Larry the Cable Guy

Larry the Cable Guy in Times Square. (Courtesy of the MSL Group, Handout photo / November 15, 2011)

Larry the Cable Guy's done some tailgating in his day. Naturally, he's got some advice to offer.

"First off," says Larry, who will be at M&T Bank Stadium this Sunday to tailgate with Ravens fans as part of a promotion for Prilosec OTC heartburn medicine, "you always wait about an hour before you lick the grill. That's always a priority."

Wise words, indeed. Anything else?

Larry thinks for a moment. "You know it's a good tailgate," he offers, "when you actually miss the game."

For more than 20 years, Larry the Cable Guy (real name: Dan Whitney, although that name would mean nothing to your average tailgating crowd) has been spouting his own brand of blue-collar humor. He has written books (2005's "Git-R-Done"), recorded albums (only he could get away with the title "The Right to Bare Arms"), acted (2008's "Witless Protection"), even done voice work — most memorably as Mater the tow truck in Pixar's "Cars" films.

He's also done more for sleeveless flannel shirts than probably any man in history.

Not bad for a self-proclaimed "average guy," who's been mining laughs from his calculatedly uncouth persona a lot longer than almost anyone would have thought possible.

"It's been 11 years since Blue Collar started," Whitney says with a laugh, slipping out of character and referring to the multimillion-dollar comedy tour he undertook with fellow redneck comics Jeff Foxworthy, Ron White and Bill Engvall. "Eleven years since the critics said my 15 minutes of fame was up. Four Billboard awards, two Grammy nominations later … yeah, it's been pretty cool."

Larry reunited with Foxworthy and Engvall for this year's "Them Idiots Whirled Tour."

Whitney, 48, acknowledges that there's a lot of Larry in his DNA. The character, who's also seen on TV's History channel as the host of "Only in America with Larry the Cable Guy," is equal parts him and a mix of everyone else he's ever met. Well, maybe not everyone, but Larry's quite the polyglot.

"I grew up on a pig farm in southeast Nebraska," he says. "Then I moved to Florida, and I hung out with all the Florida crackers. I went to college in Georgia, and my roommate was from Dalton, Ga. — my other one's from Beaumont, Texas — and that's where I picked up my accent good."

Whitney stretches out that last sentence with a distinctly backwoods drawl. "I just kinda combined everybody into one dude," he says. "I find it just as funny as everybody else does."

And no, Whitney concedes readily, he had no idea the gag would run as long as it has."It was just something fun to do on the radio," he says. "I had to be funny on the radio every day, and I had to do something different if I wanted to stay on."

Still, Whitney says he likes it when people can see there's more to him than Larry. Which is why he's getting such a kick out of doing "Only In America," wrapping up its second season on History.

"It's a project that kinda shows a different side of me," he says. "It's the first project I've done where they didn't want me to play it completely my character. So I didn't. I play it half character, half myself."

The series, which made its debut in February, has Larry/Whitney traveling across the country, talking to people about what they do, having some fun with them. Among his favorite subjects, Whitney says, was a woman in a Zambelli Fireworks plant who became tongue-tied when asked to explain what she did.

"She really couldn't explain what she was doing, she just knew what she was doing," says Whitney, laughing at the memory. "It was one of the funniest moments of the whole season. I'd say to her, 'You don't even work here, do you?' and she'd get all flustered.

"I come across a lot of really funny people," he says, striking an appropriately populist note, "people that never get any news coverage, are just out there working, you know, making the economy spin. We have a lot of good interaction, a lot of good laughs. I really enjoy doing it."

Larry hopes for a similar sort of experience when he hits Baltimore this Sunday, where he promises to show fans "a better way to tailgate."

Which means exactly what?

"I'll hang out, sign autographs, tell some jokes and be part of the tailgate," he promises, noting the contest's grand prize is a tailgate party with him at the Super Bowl. "It'll be fun."

And what about food? Sure, there'll be burgers and dogs, but anything else?

"Oh yeah," he says, offering an answer sure to please his corporate sponsor. "We'll have anything that will make you want to take Prilosec OTC."

chris.kaltenbach@baltsun.com

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