Same gag gets not-so-new packaging

If you were to look up ‘not funny’ in the dictionary, you would find Jeff Foxworthy’s newest book

Don M. Burrows

If you write a book that takes words and makes up phonetically countrified equivalents found at any Oklahoma rest stop, you just might be a has-been stand-up comic with no new material. You just might be Jeff Foxworthy.

I stumbled upon Foxworthy’s “Redneck Dictionary,” at the bottom of a pile of books in the A&E section. But I’m not sure how it made it into the pile. In truth, it’s not a book, really – though it does have the requisite ISBN. It’s more like a compilation of 75 T-shirts bought from a roadside-stand and packed between two covers.

I admit I found Foxworthy’s “You might be a redneck” routine funny the first time I heard it. When I was 10. That was before I moved to Arkansas and found a whole host of people who seemed bent on tying their identity to the very absurdity Foxworthy was pointing out in his comedy. Yes, I realize they probably were just laughing at themselves. And no, that doesn’t make me feel any better about it.

I actually checked the copyright on the book to make sure it wasn’t simply a hardback that had been magically preserved at the Daily since the Bush I era. No such luck. Random House did indeed just publish this raid on the English tongue and is hawking it along with a press release hailing the tome as a “hilarious parody of traditional pocket dictionaries.”

But it’s neither hilarious nor a parody, as the latter requires cleverness and satire and a point, whilst Foxworthy settles for badly drawn cartoon visual aids and 40-point font to inflate the 300 words he and his team painfully forced into rustic speech.

You’ve probably seen most of the plays on words in chain e-mails or Lil’ Abner cartoon strips. “Debate” is aptly glossed as “anything used to entice prey,” as in “which worm we’re going to use for debate.” Get it? It sounds like “the bait.” That’s why it’s so funny.

The book’s preface makes it clear Foxworthy is going to rehash his tired bits and a number of other routines making fun of the uneducated both at their expense and with their laughing complicity. Foxworthy mentions that the idea for this book (and really everything else he’s done) “came early in my career when people in New York, L.A. and Chicago made fun of the words I used in everyday conversation. Like, ‘Did you eat yet?’ was really just one word: jeet-yet?”

The part about “early in my career” is the important element of the remark, though Foxworthy repeats the “jeet-yet” joke for us as though we weren’t there the first time and as though every pancake house from here to Tennessee hadn’t adopted it as a billboard slogan. Foxworthy then signs his preface with the valedictory “Keep laughing,” though he provides us with no means to do so in the next 151 pages.

Having just moved from the South, I find Foxworthy’s comedy neither insulting nor endearing to Southern culture. I instead find it a hallmark of our times, in which we’ve glorified “plain speech” to the point of basking in illiteracy while becoming openly hostile to anyone who can put a sentence together.

Thus in the past two presidential elections, we’ve seen many turn the eloquence of a candidate into his worst quality: Anyone who talks that right can’t be no good. Foxworthy and his “Blue Collar TV” crew cater to this, even if they think they don’t.

Comedy is as much an art as other forms. And when people start laughing at things that aren’t clever, it’s only a matter of time before they start making serious life decisions based on effectual political sensationalism or dumbed-down marketing routines that likewise require little to no cognitivep assistance. If you think we’re not already staring down that social precipice, turn off O’Reilly and start paying attention.

But most of all, I just find it stupid. Not even the kind of stupid that makes me laugh in spite of myself, like “Airplane II” stupid, but the kind of stupid that almost makes you embarrassed to have read it. It’s a book you’re afraid to pick up at the store even just to see how stupid it is, lest someone should spot you and assume the unthinkable.

You’re far from being a redneck if you buy this book and enjoy it. You’re just a simpleton who’s out 17 bucks.