Q&A: Rodney Carrington
Rodney Carrington was supposed to have a 10-day break before his final 2016 stand-up shows led into to his annual 10-day run at MGM Grand (Dec. 1-10) during National Finals Rodeo. A flu interrupted his plans, but he recovered by an election day that found the candidate he supported with a song winning the White House. Las Vegas Magazine’s Matt Kelemen caught up with Carrington after a post-recovery round of golf to talk Trump, the NFR and the healing power of comedy.
So you’ve been knocked out by the flu for a little bit. Weren’t you supposed to be on a break?
Yeah, thank goodness. I was off about 10 days, so by the time right when I got home from the Northwest it was about two days later I started feeling really worn out, so the timing of it was good. I didn’t have to miss any work or do anything like that, so it was good.
How was your golf game today?
I enjoyed it. It was nice. The weather here’s been unusually warm for November, so it’s been good. Things are good. We’ve got a good end of the year. I’m going up to Canada tomorrow for a couple of days, then I’m home for a couple of weeks for Thanksgiving, then we head to Nevada. I think it’s been 15, 16, 17 years straight I’ve been coming out there.
Before I ask you about NFR, what’s the first post-election day been like for you the songwriter of “Vote for Trump”?
Oh, it’s been awesome. Last night me and my oldest son, we were over in a place in town, a little bar down the road, and people were just going nuts. They were so happy, so yeah, I think it’s nice to see … I feel good about where we live. The last night made me feel that way. I feel like the people have a way of correcting things when things are wrong. Certainly last night they did, and I felt great about it. I was a huge Trump supporter. I grew up in Texas, you know? We have a general rule down there that if you want something in life, you work for it. The idea that’s been peddled, that people are racist in this country and things like that, that’s so stupid. I mean, it’s been crammed down our throats, and people are tired of it. I think people are tired of being called names and told what they are, what they shouldn’t do and what they will do, what they’re gonna do, and people just got tired of it. Last night was just awesome.
Did your support for him ever waver since you wrote the song?
No. I wrote, “Vote for Trump” not because I wanted anything. I wrote it on a Sunday morning and recorded it about seven days later and stuck it on iTunes because I really felt that way (laughs).
It wasn’t a chart hit but it did pretty well for you, right?
Yeah, it did well. It did real well, but this has nothing to do with what I do for a living, because I just speak the truth. I tell people my own truth through my own experiences, and may identify with it, but my agenda is to make people laugh.
Did you ever play “Vote for Trump” live?
Are you feeling like you’re reflecting what people are thinking in an increasingly PC world? Do you feel like you’re articulating what your audience is thinking?
Look, I have no agenda. I make people laugh. My material is mined out of my own personal experience. I’ve been doing this 27 years. The level of success I’ve achieved didn’t come from not being good or not connecting with somebody. The success that I’ve had came from being able to connect with people, the people that come and see me. Same way Trump was. He connected with a lot of people. That’s’ where his success lies. Same way with where my success lies, just connecting with a lot of people, my willingness to tell the truth about my own personal life. My only agenda is making people laugh. I don’t have any agenda. I always tell people if you come to my show and you learn anything, it’s an accident.
Well, if there’s any indication of where your success levels at, this is your 15th or 16th year performing at NFR. At what point did an annual appearance become a 10-day run?
Since I’ve been working at the MGM it’s always been a 10-day run around NFR. That’s their biggest time of the year. That’s their biggest week in Vegas. And most of those people come from the Midwest.
What’s that like for you when you have these people coming every year? Do you almost pick up where you left off the previous year, like you’re almost kind of visiting relatives or something?
Yeah, pretty much. It’s like seeing family. That’s really what it is. It’s just coming and seeing the gang, you know? Making them laugh.
How do NFR audiences contrast with the crowds that come to see you at tour dates around the country?
They’re the same. They live lives. They have kids. They have families. They have issues, they have problems, just like I do. I share mine and then they laugh at mine, and then they see themselves in me, and vice-versa.
You talked before about the toll it takes on you by the time the Vegas shows are done. Has it become easier in recent years?
(Laughs) Yeah, a little bit. I’m 48 years old. When I come to Vegas it’s not like it was when I was 20, 25 or whatever. I kind of understand that town dictates all the action, especially near the Strip. You get off the Strip it’s like any other town, you know? But I think the scenery for 10 days on the Strip is kind of rough.
In the early day you took advantage of whatever, if offered to you.
(Laughs) Yeah. Yeah, I mean I enjoy it. I love that town. It never closes. You can eat any time of the night. My show’s at 10 o’clock at night, so it gives me my whole day. I can go play golf, which I like to do. Then I come back, take a nap, eat dinner, do the show, go out if I want. It’s great. It’s good fun.
You do 10 consecutive shows. Do you switch up your material for your own sake? Take advantage to try new things, throw in a new song or something?
Sure, some nights. I mean, it’s basically I’ve got a plan. I deviate from it quite a bit, quite often.
Do you adapt your show to the atmosphere? Do you have rodeo humor just for NFR?
No. No, I don’t try to change anything about who I am when I come there.
Do you get to events? Are you able to get away and see some things?
Not much, no, because usually my shows start at 10. I’m usually down there at 9 o’clock, so I don’t have a whole lot of time to do other things, I mean as far as the events are concerned. Plus it’s so busy over there. I have gone in the past, and when I have gone, it’s pretty difficult to try and get back from the traffic.
Yeah, plus that stress.
But I’ve got plenty of things that occupy my time when I’m there. With the show I’ve got plenty of things going on.
How would you characterize the trajectory of your material lately? It’s been a few years now since your divorce, and you’re basically a different person.
I’d say it’s in a good place. It’s an extension of what I experience in my daily life.
You’ve said, “My comedy comes from real places of deep pain.” I imagine it got pretty rough with relationship issues.
Yeah, that’s all behind me. It comes from deep pain, but once that subsides is where you find the energy. How do we heal from inside? You went to a funeral awhile back—how do you heal from that? You heal from the memories. The pain eventually subsides and you have the memories of that person. It’s the same thing with telling stories. When the pain subsides you are able to look back at it and find humor in it, and I think that helps heal everything. That’s why laughter is so important, for all of us. That’s why people pay to go laugh. Nobody pays anybody to make them cry. Think about it. People want to laugh. It’s kind of funny when you think about it, getting paid money to make them laugh.
Obviously your fans are coming to your shows to laugh, but your fans seemed genuinely concerned about you after your divorce.
(Laugh) I was concerned about me, but that’s all behind me. I’m in a much better place now. You can’t be married for 20 years, have your wife run off and you lose your family and you can’t make sense out of it, and come out of that and just be normal. It takes a little while. It just so happens, I can’t quit work because some bad shit happened. I just gotta keep searching and finding, and now it’s in a good place. I’m real happy right now, the crowds have been great. They keep coming and they’re bigger than ever.
Was it difficult to create new material?
No, not at all. You have to gain clarity before you create new material.
How inspired have you been to create new material this year?
I’m doing a lot. I’m doing a lot of new material, yeah. It’s fun. I’m having more fun now than I’ve ever had.
You filmed your latest comedy special in Nashville in March. How did that go?
Is Nashville a good town for you?
Naw, it was just on the schedule. Nothing special.
Do you still go to out-of-the-way comedy clubs to try out new material?
Yeah, although lately … starting next year I cut my schedule down less than I ever have in my life, you know, spend more time with my kids, people I love and care about. Having more fun that way. I don’t want to be working every weekend again like I have been. I enjoy it like that. It’s been a nice, healthy balance.
Do you have newer songs you particularly like?
Yeah, but I haven’t recorded them yet. I play ’em live when they’re done real well.
You’ve talked often before about your songwriting, but when did you know you could sing?
Well, I’ve just always enjoyed it. I mean, it’s not like I knew I could sing. I just sang. And people tell me I could sing. I don’t … I just sing. If I could juggle, I’d probably do that too.
How come there was never a sequel to Beer for my Horses?
I don’t know. You’ll have to ask Toby Keith that.
I did see your last Netflix special where you told the story about having an “accident” at Toby Keith’s house after writing the story. Do you think that might have had anything to do with it?
(Laughs) No. He laughs at that story. In fact, he was in town in Tulsa about three or four weeks ago at the Bank of Oklahoma Center and I went down and saw him, and we hung out. I still see him a couple of times a year and we play golf. I go to his charity event every year. We’re good friends.
I met him a few weeks ago for an interview and he gave me a bro hug. I felt completely consumed by him.
(Laughs) Yeah, he’s a big ol’ boy.
I think a lot of people create a picture of entertainers that doesn’t change a lot for them. How is today’s Rodney Carrington different than you were in 2007?
I don’t feel like I have to be anything other than kind, but as far as how much has changed since 2007 a lot has changed. My perspective on life has changed. My need to succeed just beyond being a good dad and being a good friend and being around my family. There’s nothing that I’m striving for outside of that. I mean, I want to do well in my shows and I enjoy doing it, but my life now is more about quality. I guess you can say my testosterone level is not what it was, and therefore my attitude towards life is much more humble and reflective. I look at things and I see the way the world is now. It’s way different than when it was when I was younger. I pulled back. I’m not big on technology. I don’t have a personal Facebook page. I stay away from stuff like that. I want to be connected in a real way, not a fictitious way. I find people that are overly concerned with things like social media are missing out on what’s important. They’re so connected to things that don’t matter in life that they’re disconnected from things that do, and I think that’s a big problem for society in general right now.