Trae Crowder Interview: "The Only Thing That Makes 'Liberal Redneck' a Character Is That It’s Me Cranked Up to Eleven"
Image attributed to Jason Grindle Photography
Recently earning national attention (or notoriety, depending on your viewpoint) for his “Liberal Redneck” series of viral videos, Trae Crowder has been performing his particular brand of Southern-fried intellectual comedy in the Southeast and beyond for the past six years.
Crowder, who lives in Knoxville, Tennessee, is also a writer and is currently a member of NBC Universal’s Talent Infusion Program after being invited to their prestigious Late Night Writer’s Workshop in 2015. His videos have covered such topics as the transgender “bathroom laws,” the Target boycott, the presidential race and the Orlando massacre.
"A guy commented on a publicly viewed comment chain under one of the videos. He was talking about how all the queers and queer sympathizers were going to get what was coming to them one day and how he hoped it would be him that was pulling the trigger when it happened. He literally said that. That was pretty intense."
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Trae, why did you want to have a career in comedy?
Trae Crowder: Basically, I’ve wanted to be a comedian pretty much my whole life, most specifically, since I was twelve. I know that it was twelve because it was when Chris Rock’s Bigger & Blacker came out. That was in 1998, so I would’ve been twelve years old. I’ve wanted to be a comedian ever since then, but I went through high school, went to college, and I went to grad school. I always had comedy in the back of my mind, but I just never got around to it.
Then when I was 24, out of grad school, I got a career job and moved to Knoxville, Tennessee, where there was a comedy club called Side Splitters. I went there to catch a show just as a fan. They had a thing up announcing their open mike every other Wednesday night, and I was like, “You know what? No more excuses. I’m going to give it a shot.”
I did give it a shot, and that first night went really well, and I’ve been doing it ever since. That was six years ago, and that’s how I got into standup. It was something I just always wanted to do, then I finally just took the plunge and never looked back really.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Had you already incorporated the “Liberal Redneck” into your standup routine?
Trae Crowder: Here’s the thing. One of the most common pieces of advice you’ll get from older comedians and people in the business is that you should “write what you know.” “Liberal Redneck” genuinely is just who and how I am. I’ve always considered myself to be a redneck basically. That’s not even a choice I’ve made. That’s just who I am.
I grew up in a really, really small town in the middle of nowhere in Tennessee. I was dirt poor and had a rough background, so to speak. Also, ever since I’ve known or cared anything about politics, I’ve been liberal leaning, and I’ve never been a very religious person going back to when I was ten or eleven years old. That’s who I really am. When I would write jokes for standup, a lot of those same ideas from my videos would come across. The only difference is, the videos are basically just me and my standup cranked up to eleven.
I’m more in your face in the videos and more aggressive about it. But the underlying dichotomy of “Liberal Redneck” is who I’ve been my whole life. So, yeah, that has been my thing on stage the whole time I’ve been doing it, and it still is my thing on stage.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You live in the South among a large number of Conservative right-wing Christians, and you are a left-leaning, non-religious guy. Are you ever verbally or physically assaulted for the “Liberal Redneck” videos?
Trae Crowder: A little bit, not so much like a physical threat. It all started about the transgender bathroom thing. This one comment wasn’t even in a private message. A guy commented on a publicly viewed comment chain under one of the videos. He was talking about how all the queers and queer sympathizers were going to get what was coming to them one day and how he hoped it would be him that was pulling the trigger when it happened. He literally said that. That was pretty intense.
Another guy told me he was going to go in the bathroom with my wife and see what happens. Other than those two, there hasn’t been anything really beyond just the typical, “You’re an idiot,” “You’re a dumbass,” or “I’ll bet you like dresses,” and that kind of stuff. All of that just rolls right off my back. It doesn’t bother me at all, and it doesn’t surprise me. I’ve spent enough time on the Internet reading and watching videos to know how the Internet can be.
I also know that those subjects are super polarizing, and I’m no stranger to rednecks like the more stereotypical, hateful kind of rednecks. None of that stuff has really upset me very much because I saw it all coming, and I just roll with it. But then, yeah, there’s this whole other type of negativity that I’ve gotten that I really didn’t foresee, and that’s where the people are accusing me of being a phony and faking it all, making it all up and just playing it as a character. That does bother me just because I don’t like to be accused of being fake or faking anything.
Like I told you earlier, the only thing that makes “Liberal Redneck” a character is that it’s me cranked up to eleven. It’s just an exaggerated version of me. Those are my real beliefs and my real opinions … and that’s my real accent, too. When I first moved away from my hometown, my accent, honest to God, was probably thicker than it is even in the videos. It’s toned down a lot over the years since I left. I’m not faking any of that.
Those are the only ones that bother me, but what I have found to be weird and funny is that there are two groups of people who have accused me of faking, and they are complete polar opposites of each other. They’re natural enemies and don’t agree on anything, except that they both think I’m full of shit. It’s the stereotypical rednecks that give the rest of us a bad name. It’s those guys that say, “You ain’t no real redneck. Ain’t no real redneck gives a damn about queers.” You know, that whole kind of thing.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): And the other group?
Trae Crowder: The other group consists of ultra, ultra liberals from Portland or Seattle, just like super liberal people that don’t believe me either. They don’t believe me because they say, “This guy just has to be faking it. There’s no such thing as a redneck who is smart or progressive.” They genuinely believe that everybody that has real Southern accents and are really rednecks are racists, regressive, super conservative pieces of crap. They genuinely believe that.
What’s funny about that, to me, is they don’t realize that’s just another kind of prejudice and discrimination, but they don’t look at it that way. That’s still being close minded, but they don’t view it that way. That part has been funny to me, that the people who accused me of faking “Liberal Redneck,” have basically come from from those two camps that cannot be more different from each other.
My favorite votes of support have come from other liberal Southerners. I knew we existed. It’s not news to me, but again, you would not believe the number of people that literally just don’t think that liberals exist in the South.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You said you were not a very religious person going back to when you were ten years old. Did your parents influence those views?
Trae Crowder: The answer to this can easily lead down a bunch of different roads, but to try to keep it somewhat succinct, here it is. Basically, my dad had one sibling, a brother, and he is gay. He and my dad were real close as brothers my whole life. My dad has since passed away. I’m still close to my uncle to this day. I’ve always contributed it to the fact that his brother was gay, but for whatever reason, my dad, for as long as I can remember, never went to church. He was never a believer.
My mom and her side of the family all went to church, so I got drug there when I was a little kid just like everybody else did in my neck of the woods. I was probably about ten. My mom and dad got divorced when I was seven, and my mom got into drugs. She was actually selling drugs and was in and out of jail for a lot of my childhood. From that point on, I was raised by my dad. Once my mom was, for all intents and purposes, out of the picture and went down that dark path, she obviously wasn’t going to church. Then I was being raised by my dad, and I didn’t have to go to church anymore.
I had already gotten to the point where I just wasn’t really feeling it either, even as a little kid, because of all the homophobic stuff that was being preached at church. The church I went to as a kid preached that homosexuality was a sin and an abomination. I knew my uncle was gay from the time I learned what gay was at six or seven years old. I’ve always been close to him, so that just didn’t check out to me.
I was like, “Maybe you’re 100% right about all that. But, even if you are right, if that’s the way your God operates, then I don’t want anything to do with him anyway.” Even if God is real, and they’re right about homosexuality, I’ll take my chances in hell because that’s just not right. So, I was already feeling that way, and as soon as I didn’t have to go to church anymore living with my dad, I just didn’t go. That was pretty much what happened there, and that was the end of that.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Have you gone to church in your adult life?
Trae Crowder: I think I’ve been to church literally once since that time in childhood. I dated a devout girl in college, and she was always wanting me to go to church. I told her repeatedly everything I told you, but she finally drug me once to a sermon. I was about twenty years old. We hadn’t been in church fifteen minutes when the preacher starts going off on homosexuality. It was like I’d never left. I told her I wasn’t going back. We split up years ago, but that’s the one and only time I can remember that I’ve been to church since I was a kid other than a wedding or funeral.
I don’t want people to think I hate churches. I was born and raised in the Bible Belt. I know plenty of awesome people that are Christians. I don’t hate all Christians. I’m not telling people not to be Christians or hating on religion itself, just the churches that preach the homophobia and the ones that are super judgmental. In my experiences, there are quite a lot of those around, and I’m not a big fan of them.
I don’t hold anything against anyone being a Christian in general. I’m not one, and that’s fine. The regressive attitudes that many of them have is what I don’t like. The religion itself is good. I like that Gandhi quote, something like, “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians because they are so unlike your Christ.” That’s how I feel. If they acted totally like Jesus, I’d be totally on board with it, but that has not been my experience.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You said that you agonized on how to approach your video message about the Orlando massacre. Were you worried about toning down the comedy?
Trae Crowder: Yes. This part may be hard for people that aren’t comedians to understand, but as a comedian, everything I’ve done that has gotten me to this point, has been funny. I’m a comedian. The videos are funny. It’s all funny. It’s like using humor to expose or talk about serious subjects. Comedians have been doing that since there were court jesters. That’s a big purpose of comedy.
I just felt weird. I feel this obligation, when I’m making a video, to be funny, but there’s nothing funny about what happened in Orlando. It’s sad and depressing, so I thought that maybe I shouldn’t say anything at all. I feel almost pretentious for saying this, but I really genuinely did feel almost obliged to say something about it because probably my biggest fanbase or the most support I’ve received from people has been the LGBT community, and obviously, this has affected them deeply.
I did a video series for the New York Daily News, and they wanted me to address it, and many fans did also. So, I’m in the position of addressing this on behalf of, not just myself, but the fourth largest newspaper in the country and this whole community of fans. I just didn’t want to let anybody down or do anything that came across the wrong way.
I wanted to treat the subject with the respect that it deserves, and it weighed heavily on my mind. That’s the first time I’ve ever felt pressure like that when it comes to what I do comedically or creatively. I feel good about the way it turned out, and people have responded positively to it.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do comedians have an easy time of it in this election year, writing jokes about Donald Trump?
Trae Crowder: Trump’s easy for a comedian to parody. That’s true. But, it has a double-edged sword as a comedian because with Trump, it’s hard to find some new angle. He’s just getting eviscerated, and rightfully so, by every comic out there, every late night show, every radio show.
Everybody’s going after Trump, so the challenge is to try to find something new to say about him. On the flip side of that, he’s always going to be giving you more material because he’s not getting any less ridiculous. So, that goes both ways.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you have a tour coming up later this year?
Trae Crowder: There are two comedy buddies of mine, Drew Morgan and Corey Forrester, who co-author a blog with me. We’ve been friends for a long time, and they’re both also liberal, Southern comedians. When this all happened, we packaged ourselves together in a tour. We did a week-long trial run at the end of May. I got all this attention on the Internet, and I have all these Internet fans and followers, but we didn’t know what that was going to translate to in terms of actual ticket sales.
The trial run went really well, and we sold out at every show. In Atlanta and Nashville, we added second shows and sold those out, too. It went about as well as it possibly could have, so we are now in the process of booking a more expansive, longer-running tour for this fall. The dates are upcoming and are not locked down at all yet. It’s definitely happening, but it’s not fully formed yet.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What else is going on, Trae?
Trae Crowder: I hate to be this way because I feel weird doing it, but it’s just the way that it is legally and contractually, that I can’t talk about the specifics of these things that may be happening. There are other things that are in the works, various other opportunities that hopefully will come to fruition, but they aren’t finalized yet, so I can’t talk about them.
It’s some pretty exciting stuff. These are other opportunities outside of just the videos and touring that I’m hoping to get into very soon. We’ll see what happens.
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