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COMEDY HOPS ON THE GRAVY TRAIN

Blue Collar TV ** 1/2

8 tonight, WNYO

If the incredible ratings for NASCAR in Western New York are any indication, then the WB sketch comedy series "Blue Collar TV" (8 tonight, WNYO-TV), should be as tasty as gravy to viewers here.

And make no mistake, gravy is a key ingredient in the premiere. One of the sketches concerns a family's obsession with the stuff on everything from meat, pies and sundaes.

With Jeff Foxworthy acting as the spokesperson for a restaurant that specializes in gravy, the skit serves up the recipe for the show: It is half silly, a quarter stereotypical humor and another quarter just plain stupid. Intentionally.

Admittedly, this type of humor isn't normally my cup of gravy. But I must confess I laughed a few times in the half-hour as Foxworthy and his pals, Larry the Cable Guy and Bill Engvall, delivered their specialty humor.

The first laugh came during a brief skit dealing with the Redneck Dictionary and learning the word "handsome" had an application to suntan oil. I can't reveal the punch line, which is as silly as "Laugh-In" used to be. I also enjoyed the closing segment in which the three stooges sit together and make pronouncements that begin with the words "I believe."

"I believe," says one of the trio, "there should be an application process for anyone who wants to wear a thong." There is no arguing with that.

I, and many others, believe that airing this show on a network known for teen dramas starring beautiful kids may be a tough sell.

But the WB notes "Blue Collar: The Movie" is the highest-rated movie in the history of Comedy Central, their stand-up specials on the cable network broke records, and the trio has sold millions of CDs. And the pilot certainly is funnier than any WB comedy in recent memory.

In an interview with the nation's television critics, Foxworthy was asked why the tour that inspired the TV show was called the "The Blue Collar Tour" instead of "Redneck Tour."

"God bless the word redneck," said Foxworthy. "It's been a blessing and a curse for me. The redneck jokes were five minutes out of two hours of stand-up."

He said the title and the tour were inspired by a newspaper article that said the show was geared to "the urban hip audience."

"I called Bill and said, "You know the urban hip audience, that includes a lot of people,' " said Foxworthy. " "We need to do a tour like this.' "

Then they began talking about a title.

"I said, "Call it "The Blue Collar Tour," kind of like the Everyman thing,' " said Foxworthy. "And it just kind of stuck."

They filmed eight shows in three weeks before a live audience in Atlanta, giving the show a concert feel and energy. Foxworthy said it became the thing to do in the Georgia city and that hundreds of people were turned away from the tapings.

"Of course, the free buffet and lottery giveaway helped out," said Larry, who got his nickname after doing a bit as a cable installer in his stand-up act.

Foxworthy, who had a short-lived sitcom, doesn't think the show's appeal is limited to the South despite the accents of its stars. He added the trio intended on doing the "Blue Collar" tour for four months and it was extended to more than three years.

"And people say, "Well, did it work better in the South?'" said Foxworthy. "The honest answer is no. It worked just as well in Washington state as it did in Tennessee."

Foxworthy believes "funny is funny."

"I mean, "Seinfeld' worked in Alabama because Jerry was funny," said Foxworthy. "And Jerry never gets labeled the Northern comedy of Jerry Seinfeld. Because I've got this accent, everything I do, it's always the Southern comedy. And I never thought of myself as a Southern comedian. . . . I just think I'm a comedian. And I think sometimes in the media we try to make it too cutting edge. The people are going to tell you whether it's funny or not."

I believe he's right. If "Blue Collar TV" adds to the tour's legend, well, that certainly will be gravy for everyone involved.

e-mail: apergament@buffnews.com

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