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T. Bubba Is Anything But 'Confused'

By Ken Burke, December 2001

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At the President's urging, Bubba ran for a Congressional seat in 1982.

"I won the primary and lost the general election. I ran against a guy who voted for a pay raise and then came home and told everybody he didn't. I just thought I could knock him out. He got elected saying one thing, then he went up there and sold his soul to Tip O'Neill, and I just exposed him for what he was. I didn't beat him, but the RNC paid for my campaign because I did so well against him. So, it was fun, but there were serious moments - you can't get too funny in politics."

Gradually, his natural sense of humor leaked out until he was booked solid as a professional after-dinner speaker, where his Southern accent was a plus, and he was often compared to another great country funnyman.

"The comparisons with Jerry Clower are inevitable because we're both from Mississippi, we're both large and we're both loud, but that's where it stops. Our comedy is nothing alike. Jerry was the last of the great storytellers -- but today on radio and television you can't take 10 minutes to tell a story. So, I learned to do it quick, and my comedy is observational."

Bubba believes his 20-year career as a professional speaker provided him with better training than he would've gotten working comedy clubs.

"You see the problem with kids that come out of comedy clubs is that they've got a straight 25 or 30 minutes, and if it's wrong for the crowd, they're dead. But I've got about 10 hours of material, and I'm going to find something that will fit 'em. I can honestly tell you I haven't had a bad show in 12 years."

Would T. Bubba ever play a comedy club?

"I would today -- but most of 'em can't afford me. So, given the opportunity I would, if they had me in there with the right person. If they put in between two guys who are saying "f-this and f-that," then I come on being superclean, well people just can't shift gears that fast."

Bubba's clean humor and Southern zeal made him an able substitute when his friend, author Lewis Grizzard had to bow out of speaking engagements due to failing health. TNN's Crook & Chase spotted him at one of those engagements and immediately booked him for their program "Music City Tonight" -- the first of 30 appearances.

Eventually Bubba was accorded the ultimate honor for a country comedian, a regular invitation from the Grand Ole Opry, though he observes that humor has changed since the Opry's salad days.

"It has become very sophisticated. It used to be you could go down to Nashville and hoke it up and then go to Iowa and tell old stories and away with it. But them farmers in Ames, Ia. and Boise, Idaho are sitting there with satellite television -- they've been getting the same sophisticated entertainment that New York and LA has been getting for the last 20 years. You better be good enough to do Leno and Letterman if you're gonna go after the country audience now. If you're not, they're going to turn you off. I've been lucky - they like me."

Although he predated Jeff Foxworthy, Bubba credits him with opening a lot of doors for Southern comedy.

"Jeff was so good -- he proved that you can find Bubbas and Rednecks everywhere -- up North they just call him Biff, but he's the same guy."

"I worked hard to show that Bubba is not a redneck. He's a descendent of rednecks, but he's not a redneck. He done gone to junior college three or four years, got him a little degree, and he might be president of a bank now. But - he still hunts and fishes on weekends, and he will cook if there's danger involved. Bubba is a lifestyle, not a look. It's like being Jewish -- it's both a culture and a religion."

While this point of view resonated with appreciative nationwide audiences, Bubba was frustrated that his albums for Bill Lowery's Southern Tracks label "Bill Ain't No Bubba" and "Unclogged" sold poorly. The move to MCA has changed all that for his current release "I'm Confused."

"My albums are in every record store in the country right now - in fact they can't keep 'em in there. Wal-Mart done sold 'em out and reordered twice -- so it's really selling!"

Still a Jaycee at heart, Bubba has used his remarkable success to do some good. Currently the President and CEO of the 35,000-member "Bubbas Of America," he donates all moneys from their product sales to scholarship funds. Moreover, at Christmas time, he takes on the persona of his favorite alter ego Bubba Claus.

"He's Santa Claus' third cousin twice removed. He dresses in green, lives at the South Pole, drives a magic jeep because he don't want to clean out reindeer stalls and takes care of kids that ain't been all that good."

Yet T. Bubba feels his greatest accomplishment resides in how he changed the preconceptions of his nickname

"My name and the phrase 'He's a Bubba' has come to denote a big ol' lovable galoot with a good heart."

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