died a few years ago) was a guitarist for the Everly Brothers, and they did shows as the Blue Valley Boys. Then he went to Korea and lived in foxholes and saved lives. When he came home, he wanted to be a preacher, but he was a lot of other things, too. He had, for instance, his own one-hour religious, country radio show on a Lincoln station.

“He was also a school administrator and an entertainer besides a preacher. He was gone all the time. I hardly ever saw him. He was a guidance counselor at Wymore from the late 1960s to the mid-‘70s. He’d leave early every morning and wouldn’t get home until late every night.

“He was the minister at Four Mile Church near Humboldt, and he also preached at the Congregational Church in Verdon. He was as busy on the weekends as he was during the week. In addition to raising pigs and cattle, we had horses, and we had fences and barns to fix. So any spare time my dad had, he was doing farm chores.

“That’s why I spent most of my time with my grandpa. Our pig farm was right next to the Pawnee City sale barn. I’d help my grandpa load and unload trucks of cows and pigs. I’d help him write out tickets, and I would listen to everything he and his friends would talk about – from early grade school until we moved to Florida at age 16. I loved Pawnee City, and I loved every person I got to meet, even though most of them were much older. They took me in and shared their life stories, with a bit of adult humor thrown in for good measure. So I learned at an early age what I could say and get away with and what I couldn’t say and not get away with. That sale barn may have been the most important experience I had for my entire approach to comedy.

“It was a great childhood, but far from normal. On Friday nights, after working all day, we’d go with my dad’s band – the Memphis Beats – to every VFW hall from Grand Island to Hyannis. You name it; we were there. We’d be in Beatrice or McCook late Friday night or even some Saturday nights, then drive home and get up early the next day.

“On Sundays, my dad would preach first at Humboldt, and then we’d head to Dawson-Verdon. If I was good and didn’t act up, I got to skip the second service and go to my grandma’s and grandpa’s. It was odd for a little kid to see how people acted at midnight on the weekends and then maybe hit two church services a day or two later. Dances were family dances, and people had fun. You know, it’s almost surprising someone didn’t shoot my dad for not playing ‘Amazing Grace’ because they’d all yell at him and say: ‘Hey, preacher, why don’t you play Amazing Grace?’

“Those experiences had a profound impact on my life. I respect the Midwest, and I respect the faith that people have in the Midwest. I have two cardinal rules in my stand-up act. I will not take the Lord’s name in vain, and I will not use four-letter words. I don’t understand why comedians think they have to use them. If I don’t want my kids to hear it, I try not to say it.

“When I do get out there on the limb, I always say, ‘Lord, I apologize.' And I mean that, but some things are just so funny, you can’t help but say in public what you hear people talking about at Wal-Mart, or the sale barn, or so many other different places.

“Bottom line, faith is very important to me. How I was raised and the atmosphere I was raised in is very personal.  I hope people understand that entertainment is entertainment. It’s what I do to make people laugh and feel better. My concerts are designed to help people get through the day. They are not religious crusades, and they have nothing to do with my own spiritual walk. An act is exactly what it implies – an act. I don’t dig into it any deeper than that.”

Larry the Cable Guy on Family
“I love telling people how I met my wife, Cara, who grew up on a small cattle ranch in upstate Wisconsin. She’s a farm girl, too. She left the family farm to become a DJ. I met her when she was a rock jock in Las Vegas. We started talking, and she told me how much she loved the smell of cattle trucks. I laughed and said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me!’ When I told her I liked the smell of cattle, too, that’s all it took. We were married a year later.

“We now have two very young children. Our son Wyatt is 3. I can’t remember my daughter’s name, but she’s beautiful.  Just kidding . . . her name is Reagan, and she’s 1. I put both of them on sale on eBay last week. Not really. They’re great kids, and now I understand why people like to show their baby pictures to people they don’t even know. When you have kids, it completely changes your life, in a good way. Your priorities change. It’s not about you anymore. Everything you do is for those kids. You can’t explain it to people who don’t have kids. It’s just funny how everything changes when you have people depending on you. It literally changes every aspect of your life. It’s so awesome being a dad. I love every part of it.

“We have three homes – one in Florida, one in Wisconsin (where we’re headed right after the Fourth of July concert) and one here in Lincoln. My mom (Shirley) lives in Lincoln. So does my older sister (Debbie). My older brother (Tom Jr.) lives in Florida, and my wife’s family still lives in Wisconsin, so we’re covered all the way around. It’s pretty obvious. Family means everything to us."

Larry the Cable Guy on Football
“Nebraska football has been one of my biggest passions since I was growing up. My earliest memory of it was when I was 3 or 4 and living in the Sandhills. My dad was a principal of some school near Hyannis. My brother and I would go outside and set up Army guys and shoot them with b-bee guns. We’d watch a rattlesnake swallow a frog at the same time we’d listen to Lyell Bremser call the game on the radio.

“I’m not kidding. I still remember how excited we got whenever Nebraska would score a touchdown,  even before kindergarten. We never got to attend any games because we didn’t have enough money to buy a ticket, but we were like every other person who lived in this great state. The Cornhuskers were our team, and we lived and died with every play.

“When we moved to Pawnee City, we never missed a play on the radio there either. No matter where you were on game day – at the sale barn or any retail store downtown – the radio was blaring and people were listening. If you walked by someone raking the leaves in their yard, they were listening to the radio, too. Nebraska football is all consuming in every square inch of this state.

“I’m glad to be from a small town with values and a belief system based on those values. We’re far from perfect people here in Nebraska, but when we mess up, we pull each other back up and help each other. We stay with the moral code we grew up with. Hard work nurtured all of us, and Nebraska football is the perfect symbol for hard-working people. I worked for radio stations in both New York and California, and I'll say this: People on both coasts can laugh all they want about the passion Nebraska has for football, but that passion is based on the mindset of an entire state.

“I loved it when we won our first two national championships. I was so into it that not only could I describe Johnny Rodgers’ punt return against Oklahoma like Lyell Bremser, I could describe the Nebraska Furniture Mart ads in between timeouts. That’s how much I sat on that radio. I always said whenever I could afford to be in that stadium, I was going to come to Lincoln and watch every game I could.

“Now, thanks to a lot of hard work and persistence, I’m blessed to have my own suite for my family and friends, and I schedule all of my tour dates around our home games and even around some road games. I’ve been so fortunate that I just want to give something back to every loyal Nebraska fan out there. That’s why we only charged $4 a ticket with a $2 surcharge to cover Nebraska's costs to host this historic concert. Any money left over will go to my foundation for kids.

“I’ve never been more nervous in my life about a performance than I am about this one. Like all of those players who play here and all of those coaches who coach here, I don’t want to let Nebraska fans down. They deserve nothing but the very best because they really are the very best fans in the country.”

Voices from Husker Nation

When Rodeo and Comedy Mix

I grew up in Eastern Colorado and have always been a Husker at heart. There are always challenges rooting for the Big Red when you're surrounded by Buff fans. But as all Husker fans know, no matter what kind of season the Huskers are having, Big Red is in your veins! I am a professional bull fighter and have met Dan (Larry the Cable Guy) Whitney, so I know first-hand that he is an awesome guy!  I get the opportunity to make one Husker game a year, and it is always a special time! I hope I can get there to see Larry the Cable Guy ... he always puts on a great show! Cory Wall, Burlington, Colorado

Forgive Us, But That's Funny

"Thank you for such an excellent article on Larry the Cable Guy and his ties to Nebraska football.  Like so many other Americans, I am truly a fan of his and it is good to see a wholesome, family-friendly entertainer make it to the top without compromising his beliefs and morals. An interesting twist to this story is the fact that he grew up across the street from my grandparents in Pawnee City and (I believe) he was referring to my Great-Aunt Helen when he mentions 'old fat-lady Peacock' singing in the choir at church!  Even if it's not true, that's the way we tell it on our family. Forgive us, Lord but that's just funny I don't care who you are. Sign me as a Larry the Cable Guy and true blood-Red Huskers fan." Don Peacock, United States Air Force, La Vernia, Texas

An Awesome Experience

"We’d just like to thank the Nebraska Athletic Department and Athletic Director Tom Osborne for offering the ‘Larry the Cable Guy’ July 4th show. We enjoyed it immensely and had an awesome time.  The University's cooperation in making that event happen (and at such an affordable price!) was greatly appreciated." Ron and Betty Wagner Family, Doniphan, Neb.

A Great Ambassador

"Larry the Cable Guy is THE best representative of the entertainment industry today and is driven by all the right things. I have been a fan of his comedy for a long time, but when he started hanging around the Husker athletic program on a regular basis, something really special happened at Nebraska and the Husker Nation broadcast far and wide.

"In the case of Dan Whitney, the man behind that voice and image is one that Husker fans can identify and laugh with and be proud to have him in the stadium on any given day.

"The more I learned and heard about Larry the Cable Guy, the closer he came to being one of my favorite Americans in the public spotlight. His steadfast dedication to his family, his fans, our armed forces, and last, but not least, the Nebraska Cornhuskers, inspires me and restores much of my faith in society. Do you know anyone else who regularly donates his skybox to U.S. military personnel, past or present? I don't either. I am his biggest fan!  Keep up the great work, Larry!" Tyler Otto, Boulder, Colo.

A Very Funny Guy

"Thanks for another nice column. As I was reading it, I could put myself back to the time I was able to see Dan Whitney perform live. What a funny guy! I laughed so hard that night. I just wish I could remember his jokes. It’s easy to see why Nebraska fans are responding so positively to the Fan Poll on Larry the Cable Guy really is everything rolled into one – one of the funniest guys in the country, our most famous fan, a true blue-collar comedian with a Big Red spirit and a down-to-earth Nebraskan. Coach Osborne deserves major kudos for going out of his comfort zone and allowing him to take center stage in Memorial Stadium. I only wish I could have been there. Guess I’ll have to wait to see it on tape six months from now." Warren Miller, Spokane, Wash.