Cigar in hand and a shot of tequila nearby, Texas native White would bemuse his fans with tales of drunken escapades. He found himself going from small comedy clubs to big theaters almost overnight. For the past 15 years, he has been a major headliner, stopping regularly in Atlanta at the Fox Theatre and Cobb Energy Performing Arts Theatre.
For many years, he lived part time in an 11,000-square-foot mansion in Suwanee off a golf course, inspired to live in the area because of his buddy Foxworthy. But White decided to sell the pad in 2018 for around $2.5 million.
He ultimately bought a penthouse space on the 22nd floor overlooking the Colorado River in downtown Austin, where his son lives.
“It was my goal to retire in Texas,” White said. “I’ve been coming to Austin since I was old enough to lie.”
Austin, he noted, “is so hopping. With live music and great restaurants, it’s grown like a weed.” He even bought an additional plot of land south of Austin near a new golf course.
His current place is fine, he said, but he got upset after a tenant falsely accused him of not picking up after his dog Mustard. One day after playing golf and having imbibed a few cocktails, he entered the building and saw the homeowners association having a meeting. He impulsively crashed the meeting and gave them a tongue lashing for the mistake.
“It was brutal,” he said. “It was ridiculous. The turd sat there in the parking lot for a week but it wasn’t my dog’s. The HOA hates my guts now.”
White has became close friends with fellow comic and popular podcaster Joe Rogan and was thrilled that Rogan also moved to Austin. The city, he said, is becoming a hotbed for comedy. And there are comedy spots near his penthouse for him to test jokes. “Rogan is planning a club there,” he said.
He enjoys the exposure he gets from being on Rogan’s show, where they shoot the breeze for hours. Rogan now draws millions of listeners per episode, bigger and deeper exposure than “The Tonight Show” or any of the other chat shows, White said.
“We’re kindred spirits,” White said. “We have chosen this lifestyle. He just works way harder than I do. I didn’t have that much energy when I was 18.”
While White has embarked on a few TV and film projects over the years, his primary income has come from stand up.
He is constantly refining his main act, regularly adding and subtracting jokes. The best ones, he said, last up to three years.
White is one of the rare comics who is deeply defined by one single story. It was about a time he got super drunk and was thrown out of a bar. One of the key punchlines involved the phrase “Tater Salad.” The joke became so tied with White, that his fans now call him that.
“It evolved into this really tight thing with all these punchlines,” he said. “It became my signature style, which is long-form story telling.” (A version of him telling the joke has been seen more than 8 million times on YouTube.)
One of the best lines from that story also was used as a title for his 2006 best-selling book: “I Had the Right to Remain Silent But I Didn’t Have the Ability.”
White said that while the core of that story was largely true, it was actually the combination of two different alcohol-infused nights merged together.
“My fans know that story so well, they can practically sing along to it,” he said. “I’ve done it a couple of times in recent years. I don’t get the payoff for it. I get applause instead of laughter.”
At the same time, he takes pride that he created something so iconic.
“It’s made me a little weepy thinking I wrote something so well that people can recite it word for word for five and a half minutes,” he said.
His on-stage stories all sound plausibly autobiographical so “my fans believe every word I say like it’s a newscast,” he said. “Quite frankly, some of the stories are very, very true. But some are complete figments of my imagination.”
He has been touring regularly since last summer. The pandemic has been odd only because he has noticed that often up to 15% of the seats in his sold-out shows remain empty. “People buy tickets but don’t show up,” he said. “They don’t ask for refunds. It’s odd.”
Although Foxworthy, Engvall, Larry the Cable Guy and White could easily rake in big bucks doing a reunion tour, White has resisted for years in part because he feels his show has gotten way too dirty to match up with the other three’s cleaner acts.
And with his pending retirement, the likelihood has shrunken even more.
IF YOU GO
8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 14. $45-$82. Fox Theatre, 600 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta. foxtheatre.org.