Comedian Ron White strives to keep it real

Even after 23 years as a stand-up comic on the road, Ron White can't wait to get on stage for a show.

"The first drink of the day is the one I bring on stage with me. The first cigar of the day is the one I carry," says White, who has cultivated a sort of Southern gentleman-bad boy image of devil-may-care partying, sort of like Dean Martin. "If I have two shows on the same night, I may get a little wasted by the end. But I'm always still in control."

White, 52, said he began carrying drinks and smokes on stage as a fledgling stand-up because he didn't know what to do with his hands.

"I always thought it was more interesting to listen to somebody if they were doing something instead of just standing there, like George Burns with his cigar," he says.

White will bring his "Behavioral Problems" tour, based on his top-rated Comedy Central special, to Wichita's Century II Concert Hall on Tuesday and Wednesday. He was originally scheduled for one show but it sold out so quickly, he added a second.

"About a third of the material will be from the special because people will gripe if I don't do some familiar stuff," White says by phone from Atlanta, where he lives part of the year. "I get that. I can remember going to see Steve Martin and being disappointed when he didn't do anything I was expecting.

"About two-thirds will be new stuff that I'm writing now. I'm always going to comedy clubs to work things out. I guess I'm always on tour. I take a few weeks in the summer for a vacation but I'm usually doing two or three towns a week."

White, a Texas native who describes himself as "a day sleeper and a night crawler," became famous as the fourth member of the "Blue Collar Comedy Tour" with Jeff Foxworthy, Bill Engvald and Larry the Cable Guy. While the others played up their redneck roots in jeans and plaid shirts, White was cosmopolitan in dark suits with dark shirts.

"I was the counter-balance to Larry. I kept us from tipping all the way over to hick," White says with a laugh. "I was always sort of a clothes horse, even when I was a kid. I was always saving money to buy cool clothes. Then when I started stand-up, an old comic told me I should always be the best-dressed person in the room so people would naturally want to listen to me."

White declined to join his buddies in the popular "Blue Collar TV" follow-up. He claimed in his act he didn't have the work ethic for a weekly TV show but off-stage admitted he didn't want to be stereotyped as blue collar. He made numerous guest appearances, however, to stay part of the circle.

As a stand-up, White is known for his earthy, often ear-burning observational humor, often at his own expense.

"The first thing is that I like to tell stories. I'm introspective. I admit to my own faults. I'm not trying to be somebody I'm not. The best comics, from Richard Pryor to Jeff Foxworthy, are all real. They have that in common, so that's what I try to do."

White is a strong supporter of American soldiers, contributing to and working with the Armed Forces Fund to help returning vets readjust to civilian life in hopes of heading off homelessness or substance abuse.

"They've asked me to perform in Iraq but I said (expletive deleted) 'no' because, at 52 with bad knees, I'd be an easy target," he said with a laugh. "I weigh an eighth of a ton. If I had to jump out of a helicopter and run, you'd find me being beheaded in a propaganda tape. Nobody wants to see that."

If you go

Ron White's Behavioral Problems Tour

What: The Blue Collar comedian on tour with opening act Alex Reymundo

Where: Century II Concert Hall

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday

How much: Tickets $40.75, available at www.wichitatix.com or 316-219-4849.