A Chat with Jeff Foxworthy

TFK caught up with the comedian in Chicago, Illinois

Dec 03, 2010 | By TFK Kid Reporter Francesco Franzese

Jeff Foxworthy is one busy comedian. He is the host of the popular game show, Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader? He also writes children's books. His latest book, Hide!!!, tells a story of children playing a hide-and-seek game across an entire neighborhood. In this look-and-find book, readers search for the children as well as items hidden throughout the book, including a mop, flip-flops, a raccoon and two spoons.

TFK Kid Reporter Francesco Franzese (left) with Jeff Foxworthy
COURTESY FRANZESE FAMILY
TFK Kid Reporter Francesco Franzese (left) with Jeff Foxworthy

TFK Kid Reporter Francesco Franzese recently spoke with Foxworthy in Chicago, Illinois, about his latest picture book, his work on Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader? and about being a class clown.

TFK:

What inspired you to create your latest picture book, Hide!!!?

Jeff Foxworthy:

I had always wanted to write a children's book. After I started hosting Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? , every little kid knew who I was. My daughters said to me, "Dad, if you're going to do a children's book, you should do it now."

TFK:

Is it difficult to write a children's book?

Foxworthy:

I thought it would be easy, since I've already written 25 books. I realized pretty quickly that the vocabulary was limited, yet I still have to make the book make sense. I also had to make the book rhyme. I would write things and then realize the rhythm wasn't right. After a few days, I thought, "No wonder Dr. Seuss was such a big deal. This is hard!"

TFK:

Why did you decide to make Hide!!! a look-and-find book?

Foxworthy:

My young daughters loved books like I Spy and Where's Waldo? I said to the illustrator, "Even in this age of technology, I've never met a kid who didn't like hide-and-go-seek. Why don't we do a book about it, where the reader has to find the kids that are hiding? So the illustrator suggested that we hide other things in the pictures with the kids. As the book progresses, the reader needs to find more and more things.

TFK:

How did you get involved in Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader?

Foxworthy:

Mark Burnett, the show's creator, contacted me. He said he had an idea for a game show, and that he thought I would be the perfect host. I liked the idea of the show--adults take an elementary school test for a chance to win 1 million dollars. Everyone thinks they can do it, but then they quickly realize that they it's not so easy.

TFK:

What do you like best about hosting the show?

Foxworthy:

My favorite part is when teachers send me mail saying things like, "You've made it cool for kids to be smart." I enjoy hosting a show that puts kids in a positive light. It's a fun show, and I get to use my comedic skills.

TFK:

Who comes up with the questions for the show?

Foxworthy:

We have a big room with six people in it, and it is stacked with textbooks from all over the country. These people sit in there all day long, going through the books. There are attorneys who verify that these questions came from a real textbook. So there are several people whose job it is to find and verify these questions.

TFK:

How are the children chosen to be on Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader?

Foxworthy:

We do a nationwide search every year in late spring or early summer. I decided not to be a part of the selection process because I didn't want 10 million mothers mad at me because I didn't pick their kid. We look for above-average students that have personality because they're going to be on T.V. We film most of the show during the summer when some of the kids have just finished 4th grade and are going into 5th grade. They can't be older than that.

TFK:

Were you a class clown? What kind of student were you?

Foxworthy:

I was always a good student, and I always made good grades. But I learned really early in life that I could make people laugh. I would save my allowance, and buy comedy records. I liked the comedy of Bill Cosby and Bob Newhart. I would memorize their jokes, and then repeat them at school. Then I would get in trouble for trying to make people laugh. My high-school principal sent me a note backstage that said, "I cannot believe I am shelling out money to listen to the same kind of stuff I tried to put to a stop to." I actually framed the note and hung it in my office. I thought, "Man, how many times was I in his office and he would ask me, 'What do you think, you are—a comedian?!'" Apparently so, Mr. Gibbons. It's on the sign out front! So I guess I always have been a class clown.

TFK:

What were your favorite school subjects when you were a kid?

Foxworthy:

I always liked English because I love to write. It makes sense now because as an adult, I have to write my comedy routine. I've always written all my own stuff, including my books. I've written a lot of television scripts, and I've written for other people, like Larry the Cable Guy. Larry will call me and be like, "I've got this joke, but I can't think up a punch line!" So I tell him to send it to me. I still love to write, and I still love to read. My grandmother instilled that in me. She was uneducated, and she lived in a trailer. But her whole trailer was full of books, and she would tell us when we were little, "People who don't read are at the mercy of people who do." So, early in life I started to read, and now my daughters like to read.

TFK:

When did you know that you wanted to become a comedian?

Foxworthy:

When I was young, I didn't know that you could do comedy for a living. I went to college and got a job at IBM, a computer corporation. I was always the guy in the break room doing impersonations of the boss and then getting caught. Some of my co-workers used to go to a comedy club every week. They would always come back and say, "You're funnier than these people. You could do this!" So I entered a contest at the club on a dare. I went on stage, and I won the contest on my very first night. I had no idea what I was doing. I just told stories about my family, but I knew two minutes into it that this is what I wanted to do for a living. So I quit my job at IBM, and my parents thought I had lost my mind. They were like, "What's wrong with you?!" Then 5 years later, there I was on T.V. Then, my mother was like, "You wasted all those years at IBM!"