Jeff Foxworthy isn’t an Internet billionaire like Mark Cuban, a real-estate mogul like Barbara Corcoran, a ruthless venture capitalist like Kevin O’Leary, a fashion mogul like Daymond John, a computer giant like Robert Herjavec, or an infomercial king like Kevin Harrington, and he generally doesn’t negotiate multiple multimillion deals before breakfast.
But when your boss asks a favor, it’s hard to say “no.”
In between being on the road as a standup comedian and writing books, Foxworthy had a stint as host of Fox’s game show “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?”
That show shares an executive producer, Mark Burnett, with ABC’s business-reality show “Shark Tank,” which gives hopeful entrepreneurs that need an investment a chance to pitch their ideas to a panel of business experts that have money to invest.
“My boss asked me to do this,” Foxworthy tells Zap2it on the “Shark Tank” set in Culver City, Calif., on a rainy day last October. He’s shooting an episode set to air Friday, April 8, marking his debut on the show. The installment also features a pitch from “The Sopranos” star Vincent Pastore.
“At one point during production [of ‘5th Grader’],” Foxworthy continues, “Mark Burnett came to the trailer, and he said, ‘I got an idea. You’re really funny, and you’re good at what you do, and you’re in a lot of areas, so you’ve got to be a smart business guy. I just think you would be a cool addition to the mix on “Shark Tank.”‘
“And I said, ‘Really?’ Because when I sit up there with these people, I think, ‘Which of these things is not like the other …’
“Wouldn’t do ‘Survivor’; don’t want to do ‘Celebrity Apprentice.’ He called me at a weak moment. I’m to the point in life where I’m trying to work less, not more.”
Of course, when you’re sharing a panel with sharp-dressed men and one elegant woman, you’ve got to take a step up from country casual.
“Well, I don’t know,” says Foxworthy. “I had to wear dress jeans, but I’m like, ‘I’m not wearing a suit.’ I’m a blue jeans and T-shirt guy. This is as dressed up as I get. I put this jacket on, and I had to check the pockets to see whose funeral I had worn the coat to.
“But it’s fun. At first I was intimidated. These guys have made such wealth, I thought, ‘I’m going to look like an idiot.’ But so much of this is common sense.”
And he understands someone hungry for success.
“I said to somebody earlier today,” Foxworthy says, “I was looking at them, and I said, ‘I was you. I was somebody that was young and didn’t have any money and had a dream.’ So it makes me very empathetic to a lot of them. I know what that feels like.
“The first year I did comedy, I made $8,300, and that’s doing 400 shows. You do it because you love it.
“That’s the American dream, that if you have a good enough idea, and you work hard enough at it, you can be successful. It’s not the land of entitlement, but the land of opportunity.”
After all, Foxworthy has done very well for himself telling jokes about rednecks, even in places where you might not assume they’d be well received.
“Rednecks are resilient,” he says. “We take a licking and keep on ticking. That’s why the redneck jokes worked. Before I got into comedy, I’d never been out of the South. But when I went around the country, I saw pretty quickly, you get 10 minutes outside of any city, people are pretty much the same.
“That’s why it worked. If it had been just a Southern thing, it wouldn’t have lasted that long. Anywhere with flannel shirts and beer, we are going to be there.”