Jeff Foxworthy.

How popular culture gets popular.
April 21 2005 3:25 PM

Jeff Foxworthy

He's the best-selling comedy recording artist of all time. Really.

(Continued from Page 1)

Foxworthy's albums are also prominently displayed at Wal-Mart—another key to his record-setting sales. Wal-Mart, which accounts for around 20 percent of all new-album sales, refuses to stock any record that carries a parental warning sticker. The policy excludes an enormous number of comedians—try, for a moment, to imagine Chris Rock's patter without the F-bombs.

Foxworthy's comedy, on the other hand, is clean enough to earn a thumbs-up from the retailer's censors—it's free of expletives, and his subject matter won't make Grandma blush. (There is a bit about a nipple-gnawing beaver, but it's tamer than it sounds.) So, Foxworthy's unedited musings are stocked chainwide. And the stores have an added incentive to push Foxworthy's products: The comedian, in conjunction with American Greetings, has his own line of "You might be a redneck …" greeting cards, which are sold exclusively at Wal-Mart.

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There's one last, rather simple explanation for Foxworthy's success. Before the Atlanta-born Foxworthy showed up, the comedy industry hadn't adequately tapped the audience that identifies itself as "country"—the consumers who tend to buy Dodge trucks with Hemi engines or sing along to Gretchen Wilson's "Redneck Woman." It turns out the demographic has an insatiable yen for humor that skewers country-fried stereotypes. On this week's Billboard comedy chart, seven of the top 10 slots are taken up by comedians like Larry the Cable Guy, Bill Engvall, and Cledus T. Judd, who also cover Foxworthy territory. In fact, Billboard launched its stand-alone comedy chart last year largely in response to the boom in country comedy.

Foxworthy has toured tirelessly to reach these consumers, playing a wide range of casinos, country-music gigs, and rodeos. Last year, for example, he became the first comedian ever to entertain at the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo. This year, another clean-talking, best-selling comedian followed suit: Bill Cosby. If Cosby's handlers know what's good for him, he may soon take the stage in cowboy boots and a bolo tie.

* Correction, April 22, 2005: This piece originally stated that the Nashville Network later became Country Music Television. The two were actually sister networks. Click here to return to the corrected sentence.

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