Orlando Indie Comedy Festival: Ten and a Half questions with Liberal Redneck, Trae Crowder
When I met Trae Crowder at the start of the 2014 Orlando Indie Comedy Fest, I knew nothing about him. I complimented his Jason Isbell t-shirt and we bonded over music a bit. He was mild-mannered, soft-spoken, and his east Tennessee accent was familiar and warm, like a rocking chair on a porch next to an antique table and glass of iced tea.
Then I saw him perform. And, while all of those elements remained intact, a new one emerged; almost like that of a wild west gunslinger who’d peeled himself from a movie screen and now sauntered through town focused, sharp, firing with precision, speaking only when necessary and saying only exactly what needed to be said.
Crowder returned the following year, opening for veteran headliner Eddie Pepitone (Conan, Bob’s Burgers) at Will’s Pub, running that room ragged with a hurricane of wit, impressing even Pepitone himself.
In the year that followed, Crowder’s Liberal Redneck character (exactly what it sounds like) videos went viral, eventually garnering the attention of New York Daily News, which gave him his own segment as Hillbilly-in-Chief.
This led to the nationwide WellRED Comedy Tour, a book deal, an MSNBC interview, a discussion with Bill Maher, and a forthcoming television show optioned by Fox.
And, since it all started with me complimenting that Jason Isbell shirt, Crowder was kind enough to answer a few questions from the road, ahead of his appearance at this year’s Orlando Indie Comedy Festival, where he now headlines Will’s Pub, Friday, January 20th.
You came down for the first ever Orlando Indie Comedy Festival. What made you decide to take a chance on it?
I recently had a bit of a falling out with my home club. Up until then, I had been pretty much purely a club comic because, hell, I just thought that was how it worked. So that threw me for a loop and I realized I needed to recalibrate, so I decided that I was going to focus on doing fests and other alt shows for a bit, see how it went. So I started actively seeking out comedy fests, and found the OICF. I love Kyle Kinane, who was headlining, and I dug the way they described the fest on the site. Seemed like they were coming from a genuine place with it. So I said why not and submitted for consideration.
The second year of the Festival, you opened for Eddie Pepitone at Will’s Pub and absolutely destroyed. Like, made it hard to follow you destroyed. Do you approach opening for bigger acts or playing bigger venues differently or do you hit the stage doing what you’re going to do regardless? Any sort of mental preparation?
I mean, I definitely want to make a big impression in situations like that. Leave a mushroom cloud on the stage if possible. Having said that, I always want to have the best set I can, so I don’t know how different the approach really is, mentally or whatever. You have more adrenaline pumping for those Big Deal Sets like that, and I’m sure that makes a difference. A different energy. But that’s not a conscious decision or anything. All that I really do differently in those situations is I stick to established, proven material, and don’t work on new shit or anything. That’s about it.
I was born and raised in a rural small town in Florida and very much appreciate the Liberal Redneck for turning a stereotype on his head. Do you get that reaction from southerners a lot, or do more of them tend to hate it?
I think the answer to your question might genuinely be yes, I d o get that reaction from a lot of southerners. People I’ve met at shows on tour this past year. Literally hundreds, if not thousands. But you gotta think about the fact that most all of those people knew me from the videos and came out to my show knowing what they were signing up for, so it’s not surprising that they feel that way.
But I also think it’s probably true that most southerners hate it. I mean, statistically speaking, that’s almost definitely true. Or, at least, it’s true that they would hate it, if they knew about me at all. Us progressive southerners are way more numerous than most realize, but we are definitely still the minority, for now.
(Laughs) A couple, yeah. But none that have truly chilled me or anything. I’ve yet to feel genuinely threatened. But yeah, I’ve gotten some. One guy tweeted me a picture of a noose and then an oven, with captions like “this is your future, jew” or some shit. I’m not Jewish, for the record. Surprisingly, that guy’s not much of a fact checker.
There were a few other similar ones but all fairly run of the mill and dumb. No creativity, these trolls. No pizzazz. Kind of disappointing, really.
I know we should all come together and everything, but who would win in a chili cook-off, you or Larry the Cable Guy?
I think mine would taste better but he would market his flawlessly and have everyone convinced it’s more legit than it really is and would probably win.
How did the Liberal Redneck as a character come to be?
Well, I had a bit that I did for a long time where I would do basically what I do in the videos and say a bunch of super liberal shit in a very redneck way. I never actually said the words “liberal redneck” in the bit, but the “title” of the bit, like if I wrote a set list, was Liberal Redneck. And I wrote that bit during my first year doing comedy, so, I mean, the antecedent of the character has been around a long time. And that’s probably because it’s rooted in a lot of autobiographical truth. I grew up poor in a very redneck place and I’ve always been liberal in my beliefs, so it’s not much of a stretch, honestly.
When you’re on the road with the WellRED Comedy Tour (also featuring Drew Morgan and Corey Ryan Forrester), do you do your entire act as the Liberal Redneck?
Nope. I approach stand-up shows the same way I always have. Now, having said that, I’ve got my accent and dialect, and my politics definitely come through a lot, so it’s still kind of there. But am I “in character”? No.
Larry the Cable Guy (and I know, if I say his name one more time, he’ll appear and ask me to play golf) makes a point to stay in character to sell the brand, but in interviews and such, you’re Trae Crowder, absolutely defining the Liberal Redneck as a character.
How important is that to you? Do you think that helps get the Liberal Redneck’s messages across more, in that they’re coming from a real person, or could it run the risk of undermining the message — like, “Oh, he doesn’t really mean this, this is just a character”?
I definitely worried that people would think it’s all just a gimmick, and, I mean, a lot of people have. But I was worried more about pigeonholing myself into being exclusively The Liberal Redneck and leaving nothing for the actual me. I want it to be clear that the character is just one thing that I do, comedically, and not all there is. So, yes, I’ve been very conscientious of being myself as much as possible.
How much touring had you done as a stand-up comic prior to the first Orlando Indie Comedy Festival and the Liberal Redneck thing? Had stand-up been something you were actively pursuing before?
I think, around the first OICF, I had been doing comedy for … three years? Something like that. Not really touring, though. I mean, I had done shows around most of the south at that point, just not in big stretches and for basically no money, so not legit “touring.” I’ve wanted to be a comedian since I was twelve. That’s when Bigger and Blacker (Chris Rock) came out. So, yes, I was very actively pursuing it.
Congratulations on Fox picking up the Liberal Redneck concept for TV. What, if anything, can you tell us about the show?
It’s loosely based around my life experience. It’s about a scientist — like I said, loosely — who moves back to the redneck town he grew up in to work at the state of the art government lab there. Think Oak Ridge, TN and the Manhattan Project type stuff. So he’s caught between his redneck friends and family at home and the super cultured academics at the lab. What I like about it is it allows us to skewer both sides as appropriate in an authentic way. I’m excited about it.
I understand you’re making the move from Tennessee to L.A., which reminds me of Crocodile Dundee. What is your favorite scene or quote from Crocodile Dundee?
Probably the one where he takes that dude’s cocaine and mixes it with boiling water to help him clear his sinuses out. They just don’t write ‘em like they used to, Lar.