Catching up with Jeff Foxworthy, host of 'What It's Worth'
Posted July 31, 2020 3:07 p.m. EDT
ATLANTA -- Stand-up comic and host Jeff Foxworthy admits he's a bit of a pack rat, much to his wife Pamela's chagrin.
But that collector's instinct made him an appropriate host for a new A&E show, "What It's Worth," where families dig up quirky, potentially valuable items and find out how much they are really worth. It debuts Tuesday. And thanks to the pandemic, the entire show is a virtual experience.
Foxworthy, who describes the show as a mix of "American Pickers" and "Antiques Roadshow," hosted "What It's Worth" a few weeks ago from his home of 30 years in Johns Creek while simultaneously packing to move to a smaller home in Brookhaven.
"Right out of the camera's view, we had boxes everywhere," Foxworthy said.
Appraisers did their work from afar. And homeowners recorded their interactions with Foxworthy and the appraisers in Zoom fashion.
Foxworthy said he wasn't sure if the show would work, but once he did the 10 episodes, "it ended up being so much fun. You get to see people in their own homes. While one family is describing a statue of Gabriel they owned, the youngest son takes off his pants and starts running up and down the stairs. You don't get that on normal television."
Like many veteran stand-up comics, Foxworthy loves going with the flow and has a knack for making jokes without hurting anyone's feelings.
"I thrive on keeping it honest," he said. "One family was showing a newspaper with the headline of Lincoln being assassinated, and I couldn't help but ask about the double-headed calf over the fireplace. Where the hell do you get that? I couldn't concentrate on the newspaper!"
One of the appraisers on the show, Christie Hatman, said she was impressed by how easy Foxworthy made her job.
"When he interacted with the homeowner, he was able to draw out things that most of us wouldn't ever ask," said Hatman, who runs online auction site from Thayer, Missouri. "He was learning along with the audience. I could see him going into a trance when I'm telling the history of an object. He was like an obedient schoolboy, not a camera hog. I was so proud of him."
Foxworthy has hosted big-budget network shows such as Fox's "Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?" and the short-lived "The American Baking Competition" on CBS. Each show would have at least 100 crew members scurrying about, so he said it's surreal being his own hairstylist, makeup artist and wardrobe maven.
But he wasn't flying entirely blind: "I'm on a Skype call going through my closet, and they are telling me, 'Wear this! Wear that!'"
His backdrop is his basement with personal items behind him mixed with props. He said he had to re-open some already packed boxes to find stuff to show off, including a butter churn he fiddles with during the opening minutes of the first episode.
Foxworthy has a huge collection of arrowheads. He also keeps a stash of baseballs signed by famous people -- and most of them are not baseball players.
"I went up to Johnny Unitas once with a baseball, and he said, 'You know I play football, right?'"
He just found baseballs easy to carry to awards shows and talk shows. Among Foxworthy's prized signatures are a who's who of Hollywood elite: Johnny Carson, Bob Hope, Red Skelton, Milton Berle, Richard Pryor and Bob Newhart. His cache includes a literal country music hall of fame, such as Loretta Lynn and Bill Monroe -- and five presidents.
One time, he met country music legend Charlie Daniels (who recently died) and dug through his bag only to find an already signed Pete Rose ball in there. So, he had Daniels sign it, too.
"I'm certain that's the only Pete Rose/Charlie Daniels signed ball in the world," he said.
While dumping or donating dozens of boxes of items before moving to a residence one-third the size of his Johns Creek home, Foxworthy and his wife got into numerous arguments. He had a long debate over his Little League trophies. "I'd argue, 'But that was my first place trophy with the Cubs!" He compromised and kept only two.
"What It's Worth" is not quite what he and A&E had originally talked about. They were planning a live show where people would show up on stage with trinkets and heirlooms they wanted to auction off -- live. But he said Americans inundated producers with potential items after spending the pandemic cleaning out their closets and attics. So they had plenty of fodder for "What It's Worth" instead.
Foxworthy, like other comics, has had to adjust to life without stand-up comedy. He marveled that until March, he had rarely gone two weeks without being on stage somewhere, be it a charity event, a comedy show or a TV show, going back 36 years.
"I miss the audience," he said. "That's where you get your energy from. I'm supposed to do a Netflix special at the Fox Theatre in December. They asked if I could do it without an audience. I said that would be awful; that would be terrible."
The good news is his material is not topical but largely evergreen: "I have this whole block of jokes about old people saying the good ol' days were better. That should work just fine after the year we're having."
He spent the first nine weeks after the pandemic began at the 3,000-acre farm he has owned for 20 years, south of Atlanta near Calloway Gardens. With a poor internet connection, he couldn't even stream Netflix. Instead, he read books, wrote pages of jokes that he isn't sure are funny and put together model cars such as a 1969 Camaro.
He also spent countless hours on his tractor mower. "I mowed 7 billion acres of grass," he mused. "It looked stunning."
And with the success of his 2018 board game, "Relative Insanity," he has other games coming. Already, Hasbro convinced him to design a Jeff Foxworthy version of "Monopoly," available now at Walmart.
Instead of a top hat, iron or thimble as a game piece, Foxworthy's version has a deer, a trucker hat and a mounted bass fish.
And rather than Mediterranean Avenue and Park Place, he has spots for trailers, bait shops and flea markets. Top spot is a water park, Foxworthy said, "the Mount Everest of Redneck-dom."
Foxworthy's advice to win his own game? "Don't spend all your money on beer while going around the board," he noted. "No matter how good the business investment seems at the time, stick with buying real estate."
NEW TV SERIES
"What It's Worth" with Jeff Foxworthy
Tuesdays at 9 p.m. EDT on A&E.
Story Filed By Cox Newspapers
For Use By Clients of the New York Times News Service