Larry the Cable Guy for “Cars”

Larry the Cable Guy has taken blue collar comedy to a whole new level. A major success in the United States, audiences will see a whole new side of him as the voice of Mater, a gentle pick up truck that befriends an initially egotistical car champ [Owen Wilson] who finds himself stranded in a small town, in Pixar’s latest animated comedy, Cars. Larry was at full throttle when he spoke to Paul Fischer.

Question: Was it natural for you to play this character?

Larry: Oh yeah. I think I was. When they thought of a tow truck they had me in mind, apparently. I got into the character, though. They told me I was going to play a tow truck, so I put on 1,700 pounds. I’ve actually lost some weight since we done that. Then I found out it was a cartoon, and I felt like an idiot. (Laughs)

Question: They try to incorporate characteristics of the actors into characters. Was there a phrase or something you brought to the character that wasn’t on the page?

Larry: Yeah. Dag gum. I think I got a “get er done” in there. (His catch phrase.) Dag gum was definitely something I brought to it. John Lassiter basically had this in his head. He knew what that tow truck looked like. He just had to find the voice to match what that was. When he heard my voice, he was like, that’s the voice of that truck. So that’s how I got that. Because he thought I sounded like the voice of this truck. But the truck, itself, was his brainchild. As far as certain phrases, yeah, I came up with certain phrases. Probably pulled it apart from other stuff.

Question: Did the character and your voice evolve throughout the process?

Larry: I had never done voiceovers before. So I remember when I first started doing it, I did like the first five lines and I then I was starting to do another one, and I said, John, can I do this line a little different because I just don’t feel comfortable the way they’ve got it written. And he said, no, that’s what I want you to do. We love the voice. We want you to be this character so you do it how you want to. As long as you talk about the gist of what it’s talking about. I don’t care how you get there, just get there. That was a whole different thing. That’s when I started throwing stuff in and changing lines around. As long as I got where we were supposed to be, I could do that. That made it a lot more comfortable for me. The more I did it, the more I got comfortable in the studio, yeah, I guess you could say, it evolved, and knowing what I was doing anyway.

Question: Was there stuff you couldn’t use because it’s a family movie?

Larry: No. Not at all. I do different shows for different people. I can adapt to anything. It’s like Eddie Murphy. Eddie Murphy is all of a sudden is this big kids’ guy and I’m definitely not even close to anything he used to be as far as PG ratings are concerned.

Question: How famous were you when this process started?

Larry: Oh shoot. I was real famous down at the 7-11 around the corner. (Laughs) It’s been crazy. I never dreamed in a million years about this. I pinch myself all the time. Every year it’s gotten better and better.

Question: But were you less known when they approached you about this role?

Larry: Oh yeah. The first “Blue Collar (Comedy Tour)” came out … I had a real big following from comedy clubs. I could sell out comedy clubs, but once Blue Collar hit, things started to pop. When I got the role, yeah, I was way less recognizable than I am now.

Question: Are you looking for different challenges as an actor now?

Larry: (He chuckles.) You know what, I can guarantee you’re not going to see me doing a lot of Shakespeare. (Laughs) I’m comfortable in what I do. I’m not trying to be somebody I’m not. I’m just doing what I do. I have certain things that make me laugh. Certain things that are funny to me. No, if something comes along and it’s something I want to do, I’ll do it. It’s kind of like, your fans like to see you do different things. I know I do. I’m a fan just like anybody else. I’m a big fan of George Strait. George Strait put a move out. It might not have done very well, but I went to see it and I liked it. It was George Strait. I think a lot of fans of mine are the same way. Larry’s got a movie out. That’s who I do it for. I do it for them. As long as my fans want to see me do other things, I’ll do other things. As far as me seeking something out and going I think I should do a more serious role and try and build my acting skills, I could care less about that. I got into stand-up because I like making people laugh and I enjoy it. I always said if I can do stand-up and make a good living at it, I’d be happy. I’ve done that and well above that. Anything that comes along I’m happy to do it and give it a shot.

Question: When “Health Inspector” came out, it tied with Sharon Stone’s “Basic Instinct 2.”

Larry: (He laughs.) More people wanted to see me sit on a toilet than see her spread her legs. What’s that have to say (He laughs some more.) The only difference is my movie cost $3 million (to make) and hers cost $54 million.

Question: Do you think America’s loosening up or that you’re more of a sex symbol?

Larry: (He laughs.) More of a sex symbol, yeah.

Question: Owen was never in the recording studio with you?

Larry: No.

Question: Was that weird for you to talk to the wall?

Larry: Yeah. It wasn’t that bad because John Lassiter is a real good guy. We got to be pretty good friends. He’s a big NASCAR fan. He told me he wanted to come down to Biffalo , Florida, where I live. I live north of there, but Biffalo , Florida is outside of Orlando, and they have figure eight bus races. He’d heard about these figure eight bus races, so we got to talking about them, because I’d been to them. He was there and Joe Rampf, who passed away (last year) was there as well. I got to be good friends with him as well. It was just us three in the booth there, and Joe would read the line before mine, and then I’d read it, and John would laugh. It was fun, I just enjoyed it. I didn’t feel I was talking to a wall. I was getting into the part, laughing, and it was a lot of fun.

Question: You’re doing Mater again for the DVD, right?

Larry: Yeah, we’re doing “Mater and the Ghost Light.” It’s a whole other five-minute bit in there.

Question: Does the character grow or is it more of the same?

Larry: Yeah, it’s much like the movie. They wanted to show Mater’s heart and how he was towards other people. So it’s kind of like the same kind of thing, but it’s a whole other story.

Question: What comic actors are you a fan of?

Larry: Steve Martin got me into the business. I love Steve Martin. I loved him because he was real irreverent and he did silly things. I love silly stuff. He was on stage with the arrow in his head doing the Happy Feet (routine). To me, that’s hilarious. Steve Martin, Jonathan Winters. I love Don Rickles for the fact that he can just hammer everybody including himself, and he was hilarious doing it. The old-timers: Milton Beryl, Henny Youngman. I got to work with Henny Youngman one time at a benefit. We sat down and talked. I love him to death. I like all that kind of humour. So I try to put a mix of all that into my act. One of my favourite shows was Monty Python’s Flying Circus. I saw an interview with one of the guys from Monty Python one time and he said, there’s a Broadway show going on right now, it’s kicking butt, and he said, it’s good to see that America is getting its sense of humour back. There was a time that they didn’t laugh at silly anymore. Silliness was oh you’re lowbrow, but now they’re coming back. And they’re laughing at silliness. Those guys were all silly.

Question: What makes you laugh now?

Larry: The same kind of stuff. I’ve been a fan of the “Top Secret”-type movies.

Question: When you meet a celebrity, do you try to make them laugh and put them at ease?

Larry: When I meet a celebrity, I’m as star-struck as anybody else that’s not in the business. I go up and say, hi. I don’t try to make them laugh. If I’m comfortable with them, I’ll go up and say something funny to them.

Question: Have you met Paul Newman yet?

Larry: Never met Paul Newman. No.

Question: Are you looking forward to meeting him?

Larry: Yeah. I think it’s great at his age that he continues to work. You’d never guess the guy’s 81 years old in a million years. The only clue that he’s that old is in the first draft of the movie, he’s the only car with his blinker the whole time. (Laughs)

Question: Has success changed you?

Larry: Not at all. I’m from a small town. I grew up a country kid. I moved to West Palm Beach, Florida in 1979. A lot of people go, “oh, he’s from Palm Beach.” I’m not from Palm Beach, I’m from West Palm Beach. Especially in the 1970s and 1980s there’s a big different between Palm Beach and West Palm Beach. I used to board my horses two blocks away from where I lived in West Palm Beach. That shows how much it’s grown down there.

Question: So you didn’t hobnob with the Kennedys?

Larry: No, I didn’t. But actually with the cars in this movie, the way they drive themselves, I’m going to send them one.

Question: Where do your ideas come from today?

Larry: It’s just getting out and doing things. Going to races. Somebody says something and then you pop out a quip and everybody laughs and (you think), I gotta write that down. That’s basically where I get it all. All of my stuff is pretty nonsensical.

Question: Did you ever take a road trip?

Larry: Man, I always wanted to do it. My friends and I talked about getting motorcycles and going down Route 66. Then we saw some movie where all these biker gangs are on Route 66, and we got scared, so we didn’t do it. (Laughs)

Question: What’s next?

Larry: I’m home for a week. Then I do Jay Leno on the sixth. We’ve got another Blue Collar movie coming out June 4 on Comedy Central. Then I start filming a movie called Delta Farce.

Question: Who’s in it?

Larry: Bill Engball’s going to do that with me. Then they still have to get the third guy. It’s another fun movie. It’s a little different for me. I play more of a straight man. Bill and the other guy are playing the doofuses. I’m still a doofus but not as much of a doofus are they are. I’ve toned down my doofusness. Actually, I didn’t want to do any movie, because I’m a big supporter of the troops. I do a lot of stuff for the troops. I wanted to do a movie that I thought they’d be happy with. I didn’t want, especially when we’re at war, I didn’t want to do anything. We sent the script to all the (Defence) departments: the army, Navy, Marines and the Pentagon, and they loved it. They liked it so much they want us to do the premiere at Walter Reed Hospital.

Question: When you do Leno, do you create all new material?

Larry: I do. This will be my 10th appearance coming up. I’ve done 70 minutes of material on there and not repeated a thing. It’s difficult, but I write all the time and I’ve got notebooks full of one-liners that I’ve never even tried before. I’ll have at least enough. Every time I go on, I’ve tried out enough stuff that I know it’s going to work and Jay’s a good friend. He makes it comfortable for me on there. Depending on who the guest is, I ad-lib off the guest. Jay sets me up with good stuff.

Question: Is the Cable Guy your legal name?

Larry: No.

Question: What’s your name?

Larry: Dan. Last name’s Whitney.

Question: Larry’s not your first name?

Larry: No. That’s my middle name.

Question: Why not use Dan?

Larry: When I started doing call-ins on radio stations, I was doing it as a joke and everybody on morning shows use fake names, generally. So I just threw out Larry, my middle name, I didn’t want to use my first name. I had no idea that it would catch on the way it caught on. It did make sense to travel under a different name than the one I was using on the radio. It all started with call-on radios. 27 stations. The first paid gig was the May of 1988.