Unlike many of his southern contemporaries, Alabama–born comedian Vic Henley didn’t make his reputation by talking in character about rednecks, trailer trash, NASCAR or mud bogging.
That’s not to say Henley, who performs this week in a Lucas Theatre benefit for the cancer charity Mom’s Lemonade Fund, doesn’t go below the Mason–Dixon belt in his stage routine. He talks about that which he knows. Ask him to tell you the Klan story. Or the one about Elvis and Michael Jackson.
Henley even co–wrote the best–selling book Games Rednecks Play with his buddy Jeff Foxworthy.
Sure, he riffs on southern stereotypes. But there’s more than one dimension to this 26–year stage veteran. Henley is articulate, smart, thoughtful and precise, and he comes across like someone you’d meet at a neighbor’s backyard barbeque – the guy that would just start to talk, and before long you’d be rolling on the lawn, laughing.
His opening act for this performance is Karen Morgan, who hilariously headlined the “Laughs For Lemonade” Lucas debut in 2010.
Here’s some choice Henley commentary from our phone interview this week:
“It’s between Birmingham and Atlanta on I–20: Oxford, Alabama. Jacksonville University there is a Division II school. The whole area’s probably 50,000 people or so. We recently got our second exit. It was a dramatic upgrade when the Wal–Mart went to Super Wal–Mart, and the second exit came in. As they say in Alabama, we really started stepping in high cotton at that time.”
“I was a frustration because I was also an A student. So I could keep up with ‘em, and be mouthy. And even if they punished me with extra work, I just did all the work. I ran around with seven or eight guys that were far funnier than me, and I just had the best memory and was a little louder. And we showed no mercy to the faculty and the administration.”
“At the time, Rolling Stone had said comedy was the rock ‘n’ roll of the ‘80s. Everybody wanted to go see live standup all of a sudden. Clubs were popping up. There were clubs where there shouldn’t be one. There shouldn’t be a seven-day-a-week comedy club in Valdosta, I’m sorry. Then it started popping up all over television — and in the early ‘90s that kind of killed it, because you started seeing it everywhere. Like Elvis impersonators, comedians were everywhere.”
“I was seven years in when it started dipping back down, and I was pretty established in New York and L.A. You just tried to keep scrambling and keep working. I could keep working in New York City forever — there’s 10 or 11 clubs here, I don’t think the Taliban could root ‘em out.
Southern humor in the North
“Tim Wilson’s absolutely hilarious and just kills me. I was with Cable Guy over the weekend in Nebraska. I love Ron White and all those guys. But when I started in New York, all those guys — Richard Jeni, Seinfeld, Dennis Miller — were on me relentlessly from the beginning, going ‘Everybody in the North does this, but everybody in the South does this!’ So you had to try to broaden it, or put a little more perspective on it. It’s the New York thing: If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.”
Southern humor in the South
“I lure ‘em in with what they want to hear, then smack ‘em upside the head with something that they don’t want to hear. By then, they usually like me enough they let me get away with it. Because it doesn’t mean anything. I’m from Alabama; I’m three steps away from ‘You ain’t got no legs, Lieutenant Dan.’ So how mean or awful can I be? If it looks like I’m making fun of you, just consider the source and realize it’s a joke — and lighten up, Goober.”
Laughs for Lemonade
“I have done benefits for various cancer charities in the past. A friend of mine has one in the Hunstville area, and I’ve done a few with Karen Morgan up in Maine where she lives. So in a weird way, you’re playing the cancer benefit circuit. Who’s gonna turn that down? It’s kind of like working for the troops — I’ll do anything for the troops, so it’s fine. Certain things you want to get involved with; it’s hard to say no to.”
Laughs For Lemonade: Vic Henley
With: Karen Morgan
Where: Lucas Theatre, 32 Abercorn St.
When: At 8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 29
Tickets: $35 reserved, $25 general; $100 includes reserved seating and a meet–the–artists reception
Phone: (912) 525–5050