James Gregory’s comedy is true to his roots

Southern Comedian tackles family, technology and politics in recent Knoxville show

Whenever comedian James Gregory takes the stage he has one mission.

“We’re in the entertainment business and I have a theory,” Gregory said before taking the U.S. Cellular Stage at the Bijou Theatre on Saturday, March 18. “I want repeat customers. I want people to come back and I want them to bring their friends.

“If you open a restaurant or a furniture store and people don’t come back, then you’re going to go out of business. I want people to leave here tonight saying that they had a good time and saying that they got their money’s worth. I don’t want anybody leaving here and having negative thoughts. We’re sold out here tonight and I don’t want to sound arrogant, but we’ll be sold out again when we come in here next time.”

Arrogant?

That would be the last word to use when describing Gregory.

Funny is definitely an accurate description but he’s certainly pretentious. He’s a 35-year veteran of comedy and while he likes to laugh and make others laugh, he does so with integrity and a certain brand of political incorrectness. But he’s never dishonest with his audience; because if he wasn’t he would be cheating his audience.

“Comedy has to have an element of truth to make it good and I want people to think that this guy grew up in my neighborhood,” Gregory said. “I don’t make fun of people, I watch them and I watch the news. Most people watch the news. But they don’t listen to the news.”

Gregory’s act often addresses those who win multi-million dollar lottery jackpots.

“You see these stories every day on the news and I listen to these interviews with people who say that the first thing that they’re going to fix their transmission or put a new roof on the house,” Gregory said. “Most people see that but they don’t really hear it.

“A good comedian will hear that and pick up on it right away.”

Gregory’s comedy largely appeals to middle-aged audiences because, like most of us who have ridden this nutty planet for a significant length of time, he sometimes yearns for the good ol’ days before our lives were controlled by cellular phones and GPS.

“On Sundays, we used to go to grandma’s house and she made cookies and banana pudding,” Gregory told the audience at his recent K-Town show. “And she cooked with real sugar and real butter.

“There used to be a time between 1635, when they built the first one-room schoolhouse, until 2008, Mama could send kids to school with a cookie. And on Sundays, when we got home from grandma’s, Mama would make brownies, wrap them up and tell us ‘Be sure you give some to your teacher.’ Now, you get a phone call from the school saying [that your kid] is in trouble because they found a cookie in his locker.”

Gregory is as down to earth as anyone who attends his shows. Like some, he fears airplanes, like most he loves buffets and like many, he has a fear of God and he has relatives who he’d rather not see all that much.

On stage, Gregory was obviously bothered by a groin injury that he said he suffered at a Golden Corral buffet while on the road in North Carolina.

“I was traveling with a friend, another comedian,” he recalled. “And we decided to have lunch and we stopped at a Golden Corral because I love buffets.

“Now, I’m not going to make fun of anybody for being overweight because it’s in my heritage. But we get there, and there’s a bus full of fat Christian women, a women’s auxiliary, and I told him that we had to get to the door first. God punished me because I pulled my groin. So God will punish you.”

Gregory spoke of family, fast food, soccer moms and technology throughout the evening. And he sent the near-capacity crowd with plenty of laughs (and memories), so he certainly did what he hoped to on a cool late-winter night. We’re betting that the next time he comes through Knoxville, those in attendance will bring their friends.

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