Gene Lyons
May 31, 1996 AT 04:00 AM EDT

What’s the story on Jeff Foxworthy, the amiable and terribly funny Georgia cracker who’s turned the word redneck into a personal trademark? Foxworthy’s paperback gag book, You Might Be a Redneck If…, sold like crazy in every part of America where Red Man tobacco is chewed and stock-car racer Richard Petty is considered a national hero. The book spawned a really awful TV show, set in Indiana, of all places. Were ABC executives afraid that nobody would tune in to a show that was too Southern? NBC has picked up The Jeff Foxworthy Show for another season; here’s hoping it’s got sense enough to give the comic some creative control.

Now comes No Shirt. No Shoes…. No Problem!. In the course of this jokey autobiography — more a scaffolding for a series of gags than his life story — Foxworthy gets serious about one thing: ”One reason I make redneck jokes,” he writes, ”is, well…I have to. Otherwise, having to endure an attitude from the rest of the country that Southerners are stupid and backward would be too depressing…. When people hear me talk they automatically want to deduct a hundred IQ points.”

But Foxworthy can’t keep a straight face for long. Soon after defending Southerners’ intelligence, he’s kidding about being operated on by a redneck brain surgeon. (”What we gon’ do is saw the top of yer head off, root aroun’ in ‘er with a stick and see if we cain’t maybe find that dadburned clot.”) And then he explains why he’s reluctant to entrust his money to a Southern financial adviser. (”Well, the key is you got to di-ver-si-fy wi’ yer money. What we’ll do is we’ll take half of it, put it in a big mayonnaise jar, bury it out in yer backyard. The other half we’ll take down to the dog track and bet on the one that does his business right before the race starts.”)

Foxworthy comes by all this honestly. A native of the Atlanta suburb of Hapeville, Ga., he grew up in a dysfunctional family of wisecracking practical jokers. Between them, his parents have been married nine times. Apart from that detail, there’s very little self-revelation: virtually nothing about his television show, and not much more than that about his personal life. (Of his wife, he says: ”I’ve always liked brunettes. I’ve always liked small women. I like them with spit and fire. She had all three.”)

Foxworthy’s stand-up act has generally been free of scatological humor — not so this book, long stretches of which are devoted to flatulence, snot, diarrhea, mooning, projectile vomiting, etc. There’s some sexual scorekeeping and even a hint of smugness about his celebrity status, which his fans won’t appreciate. (He complains about appearing in Atlanta, where his acquaintances expect bushels of free tickets, and he lectures readers about interrupting celebrities while they’re eating.) But how can you stay mad at a guy who brings a Coleman stove into his bedroom to offer his wife a hot-oil massage? As long as you’re not seeking insights into the real Jeff Foxworthy, No Shirt. No Shoes…. No Problem! is as loopy and consistently entertaining a showbiz autobiography as you’re apt to encounter on either side of the Mason-Dixon line. B+

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