Comedian Trae Crowder asked what may have been the most pertinent question of the entire election season.
In the days before the vote, Crowder posted a YouTube Hail Mary to convince his fellow Southerners not to elect Donald Trump.
He asked (paraphrasing here because of the language): Would you hire someone with zero experience as a coach or player to coach your favorite college football team?
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“It was just a way of trying to reach some of these people I knew who were going to be voting for Trump,” he said from a tour stop in Pittsburgh the other day. “Growing up around these people all my life, it just blows my mind that they actually fell in line with that dude.”
Crowder bills himself as “the liberal redneck,” and he and like-minded Southerners Drew Morgan and Corey Forrester are out touring comedy venues in support of their book, “The Liberal Redneck Manifesto: Draggin’ Dixie Outta the Dark.” The tour stops at Kansas City Improv on Thursday.
Their mission: to make the world see that there’s more to the South than what’s portrayed by people on the coasts.
“There’s people out here in the Midwest and the South that hold antiquated beliefs — and I agree, homophobia and (stuff) like that, (screw) that, I’m not on board with that at all,” he said. “But to people in San Francisco, that’s it — there’s no conversation to be had, they don’t want anything to do with them ever. And having grown up with people from the South my whole life, I know that they’re not evil. There’s more to them than just that. It’s more complicated than people like to imagine it.”
If you haven’t yet heard of Crowder, you may be hearing more soon. After the comedy tour, he’s moving his family out to L.A. to begin work on a TV show with Fox.
He has a solid internet following on YouTube (106,400 subscribers), where he posts his liberal takes on the world from his back porch in Tennessee. And he has a weekly video segment on the New York Daily News site.
On nearly every appearance, the hosts treated him as something of an oddity, like an articulate Sasquatch freshly flushed from the Appalachians.
“To a lot of the people I’m interacting with, they didn’t know anybody like me existed, which is ridiculous, because there’s a lot of people like me,” he said. “But when they think of someone who sounds like me or is from the kind of background I’m from, there’s only so many ways they know how to conceptualize that person. And it usually involves banjos and moonshine and ‘Hee Haw.’ ”
Crowder is from the north-central Tennessee town of Celina. With a population of about 1,500, it sits just south of the Kentucky border.
He said he was among the top of his class in high school. From second grade on he was labeled “the smart kid” in his class.
“The weirdo, the one who liked reading and all that kind of ‘gay s---,’ ” he said. “I was treated by all the teachers like I was a literal prodigy. You get told that for a long time and you start to believe it. But then I got out of college and joined the working force. I realized I’m not the world beater that I thought I was. Which I think a lot of people of my generation can relate to.”
He was raised by his father, who owned a video store. He didn’t have much of a relationship with his mother. His dad died a few years ago from pancreatic cancer.
“My dad was super-cool, man,” he said. “Well, at least I thought he was super-cool.”
It was the video store that nudged him toward showbiz. Now he finds himself occasionally sitting on the same television show set as singer John Legend or author Thomas Friedman.
“It’s surreal, man,” Crowder said. “It’s awesome but it’s just wild. I still don’t think I’ve processed a lot of it, it’s happened so fast.”
He’ll try to take his left-wing message into a TV series, which he’ll begin work on after the first of the year. His pitch: A liberal redneck who returns to his small Southern town finds himself torn between his old pals and his new job.
He says there’s still a lot of work to do before the show gets on the air, but he hopes he’ll get a chance to show a side of the South that’s beyond stereotypical hillbilly bigots.
“I’ve never tried to act like those people don’t exist — they do,” he said. “That’s not all there is, those people are just a lot louder. In places, the South is legitimately behind in terms of racism and homophobia, and I’ll call them on their bulls--. But I also want to show where the South gets it right.”
Crowder says one place the South got it wrong, though, was in supporting Trump for president.
Crowder said on Maher’s show that Trump represents so much of what Southerners dislike: a loudmouth Yankee millionaire from New York City.
“Before he got into politics and started going after Obama, they would have unanimously hated him across the board,” Crowder said. “But it happened. To me, that just says how desperate they were for someone to even pretend to give a s--- about them.”
But Crowder admits to a little election fatigue.
“Yeah, once we get past the election phase we’ll just be talking about all the stuff that Trump is doing,” he said. “It’s not going to get any less weird any time soon.”
Among the weirdnesses in Crowder’s life right now: While he’s receiving recognition around the country, his hometown newspaper has yet to write anything about him.
“They’re definitely going out of their way to ignore the whole thing, for whatever reason,” he said. “There’s some people (back home) that are thrilled. Then there’s the people who are like, ‘Well, I don’t agree with anything you say, but I’m proud of you.’ Then there’s the people who say they are praying for me — a whole lot of people praying for me.”
But he’s getting used to all of it: the recognition, the success, the grudging respect, the disdain.
“When I go outside the South, I’m ‘That Hick Guy’ or whatever,” he said. “In my hometown and places like that I’m a ‘Liberal Commie Queer Guy.’ I’ve always been a man without a country in that way.”
The wellRED Tour with Trae Crowder, Drew Morgan and Corey Forrester stops Thursday at Kansas City Improv. Showtime is 7:30 p.m. Zona Rosa, 7260 N.W. 87th St. $25-$35. ImprovKC.com.