James Gregory obviously has a strong fan base in Paulding for his particular style of comedy.
And for good reason. Gregory, billed as “the funniest man in America,” has been the featured entertainer at two Paulding Chamber of Commerce banquets, and undoubtedly his chamber fans are largely why he had to add a second show Saturday at Dallas Theatre.
The Lithonia native takes the stage on Main Street in downtown Dallas at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. Jan. 30. The opening performer is Steve Mingolla, whose act Gregory calls “hysterically funny” and “in good taste.” Mingolla “has been in Texas and Georgia long enough to be a true Southerner,” says the headliner.
Good taste is one of the hallmarks of Gregory’s comedy, which his Web site www.funniestman.com calls “reflections on life from the front porch…when people actually talked to each other without a cell phone in their ear.” His down-home delivery and common-sense perspective is familiar to Southerners, and he is unbeholden to political correctness, protesting that “If you want me to be concerned about endangered species, you need to convince me that we’re about out of chickens.”
“Gregory’s success, like his comedy, is the direct result of the values he grew up with,” according to his Web site. Known for the absence of vulgarity, Gregory admits that he used to use “Baptist language” (hell and damn), “but I don’t say that anymore.
“Ages 8 and 18 and 80 still enjoy the show,” he said this week. “Not that many comedy shows get that kind of response. You can bring grandma and your children.”
Gregory’s “covered dish routine” also reflects being born and raised in DeKalb County in “Baptist country.” Baptists, he says, “respond to every tragedy in life with food; ‘I smell chicken — somebody must be dead.’
“I try not to get too current,” he says, because “I get so angry I forget to be funny.”
Gregory had been a postal worker and salesman — “I sold everything people did not need: overpriced encyclopedias, fire alarm systems” – but “friends thought I was funny.” They encouraged him to try to make people laugh on amateur night at The Punch Line, which he says was the first comedy club in the Southeastern United States, “and I got a taste of it. I stumbled into the business.
“In 1983, I said ‘I believe I could make a living if I try hard enough.’ There were a few rough years, but it turned out good. When you’re first starting out, you’re the low man, it don’t pay much and it’s hard to get booked. Some guys with talent can’t ride out the storm.
“I’ve never made it to the real big time,” says Gregory, now a proud resident of Woodstock. But the highlight of his career was entertaining military personnel on battleships and aircraft carriers in the Middle East a few months after Sept. 11. Gregory said the audiences were amazed that someone would come to a war zone to entertain them and were very grateful, but that he was even more grateful for their sacrifices and the opportunity “to contribute a little bit.
“They were so appreciative and glad to see you,” he said. “It makes you feel bigger than yourself.”
Gregory has now performed in comedy clubs for more than 25 years, doing about three shows weekly for 46 weeks annually. He said he’s been focusing on the American heartland in the Midwest and South, “where people come out for a good time. We all have a good time, and they always respond very well.
“The more small towns we do…they’ve heard of me and heard me on the radio [he’s popular with the John Boy and Billy, Rick and Bubba and Bob and Tom shows]. We bring the show to them instead of the big cities. It’s worked well for us the last five years.
“I remember what a great audience it was” at the Paulding chamber banquets, he said. “This will be the first time I’ve been at the Dallas Theatre.”
Admission is $28 ($25 for seniors) in rows A-M on the main level; $25 ($22.50 for seniors) in rows N-Y on the main level; and $22.50 ($19 for seniors) in the balcony Saturday. Tickets are on sale online at 222.dallastheater-civiccenter.com, at the box office (4-7 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays) or by phone (678-363-0813) during box office hours.