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Dan Whitney is one of the nation's foremost comedians and the star of three movies, plus his own television show, Only in America with Larry the Cable Guy. He is also the voice of Mater, the popular tow truck in the Disney-produced movies Cars and Cars 2. After writing a series of 10 Q&A columns to count down Nebraska's becoming an official member of the Big Ten Conference, the N-Sider asked the Cornhuskers' most visible fan to weigh in with his thoughts on his favorite team joining the nation's oldest league. Welcome to our fast-moving conversation:
Q: Who's more famous, you or Mater, the voice of the talking tow truck in the movie Cars 2?
A: For adults, I think me. For the kids, I'd say Mater.
Q: I've seen you talk about Mater everywhere from ESPN (eighth video down from the top) to Jay Leno in the weeks leading up to the release of Cars 2. Having done nearly three dozen TV interviews in advance of that movie, has that little beat-up tow truck become your alter ego, and is he helping you and wife Cara raise your two kids?
A: Actually Larry the Cable Guy is MY alter ego, and Mater is both of our alter egos. Confused yet? Cause I am. Mater's not helping raise the kids, but he and every other Pixar movie have babysat a bunch. So has Ice Age but that's not Pixar. Maybe I shouldn't have mentioned that. Sorry Disney.
Q: Cara grew up on a small cattle ranch in upstate Wisconsin, and you've just spent a well-deserved vacation in her home state. Are you expecting any kind of trash talk about Nebraska's first-ever Big Ten Conference game in Madison?
A: Northern Wisconsin is an awesome place to be ... in the month of July. Come August, it begins to feel like Alaska, and I'm out. My wife has already tried the trash talk but I put the fire out before we ended up splitting up property and fighting over kids. I won, and she is "N." However, I couldn't get her to betray the Badger Band.
Q: No one's expecting Nebraska red in the Alvarez Suite at Camp Randall Stadium that night, so what's the harm in you stopping by, telling Barry hi and congratulating Bob Devaney's foremost understudy for "Gittin'R'Done" and making the College Football Hall of Fame?
A: I would but I'm not allowed in Camp Randall for two more years. Long story, and it involves no pants and a tattoo of Herbie. (just kidding) I think Barry is awesome. He's why their uniforms look just like ours. Deep down inside, he knows that we're the real Big Red. That's why everyone calls Wisconsin the Nebraska of the North. Besides, all roads to the Hall of Fame go through Coach Devaney and Lincoln.
Q: Your website still shows you standing over your outdoor grill and coming up with all kinds of funny lines in your sleeveless flannel and camouflage cap. You've had a year now to think about the Big Ten. Anything funny rolling around in your head about Nebraska deciding to "Go North"?
A: Not really. I just picture the teams left behind saying it's our fault the Big 12 almost broke up and bashing us in the blogs, and then I picture them two years from now wishing they'd have done the same thing after they realize they're all bowing down to Bevo. Getting proved right is always fun and sometimes, it's hilarious.
Q: Now that Nebraska is in the same conference as Northwestern, will you still wear the same clothes to football games?
A: You mean because Northwestern has N's on their helmets as well? It might as well say Baylor. I will wear my "N" even prouder because we have one of the most respected logos in college football. I am expecting the "N stands for Knowledge" joke to come out a little more and maybe some references to us being a bunch of farmers, but I don't want to put Northwestern in Colorado's category. They'll be much classier than that.
Q: One of your favorites, Darin Erstad, was recently named Nebraska's head baseball coach. Didn't you give him a hitting lesson one afternoon in the cages at the Hawks, and might that be what turned the tide for him?
A: I did, and I batted .500 in college, too. Of course, I was only up twice, and the catcher told me what was coming. Unfortunately, I was a pitcher and didn't have to hit. I actually was kidding around taking batting practice with the Seattle Mariners two years ago, and my group included Ichiro and Griffey Jr. I was joking around with Ichiro, telling him how to improve his batting. He was going through a slump at the time. The camera picked that up, and later in the game he went on to hit two home runs. They showed me working with him on Fox Sports later that night. It was hilarious. I actually called Coach Osborne and said: "If you hire Darin, I promise I'll never hang around you anymore." TaDA!! Now you know the rest of the story.
Q: When I say Bubba Starling, what's the first thing that comes to mind?
A: Sounds like the name of a guy that runs mud trucks in a Florida mud bog. And then says: "Put yur seatbelt on; I wanna try something." Seriously, Bubba's probably the greatest three-sport athlete in the history of Kansas City, and he rated us highest. Smart kid. I wish him the best in whatever dream he decides to chase.
Q: See you made another celebrity golf tournament for the Bo Pelini Foundation. How'd that go? Did anyone in your foursome get a birdie or was everyone too busy laughing?
A: I love golf. I just started two years ago. I golf in the 80s. I won't play if it's any warmer than that. I only go to Bo's tournament to help class it up. Lots of trailer trash out there. I love Bo's tourney, and he has an awesome foundation. I always help do his auction. Last year I was trying to make as much money as possible for 'em, and I ended up selling the mannequins they used to model auction items. I didn't know we weren't supposed to sell 'em. They went for 200 bucks apiece. I thought that was good until they told me they were worth $2,500. And about my foursome ... we ended up having to take a cab home, and I'll be honest - that's the first time I've ever driven a cab.
Q: If you weren't the star of stage and screen and didn't have your own TV show on The History Channel, what celebrity would you pay your hard-earned money to play golf with?
A: That's easy ...Tiger Woods ... just to get a glimpse of his cell phone pics.
Q: You scour 50 states to find incredible stories on Only in America with Larry the Cable Guy. What incredible stories have you found in your home state?
A: Nebraska was the Gateway to the West so it's packed with great stories. I did one on Monowi, Nebraska: Population of 1. That was fun, but we also filmed a segment on the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, which is, by far, the best zoo in the United States if not the world. (Hit the play free preview button to get the gist of that statement).
Q: After Nebraska what's your second favorite state?
A: Florida. I moved there when I was 15 and have tons of great memories. I started my comedy career there. I had a basketball court that you could see from an airplane when you flew into Sanford (outside Orlando), and it was painted up all Husker red. It really PO'd my Gator buddies, but they could never trash talk because they still see Tommie Frazier running at 'em, over 'em, around 'em and through 'em in that '96 Fiesta Bowl.
Q: If Ndamukong Suh ever decided to tackle you, would he kill you or just hurt you?
A: Kill ... to the point of unrecognizable.
A: Throw a touchdown pass to Brandon because that means I'd be a quarterback, and I'd be tall, thin and popular. I'd also probably date a cheerleader. If I blocked for Rex, I'd be a lineman, and that means I'd be 320 pounds instead of the 270 I'm at right now, and that sucks. Let see. If I added another 50 pounds, Rex would have to jump over me because my knees would be broken. Plus, I'd probably have a stroke in the first quarter.
Q: Rulon Gardner, the great Olympic heavyweight wrestler from Nebraska, garnered even more fame on the TV reality show The Biggest Loser this season. Now he's a presenter at a health and wellness event. When are you going to gain enough weight so you can be on that show and become even more famous than you already are?
A: I love Rulon. He came to my show in Nevada, and he is a big fan of mine as I am of him. What a great Husker! I'm proud of Rulon and his weight loss. Losing weight is a tough thing to do. I wouldn't go on The Biggest Loser though. If I want to see a bunch a people walkin' around moanin' about how fat they are, I'll just go to my family reunion.
Q: I'm interested in what a guy like you thinks of the BCS. Will the BCS keep the bowl structure intact and avoid a playoff system as long as you and Mater are alive?
A: Mater'll see it because he'll be on DVD forever. I won't be alive very long if I keep eatin' like I am. I won't even see the new stands in the East Stadium. Anyway, I think the BCS stinks. It's all politics. You can't ruin college football because it's a monster, but you can stink it up from time to time, and the BCS is a big skunk. That's just my opinion, and you asked for it.
Q: I know you have a million one-liners that never fail you. Just give me three that come off the top of your head right now?
A: I'll do better than that and give you three that just came into my head for the first time: 1) I hate it when people say a gallon of milk is still higher than a gallon of gas. Well, I don't drink 21 gallons of milk a week. It only looks that way; 2) I heard that math skills are inherited so I figure the chances of my kids flunking algebra are 40-40; and 3) No matter what I order at McDonald's, I always end up getting the same thing. Diarrhea!
Q: You're fast, and you're good. Now let's see how honest you are. Everyone knows the Huskers are your favorite team, but few know that your favorite pro team is the Oakland Raiders. Doesn't that prove you have a split personality?
A: Actually, I was a huge Raider fan in the '70s and '80s. Then they lost their mojo because Al Davis, the owner, went nuts. In the late '90s, I saw Brett Favre do an interview with a Git-R-Done shirt on, and then I found out he was a huge fan of mine, so I became a Packer fan. I went die-hard Packer fan after I married my wife in 2005. Let's put it this way. If I wasn't a Packer fan we'd go back to dividing up property and fighting over kids. Remember, she grew up in Wisconsin.
Q: Here's a curveball for an old small-college baseball player. Who influenced you most in comedy and who makes you laugh loudest?
A: Steve Martin was my first stand-up whose album I bought ("Let's Get Small.)" Love him. I was also a fan of the old guys ... Rickles, Hope, Dick Shawn, Phyllis Diller, Uncle Milty, Henny Youngman. I also loved Monty Python and Hee-Haw. Benny Hill killed me, and Jeff Foxworthy always makes me howl. He's a hoot on-stage and even funnier off-stage. Foxworthy really is a mentor, and I consider him a comic genius. Nick Dipalo is also one of my favorites.
Q: I know you sold out every ticket available for your Fourth of July concert at Memorial Stadium two years ago, but tell me this: Can you think of something that would make Tom Osborne and Harvey Perlman laugh?
A: Hmmm ... Coach intimidates me too much. I'm like a schoolgirl around him. I go to tell a joke to him and stammer around like Mel Tillis. It's Tom Osborne for Pete's Sake. For a small-town Nebraska kid like me, he's royalty. I mean, how do 'ya speak to royalty? Harvey, on the other hand, likes my jokes about cuttin' the cheese in Wisconsin! (Laughter here) ... now that's funny, and I don't care who 'ya are ... Harvey would know I'm just kiddin'.
Q: You've been a guest coach in the Nebraska locker room and on the sideline. What makes Bo Pelini laugh?
A: An errant clipboard throw ... (more laughter and another "just kiddin'" comment). I'm sure if a clipboard is being tossed, there's no laughing after it is tossed. Bo's awesome. He's a regular dude and laughs all the time. I love the guy.
Q: What did the Whitney family do July 1 to celebrate Nebraska becoming an official member of the Big Ten Conference?
A: We got up early and opened gifts and then had a big dinner. And we made up a chart of Big Ten teams and Big 12 teams and had the kids draw a line to match which Big Ten school resembles which Big 12 school we used to play. You may not believe this, but the Northwestern line connected to Colorado, Baylor to Minnesota, Indiana to Iowa State and on and on. (Again, Larry the Cable Guy believes when you respect everyone, you can kid anyone, so lighten up!).
Q: Have you made your reservations for Indianapolis and the first-ever Big Ten championship football game in December?
A: No. I think I'm working Vegas that weekend, but I've made a note to hit the 50th anniversary of Czech Days in Wilber (Aug. 5-6).
Q: Last question. The Big Ten headquarters is in Chicago. Is Chicago your kind of town?
A: I heard the wind quit blowin' there, and all the people fell down. Badabing! All I know is if the Big Ten ever expands to 16 and lets Texas in, I'm sure the home office will be moved very quickly to Dallas.
Voices from Husker Nation
Doing an interview with Larry the Cable Guy must be about as interesting and as enjoyable of an experience any journalist could have. I laughed all the way through the article. Amidst all his humor, though, you can see that he really has an understanding of University of Nebraska sports. What a great fan and great ambassador for the state and the university. Relatives of my wife from the Pawnee City area say that when Dan Whitney was in school there, even grade school, and it was his turn to give a presentation or book report, everyone looked forward to these presentations. Even at a very young age, he had his tremendous gift of humor. We all want and will wait for a sequel article down the road sometime this fall. Jim Miller, Lincoln, Nebraska
Funny, funny. Actually very funny. I don't know anybody who doesn't get a kick out of Larry the Cable Guy. Someone should design a red camouflage shirt in honor of our most visible fan, so he can be even more visible. Ri Edwards, Yuba City, California
I enjoyed the article/interview with Dan Whitney. I remember meeting Dan after the San Jose State game a couple of years ago after spending the morning and afternoon in a sea of red-dressed people. Nebraska made a couple of great special teams plays to put the game away late in the third quarter, and after the game, I was lucky enough to meet Dan in the North Stadium. Since I knew he was a Nebraska fan, you would have thought I would have noticed him right away. After all, he did have on his hat (with an "N" on it) and a cut-off shirt. He looked like, well, what he is - a regular guy that loves his Cornhuskers. He was holding his son, and he could not have been nicer. I thought later I was probably the 85,000th person he met that day. It was just nice to see him as a regular guy, a regular dad and a "regular" Nebraska fan that just happens to be extremely funny. He even gave me a "Git-R-Done" greeting. I feel like I'm writing an infomercial here because, wait there's more. Just after meeting Dan, I was waiting at the elevator to leave when Rulon Gardner came up beside me. I wouldn't have known who he was, but I had seen him on the big screen at halftime when Nebraska honored him. We basically just said hi and shook hands, but I can tell you there are some handshakes you just don't forget. Last, but certainly not least, this K-Stater (who watched the game with my son-in-law and his father - both Husker fans - and my K-State daughter) is still very disappointed that Nebraska left the conference. I understand that you have to do what's right for you, and I wish you well, but as a person that loved the old Big Eight, I still don't like it. Come to Manhattan some day, just not soon. P.S. My description of a "regular" Nebraska fan is extremely loyal, extremely passionate, extremely knowledgeable (just ask a Nebraska fan about a player and before they're done, you'll know his high school stats). It hurts to say this last part, but "regular" Nebraska fans are also as respectful of their opponents as you will find in any fan base. George McPheter, Overland Park, Kansas
Enjoyed Larry the Cable Guy's take on the Big Ten. It cracked me up. Steve Sinclair, Omaha, Nebraska
Larry the Cable Guy comes at you from all angles, and his responses can't help but make you smile, chuckle and even laugh out loud. I know I did. He's a true Nebraska treasure, and his loyalty is only matched by the wit he shows for any situation you can imagine. Good work. Mary Wilson, Winter Park, Florida
Enjoyed the Larry the Cable Guy interview all the way out here in the great state of Idaho. Go HUSKERS! Patty Cottrell, Rexburg, Idaho
Good interview with Larry the Cable Guy, a good guy and a true Husker loyalist. Talk about a guy that draws from his Nebraska roots as well as anyone. Having grown up in McCook, graduated from Kearney State and lived most of my adult life in Southern California, I enjoy his kind of humor. At 55, I retired and moved to the beach in Nicaragua for three years, then had enough of the Third World, so decided to give Austin a try. I will say these Horns' fans just aren't what some Husker fans make them out to be. I want to tell you this summer in Austin is one for the record book - the hottest summer here since way back in the 1850s. Here's hoping the Huskers get hot this fall and take the Big Ten. Go Big Red! Brad Booth, Austin, Texas
Larry is probably the best thing out of Pawnee City since Sam Martin. Good read. Don Forsythe, Overland Park, Kansas (Sam Martin was a 6-0 guard and a three-year Nebraska basketball letterwinner in 1968-69-70).
Laughed out loud reading this. Everything was funny, but my favorite line was Larry's comment: "I actually called Coach Osborne and said: 'If you hire Darin (Erstad), I promise I'll never hang around you anymore.' TaDA!! Now you know the rest of the story." Using a line from his comment on the chancellor: "Now that's funny, and I don't care who 'ya are." Matt Mason, Kansas City, Missouri
I've been a Larry the Cable Guy fan since his comedy TV days. I've always wondered why Nebraska was so important to him, and now I know. Reading this article was like being at one of his shows - lines that never stop once they start. Don Smith, Lafayette, Louisiana
I'm a Wisconsin fan living in the Hoosier state. I think Larry the Cable Guy's wife is probably a Badger at heart and will be able to smile when that first Big Ten game ends in Madison. I've never been to Lincoln, but it can't possibly be any crazier than Camp Randall. I will be watching and rooting for the Big Red team that was actually in a BCS bowl game last year. Good luck trying to stop a team that scored 83 on Indiana, 70 on Northwestern and 48 in the Big House last year. John Anderson, Indianapolis, Indiana