When one mentions intellectual comedy, it’s unlikely that your mind travels south of the Mason Dixon line. The comic trio of Trae Crowder, Drew Morgan and Corey Forrester are redrawing the boundaries of what it means to be smart and funny in the south.
wellRED: From Dixie With Love is comedy for those who love all people, but also blowing shit up. It celebrates everything great about the South. It’s about loving your neighbor whether you have the same religion, skin color, or sexual preference, so long as they cheer for the same college football. It is about leaving behind bigotr y but remembering the fried okra. The wellRED tour stops in Jacksonville Feb. 23-24 at The Comedy Zone.
Known for his Liberal Redneck video series, Crowder performed his brand of southern comedy throughout the Southeast before teaming up with his writing – and drinking – partners. Forrester first performed comedy at 16, lying about his age to get into an open mic night. His stand-up blends humor and common sense into an act as full of as many silly faces and goofy jokes as it is thought-provoking rants on society, culture and politics. Hailing from Sunbright, Tennessee, Morgan’s act has been described as “Mark Twain on acid.” He was raised by a preacher and a librarian, which explains his intellectualism and constant state of existential crisis.
“We basically all three cover very similar themes but in pretty different ways. Most of it comes back to our separate upbringings in the rural south. I didn’t really grow up in the church, which is definitely uncommon for where I’m from, but Drew’s daddy is a preacher so as you can imagine, Drew talks about Jesus/religion significantly more than me,” says Crowder. “Similarly, I grew up super poor, so I talk more about poverty-related subjects than the other two. Corey actually does as much if not more political stuff than me or Drew, weirdly enough. I feel very confident saying that if you like my videos, you will like our stand-up. It’s very different, but it all comes from the same place, ultimately.”
Crowder gained a following as the Liberal Redneck, a video series targeting such hot button topics as Black Lives Matter, net neutrality, the transgender restroom issue, gun control and his open disdain for the current presidential administration. While the videos are factual and insightful, they are ripe with colorful colloquialisms that you only hear down yonder.
“The Liberal Redneck character is really only a character in that it’s me cranked up to eleven. I mean if I walked around living my life like that character, I’d be pretty hard to be around,” he says. “But yes, I’ve always pretty much been that way, in that I come from a very stereotypically redneck background and I’ve always had left-leaning political beliefs. I was doing similar material onstage for years before the videos.”
The notion to shoot his first video was divinely inspired for the admitted atheist. Crowder wanted to make video but wanted to learn more about production and editing to avoid looking amateurish until he saw a viral video of “some preacher dude in North Carolina ranting and raving about perverts in the bathrooms.” The video racked up 15 million views.
“This video was literally just this redneck preacher man in the woods standing by his truck, just preaching fire and brimstone at his iPhone about this stuff. Literally just screaming hatefully,” says Crowder. “I saw that, and it was like a light bulb went off. I realized that if this guy was what I was trying to satirize, then I didn’t need to be all fancy. In fact, that would probably be a mistake. The best way to do it was exactly the way he did it: just go out back and yell at my phone. So that’s what I did. And I hope one way or another that preacher finds out that all of this stuff with me – totally his fault. Or I guess maybe Jesus’s fault. I’m still not 100 percent clear on how all that works.”
Crowder grew up in the deep rural south of Celina, Tennessee where he railed against the traditional southern ideals, preferring film and literature over the church. His dad owned a video store which inspired dreams of show business. “When I was a little kid that meant making/being in movies. Then when I was 12, I saw Chris Rock’s HBO Special Bigger and Blacker and it shifted specifically to ‘I want to be a comedian’,” says Crowder. “Over the years it has shifted to television, but it never went away.”
When it comes to his friends and family relating to his material, Crowder says it’s a mixed bag. “The ones that I’m truly close to, if they disagree with me, they still take the stance of ‘I don’t agree with what you say, but I’m proud of you for doing well’. For the record, many of the friends/family that I am close to actually do agree with me about much of this stuff and so there’s no real conflict there. But I mean yes, there are definitely some cookouts I am no longer welcome at, for sure. But by and large they aren’t the ones I would show up to anyway.”
Crowder relocated his family to California and he is still acclimating to the west coast, where he says his accent “is the reason people think I’m going to start throwing raccoons through trailer windows.” He’s getting used to palm trees over pine trees but there’s just something about the south that calls him home.
“You know that runny white queso dip at Mexican restaurants in the south? Far as I can tell, it doesn’t exist out here. I mean, I get that that means it’s not authentic Mexican and all that, but I grew up on that stuff and I miss it so bad,” says Crowder. “In all sincerity, the challenges haven’t been too great. I knew pretty much what I was getting into it. I do miss the south though. I miss the food and the music and the fall and how green it is. I miss a lot, and a lot of the time. I’ll be back though. No doubt about that.”