In the taxonomy of 21st century comedians, Reno Collier is the rarest of birds: a political conservative. The former P.E. teacher made his name in the early 2000s touring alongside blue collar comedy stalwarts Jeff Foxworthy and Larry the Cable Guy. In recent years, however, he has found himself in scarcer company.
Perhaps it’s because the nature of comedy has changed. A quick look at the biggest comedy brands of the last 20 years—”The Daily Show,” “The Colbert Report,” Funny Or Die, “The Onion”—reveals a clear left-leaning bias. Whereas the original Blue Collar Comedy Tour sold out football stadiums and spawned a WB series and popular Sirius XM Radio channel, a 2007 attempt to reboot the tour with Collier and three other young comics yielded humbler results.
For his part, Collier seems less aggrieved by the surplus of liberal stand-ups than he does the paucity of opportunities for conservatives to enjoy non-liberal comedy. His own set tends to avoid politicized subjects, taking aim instead at topics as wide-ranging as NASA and his adopted home of Murfreesboro, TN—though some moments do give a peek into his personal beliefs. A joke about evolution in his Dry Bar Comedy Special filmed earlier this year, for example, begins with Collier asking an audience member if she believe in science before saying, “It ain’t real.”
The comedian headlines Dead Crow on Friday and Saturday, with two shows each night. The performances come on the heels of his “Freedom to Laugh” tour with fellow conservatives Chad Prather, Michael Loftus and Brian Haner, which wrapped in November.
encore caught up with Collier by phone last month.
encore (e): Why do you think there are so few mainstream conservative comedians nowadays? At the very least, if you look at the late-night TV landscape, there’s not exactly a conservative Stephen Colbert.
Reno Collier (RC): I think television has been split apart into so many “avenues,” for lack of a better word. It used to be, “I want to appeal to the masses.” Now, there’s so much competition that people are happy with just having a little tiny group that will latch onto them. So, if they go, “We want to go after the college audience,” well, what’s the obvious slant to that? Buyers and companies that buy commercials [are] always looking for that 18 to 35 [demographic], because that’s who spends the most money. So they try to appease to them.
I’m not even a political comedian, but I’m just so sick of hearing the same stuff all the time. You know, a Trump joke is funny—and this has nothing to do with Trump. A joke about an apple can be funny, but if you hear apple jokes all day long, it’s like, “God, dude—doesn’t anybody write anything else?”
e: A younger comedian told me earlier this year that now is the perfect time not to do political comedy because nobody wants to hear about it.
RC: I 100% agree with that, except there’s a whole bunch of people that feel like they can’t go to any comedy show if they’re conservative. I’m a Christian guy, and I’m not offended by anything—like Dave Chappelle doesn’t offend me. I think he’s brilliant. But there are people that get offended by that stuff, and they go, “Well, why would I pay money to go and get slammed for an hour and a half, and sit there and have to be quiet and feel like I can’t express my views because if I do I’m going to be attacked?”
I think people need a break from it. It’s exhausting. I mean, look at this stuff with Chick-fil-A. People are flipping out. They’re not giving money to Christian organizations anymore. Well, they can pick and choose who they want to give money to. But I know people that go to Chick-fil-A specifically because that’s what it is. It’s silly. I go for the chicken.
e: Do you think liberals and conservatives are looking for different kinds of comedy?
RC: Well, I’ll tell you this: Conservatives don’t support comedy like liberals do.
e: You mean they don’t come out to shows?
RC: They like seeing people are doing things, but they don’t come out. People that go to Trump rallies obviously are fired up. . . . Have you ever noticed how, if Ben Affleck comes out and says something, conservatives don’t go, “I’m never going to anything he’s in”? Some will, but the majority are like, “Oh, that’s a good movie. We’ll go see it.” Liberals are like, “That guy’s in it?” The people from “Will & Grace,” they were tweeting out, like, “We want to know who supports Trump so we know who never to work with.” That was the most honest thing that’s been said in Hollywood since I lived there. They’ll pile on.
Then if you’re producing something, you go, “Well, do I want to take a chance on this getting boycotted because I have Kelsey Grammer in it? Or could I find somebody else who’s just like him who I won’t get any feedback, and everyone in Hollywood will lift me up because I’m supporting the same cause?” I know agents and comedians and actors who are conservative and will not say a damn thing about it. Because it’s their livelihood.
e: Do you still perform at colleges?
RC: Oh, I wouldn’t do one right now for anything. It’s the same thing. I grew up in the ‘80s. First of all, my parents told me never to ask anybody who they voted for because it’s rude. Even if somebody did vote for somebody else, you didn’t hate them. You know what I mean? You didn’t attack their family.
By the way, when I was [younger], I wouldn’t have said any of this. A lot of it is: I’ve got kids and I’ve changed. I used to booze it up everyday. I don’t drink anymore. So I get the younger view of this and I think they’re right. These poor kids growing up in this…
When I was a kid, I wanted to be Eddie Murphy so bad it hurt. Like, I used to hide and listen to his tapes. I’m not anything like Eddie Murphy, but there have to be influences. So, now, the kids’ influences are people standing up there like, “Uh, Trump sucks,” and everybody claps. Well, what’s creative about that? “He’s orange.” Yes, he is orange. But what’s creative about that?
e: What’s the worst thing about being a comic on the road?
RC: Travel. You’re basically a pilot delivering jokes. You’re flying every week and getting stuck in airports and stuff like that. But somebody told me a long time ago that comics will work 80 hours a week to avoid working 40. Which is so true.
e: Can you tell me about being a spokesperson for A Soldier’s Child?
RC: What we do is for any kid who’s lost a parent—whether it be overseas or unfortunately sometimes when they come back home—we have a birthday party for them through their 18th birthday. [We have a golf tournament,] we have a songwriting camp, we have summer camps, we have college scholarships. The camps are set up—when you go through something as catastrophic as [losing a parent], you feel like you’re all alone, you know? And by getting all these other kids together, hundreds of them who have been through the same thing, they form bonds and friendships that are automatically there because they’ve been through something so painful.
I’m a crier dude, and I can’t make it through anything. The biggest mistake was the first year, like ten years ago, they asked if I’d do a benefit show, and I’m like, ‘Of course I will.’ But I did the show after we did the birthday presentations. And I’m standing up there, and thank god everybody was laughing, because I was still crying.