Comedian Jeff Foxworthy, beloved for his famed “you might be a redneck” routine, had some hilarious facts of life to share with members of the Rotary Club of Buckhead Monday. While the packed crowd filled the Maggiano’s ballroom with laughter, he touched on serious themes during his appearance.
Foxworthy received the Rev. Robert Ross Johnson Humanitarian Award in recognition of his charitable work with organizations including the Atlanta Mission, where he leads a weekly Bible study.
“I’ve always had a heart for the underdog,” said Foxworthy, who grew up in Hapeville, one of three siblings raised by a single mom after his dad left. He recalls traveling by bus for sports events on the north side of the city, where his wealthier counterparts would look askance at his shabby clothes.
“You don’t know anything about me and you’re setting the value on me based on what kind of shirt I’m wearing,” he remembers thinking.
Here’s a short clip of his remarks, followed by a quick interview following the event:
After a stint at Georgia Tech he became a computer tech, and entered a comedy contest on a dare. He took second place at the Punchline Comedy Club and met his future wife, Gregg, that night. They’ve been married 33 years and have two adult daughters. Foxworthy talked about how he would take red-eye flights home after performances around the country, so he would be home in the morning in time to take his girls, Jordan and Jules, to school.
“I knew what it was like to grow up without a dad there and I wanted them to know they were always the priority,” he said.
He and Jordan took the first of what would become the family’s numerous mission trips around the world with a trip to Kenya in 2006. The Foxworthys are devoted supporters of Compassion International, the Duke Children’s Hospital, Camp Sunshine and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.
About a decade ago, he was invited to start leading a Bible study at the Atlanta Mission.
“In a town of 6.5 million people you can’t find someone more qualified?” he remembers thinking. But he answered the call and every Tuesday morning since then, he shows up first thing in the morning with a trunk of Chick-fil-A biscuits. It was years before anyone knew.
“I didn’t bring a camera, I didn’t bring a camera crew. I just kept coming back,” he said. “I don’t want the government to fix my city. I want us to fix our city, because we do a better job of it. We do it with more compassion, and more dignity.”
Foxworthy was accompanied by his wife and daughters along with Atlanta Mission staff member Wayne Cook, who he met years ago when Cook was a Mission client.
“When I met Wayne he was sleeping on the sidewalk, using a shoe for a pillow,” he said. “How many men has he taken off the street? He’s a hero.”
Cook said he didn’t like Foxworthy at first, and was skeptical that a famous entertainer was actually interested in helping.
“He kept coming back – like Freddy Krueger!” Cook joked. The friendship has been transformational for them both, and for the hundreds of men served by the Bible study.
“If God loves anything, it’s seeing his broken people restored,” Foxworthy said. “God gives you the qualifications to do what he needs you to do.”
He concluded with a challenge to the room of some of Atlanta’s most influential business, civic, political and cultural leaders: “You are people of influence. Use it.”