Foxworthy fast on his feet

Successful stand-up comics typically graduate to films and sitcoms. But these days, there's another lucrative option for established wiseguys — game shows.

Drew Carey, Howie Mandel and Jeff Foxworthy are just some of the comedians helping make ends meet as this era's Bob Barker.

Foxworthy, 51, who is the host of the recently syndicated Fox game show "Are You Smarter Than a 5th-Grader?," isn't surprised that comics are hot commodities in a realm once synonymous with people as serious as Alex Trebek.

"I think it works having comics do these shows because we can think fast on our feet," he said while calling from his Atlanta home. "We can bust on people but I never try to be mean. I just try to think fast."

The same goes for when Foxworthy, who will perform tonight at Hartman Arena, delivers stand-up. "There are always times during my shows when I'm out there in the moment," Foxworthy said. "I love thinking on my feet."

Foxworthy has proven that nice guys don't always finish last. The laid-back entertainer, who has sold more comedy albums than any other humorist, is an anomaly among comics, who are stereotypically neurotic and loopy. Foxworthy comes across as pleasant and levelheaded.

It's not uncommon to find the Blue Collar Comedy ringleader shaking hands with fans. Recently he surprised a second-grader by visiting him in his Atlanta classroom.

"The student's father sent me a letter saying that his son wrote that I was his hero," Foxworthy said. "I asked where the school was and I stopped in and it was fun."

It wasn't a given that Foxworthy would become a comic. The Georgia Tech alum worked for five years at IBM before entering and winning a contest at an Atlanta comedy club in 1984.

"I was just following in the footsteps of my father who worked there," Foxworthy said. "Comedy was not a safe way to make a living, so I worked on mainframes. But thanks to friends who worked at IBM, I went onstage and I loved it. They encouraged me to give it a shot and they were right. I could do it."

After honing his considerable skills for a decade, Foxworthy hit paydirt in 1993 with the album "You Might Be a Redneck If." The disc, which sold more than 3 million copies, topped the comedy album charts and started a fad. Foxworthy wrote three redneck books as well.

"People can relate to the redneck jokes," Foxworthy said. "Everyone knows a redneck or they might be that redneck. You can be anywhere in the country and be a redneck."

ABC felt the same way as Foxworthy. The network aired "The Jeff Foxworthy Show," a sitcom based on his stand-up comedy persona, in 1995. The show was a gritty, humorous program, cut in the "Roseanne" mold. However, it was canceled after one season. NBC picked it up, but also dropped the show after a single season.

"That was sad because I just didn't think the networks knew how to market the show," Foxworthy said. "I made a show for all the people, and there's a lot them in between New York and Los Angeles. But the people at the networks just didn't get it."

But everything Foxworthy touches these days is panning out just fine.

"I'm fortunate that way," Foxworthy said. "Things are fine. I can't believe ("5th Grader") is going in syndication. I get to write more books and then there is my stand-up, which put me where I'm at right now. I have no complaints."

If you go

jeff foxworthy

Where: Hartman Arena, 8151 N. Hartman Arena Drive, Park City

When: 7:30 p.m. today

How much: Tickets $25-$65 available at the Hartman Arena box office, online at www.stage1tickets.com, or by calling 888-755-2583.