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Blue-collar comedian Ron White brings act to Columbus; to be in Billy Bob Thornton film

Blue collar is Ron White's work ethic and comedy genre.

The Texan who went from small-town gigs to Comedy Central specials does 140 shows a year and won't stop for movie roles:

"I won't cancel a tour date to do anything. I'll tell you why. In 15 minutes nobody's going to give a f*** about what I have to say, and I know that's coming, and so while they are listening, I'm going to talk."

If you miss him Saturday in Columbus, catch him as Neal Baron in Billy Bob Thornton's "Jayne Mansfield's Car."

"I'm a two-time pro bowler who has six car dealerships in the greater Atlanta area, new and used, and can't quit talking about himself," he says.

He didn't audition. He and Thornton met in an Austin bar and stayed up all night drinking: "Billy Bob told me that night, 'I've got a great part for you.' You hear 'great part for you' in Hollywood all the time. Ninety percent of the time it's just a lie."

This time it wasn't. White wanted the part -- if he didn't have to cancel a show. Thornton agreed.

White's been busy since he gained fame through the "Blue Collar Comedy Tour" with Jeff Foxworthy, Bill Engvall and Larry "The Cable Guy" Whitney. Their humor has a Southern flair: White and Engvall are Texans; Foxworthy's a Georgian; and Whitney, from Nebraska, uses a Southern dialect.

It's not "Southern." It's "blue collar," says White:

"If you get up and put pants on or whatever and go to work, and you have to do it, whether you're in a good mood or a bad mood or whatever, then you have something in common with anybody that has to. That's who our core fan base is."

He had to go to work on April 19, 1995, after he got stuck in traffic between Atlanta and Fayetteville, N.C., and the air conditioner died on his beat-up van:

"I just wanted to wander off into the forest and start a new life for myself with twigs and sticks and squirrel meat." That day on TV, in a nasty Fayetteville hotel, he heard about the Oklahoma City bombing.

"I sat there in tears, going, 'Why am I doing this? Why am I going all over town in this broken-down van?' But I was just feeling like everybody else in America.... And I had to go do a show in two hours. I really wanted to quit."

But his audience needed a laugh -- a challenge he faced again after 9/11, when he was booked in Atlanta: "I didn't mention it because I figured everybody had heard enough about it, and they needed a laugh, so I tried to provide that laugh, whether I felt like it or not."

Now he's traded the old van for a tour bus, cheap Scotch for Black Grouse.

He lives in Suwanee, Ga., a few miles from Foxworthy, and they meet for lunch.

The boy who grew up on the dirt streets of Fritch, Texas, has come a long way, and intends to keep rolling -- no slacking off to become some has-been TV pitchman for laxatives and life insurance.

Says White: "You know if I do, something's gone terribly wrong."

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