Jeff Foxworthy on ‘Bring the Funny’ & Why It’s Never Been Harder to Do Comedy

Bring The Funny - Season 1
Andrew Eccles/NBC

There are many ways to get a laugh, and NBC plans to spotlight them on its new competition series Bring the Funny, which will feature all genres of comedy, including stand-up, variety, sketch and everything in between.

Some of the world’s most unique and emerging acts take the stage before an audience, and judges Kenan Thompson, Chrissy Teigen and Jeff Foxworthy will weigh in. Comedian Amanda Seales hosts as viewers take the journey toward the live finale which will feature someone walking away with serious money in the form of a $250,000 prize package.

Foxworthy loved the idea for the show, done in partnership with international organization Just for Laughs. The veteran entertainer, known for his blue-collar and trademark, “You might be a redneck” humor, finds what makes the series interesting is the diversity of talent that goes beyond just stand-up.

“As you’re judging, there are times you have a stand-up against a sketch troupe or a musical act up against a comedy magician,” Foxworthy said. “You’re not comparing apples to apples, but you are comparing funny to funny. We don’t care how you do it, just be funny.”

Before the competition gets underway, Foxworthy gives us an idea of what to expect from this fun summer watch.

How would you describe your dynamic with the other judges?

Jeff Foxworthy: I’ve been doing stand-up for 35 years, and 35 years goes by real quick. You don’t realize that you’ve accumulated all this knowledge and idea about how to do things. But I’m the guy who knows stand-up. Kenan is the longest cast member on SNL. He probably knows sketch better than anybody in the world. And Chrissy, I think, is the most important judge because she only knows, does it make me laugh or not?

When we got started we thought, “Well, none of us is like the Simon.” It works. If I’m doing stand-up, and I know it’s their first time doing TV and they’re nervous, and it’s making them speed up. I can say, “Hey, let me tell you something someone told me the first time I did The Tonight Show…” Kenan can do this with sketch. It’s kind of a cool mix.

What would you say your judging style and approach is when you’re seeing these acts, knowing you have the fate of somebody’s professional life essentially in your hands?

I am empathetic, because I have been them. I’ve been the new kid. I think I got turned down six times by Star Search. They thought I wasn’t funny enough or too Southern. Then, the first time I did The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, [Star Search host] Ed McMahon leaned over and said, “How come you haven’t done Star Search?” Because you’ve turned me down six times.

I know what that feels like, so I try to be encouraging. I try when it’s applicable to give advice. Not for them to do it like I do it, but give them something to think about. I want them to know that even if you don’t advance in this, it can make you dig that much harder. Embrace the moment, learn from it. Maybe it’s your moment or maybe it’s not, it’s certainly not the end of your career. You may not be ready and have to go in the oven a little bit longer.

And hopefully there is another season so they can come back a second time.

I would love that. Sometimes I’ve gone, “Okay, I’ll be glad when this is over.” With this, I hope we keep doing it. It’s just enjoyable. From a timing perspective, we need it. I think we’ve gotten to the point where we just yell at each other. I’ve said this to Chrissy and Kenan. Man, as a country we need to laugh a little bit. Hit the release valve so we aren’t so uptight. We need to be able to laugh a little bit.

When you think back 35 years ago, our country was a different place than it is now. It seems like you have to worry about offending someone more than ever. Everything you do or say can have an adverse effect on social media or elsewhere. Do you think it’s more challenging now to get into comedy than when you were starting out?

I do think it’s more challenging now. Entertainment has always evolved, but I was telling my friend a while ago that if I was starting out as a comic, I would have to relearn everything. Most of the big money I made selling records or CD’s or DVD’s. I think the first two comedy albums I did sold four million copies apiece. Now nobody buys records, CD’s, DVD’s. The whole way I knew how to make a living being a comic has changed. Now if I’m on stage every third person in the audience has their phone out recording me. I know that before I get back to the hotel whatever I just said will be on YouTube.

People are much more sensitive. I’ve never been mean-spirited. That’s just not how I am as a human being. I didn’t used to worry near as much as I do now. I sit down writing now wondering, “Hey, is someone going to be offended?” I did a bit on a couple of specials about a woman with a really big butt coming up to talk to me. I got an email from a lady that said, “I’ve laughed at you for 20 years, but I have a very big butt and was offended by that.” I thought, “Well, for 20 years you’ve laughed at me making fun of myself, my kids, my wife, my family. I ain’t judging you for having a big butt, but have a sense of humor about it.”

As a comic, you have to find what you have in common. I don’t care where people are politically. If you sit those people down and talk to them about what was important to them in life and what they want for their life, and for their kids, I bet we would agree on about 85 percent of those things. We got to the point where we scream and yell at each other about the 15 percent we don’t agree on instead of celebrating the 85 percent we’re alike.

On the topic of changes and evolving, Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader is back with a new host in John Cena. What do you think of the revival?

Honestly, there is a part of me like, “No, that’s my baby. I carried that one for nine months and gave birth to that one.” It kind of feels weird. The last time I was out there I had a friend who still works on the show inviting me to the set. I’m like, “No, it feels weird.” It would also probably make John feel weird. I know it would make me feel weird because I was in that thing for the development stages. But I loved doing the show and wish them nothing but success.

Why should people watch Bring the Funny?

I think the fun thing for the audience is you don’t know before they come out there what they’re going to do. I think for us as judges, it’s kind of the same way. I remember real early someone came out with a guitar. I can’t remember if it was Chrissy or Kenan, but they didn’t like guitar acts. By the end of it, they loved it. Somebody they thought they weren’t going to like won them over.

I think that’s the intrigue about this thing. One of the acts are two buddies who do these two-man skits that are almost a throwback to vaudeville or The Carol Burnett Show, but it’s brilliant. When they come out, you’re beating the table laughing think you didn’t see it coming. Just when you got something figured out, no you don’t.

Bring the Funny, Tuesdays beginning July 9, 10/9c, NBC