Comedians don’t have to pass any political litmus test to join Ron White in his annual ‘Comedy Salute to the Troops.’
Lewis Black, hardly anyone’s idea of a military hawk, is one of seven comics taking part in the fourth annual ‘Salute,’ scheduled for DVD release Oct. 11.
White tells Big Hollywood he’s not necessarily a fan of how the military has been used in recent years, but that doesn’t impact his regard for the troops or the invaluable service they provide.
“I don’t live under the illusion we don’t need a military to protect this country,” he says. “They do what they’re told to do… they’re our sons and daughters, and our obligation.”
The latest edition of ‘Ron White’s Comedy Salute To The Troops,’ which aired on CMT in March and remains the network’s second highest rated show of the last year, features Alex Reymundo, Robert Hawkins, Vic Henley, Kathleen Madigan, Tim Wilson, the aforementioned Lewis Black, and White all doing what they do best.
Hosted at the Grand Ole Opry House, the special sprung from White’s first visit to Walter Reed Hospital in Bethesda, MD, years ago with his fellow Blue Collar Comedy Tour mates. White later ran into officials from the Armed Forces Foundation, a group which supports the families of military members with financial aid, bereavement counseling, and hospital outreach, among other services.
“They do so much to help with no overhead,” he says. “It’s six people in a tiny, little office.”
White isn’t an administrator type, but he figured he had other skills he could give to the cause.
“The only thing I could think of was to have a barbecue for friends to come over and help me do it,” he says. And when White started the annual event, CMT signed on to televise the proceedings.
“‘We really want to be in the Ron White business,'” he says of their reaction to his annual ‘Salute.’ “I swear people really say that.”
In between the stand-up material, the DVD showcases the comedians getting to know the men and women who make up the country’s armed forces. White doesn’t censor himself for military-minded audiences, and they probably wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I pretty much give both barrels every time I walk on stage. To me, it’s just a show; it’s what I do,” says White, known for sipping a glass of scotch on stage. “There’s no watered-down version of it. I don’t do any corporate work.”
Take a listen to his tips on handling the TSA’s aggressive pat-down program on the DVD, and you’ll understand why.
White rode the 2000 Blue Collar Comedy Tour to national success, from two Grammy-nominated comedy albums to a New York Times’ bestseller, Ron ‘Tater Salad’ White: I Had the Right to Remain Silent… But I Didn’t Have the Ability. He even snared small roles in films like ‘Horrible Bosses’ and ‘Sex and the City 2.’ Of course, that fame hadn’t happened overnight. The cigar-chomping comic stretched his act for years before the Blue Collar tour certified his star status.
He says his love for comedy helped him survive those lean years.
“[Stand-up] isn’t an easy thing to do, and there were times when I got frustrated by it,” he admits. “But my love for it never wavered a bit. I’m still that way. I go to more open mic nights than open mikers.”
He thinks it would be impossible for him to crack the comedy scene now if he had to do it all over again.
“Low-end touring is no fun, and it’s easier when you’re young and drunk,” he says. “When you’re older staying in the crappiest motel in town, it [stinks]. When I was doing it I was having a blast.”
What he learned through all those years on the road was that authenticity matters.
“It takes a long time to realize just how honest we’re gonna be [as stand-ups],” he says. “Then, you realize the closer you get to who you really are, the more they respond to it. If you look at the common denominator of all the comics who have had big success it’s being true to their nature… that’s what takes a long time to learn.”
White’s appearances on the ‘Salute’ specials are all about the laughter, but he can’t forget meeting one particular soldier during that initial trip to Walter Reed.
“I was talking to a guy who was holding his 18-month-old daughter with the only limb he had left, and he had a smile on his face,” he recalls. “I thought, ‘I’m not even a 10th of this man.'”
“Ron White’s Comedy Salute to the Troops” also includes musical performances by Rascal Flatts, Margo Rey and John Oates. All net proceeds benefit the Armed Forces Foundation.