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Larry the Cable Guy offers virus jokes and heartfelt thanks in Lied benefit show
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Larry the Cable Guy offers virus jokes and heartfelt thanks in Lied benefit show

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Larry the Cable Guy

Comedian and Nebraska native Larry the Cable Guy performs a comedy set in March 2019 at Pinnacle Bank Arena. 

Larry the Cable Guy's debut show Thursday night at the venue where he has attended performances for much of his life was inspired by the pandemic in more ways than one. 

The Lied Center for Performing Arts, like many venues big and small, was forced by COVID-19 to pause its programming and miss out on months' worth of revenues. That reality is what prompted the benefit show Thursday, with 100% of ticket sales donated to the Lied Center to support its programming and educational outreach.

The virus, too, served as a major thread that tied together Larry's act, performed in front of nearly 1,000 people about 90 minutes north of alter ego Dan Whitney's hometown of Pawnee City. 

"Look at everybody," he said in one of his initial remarks of the evening, commenting on the mask requirement within his first minute on stage. 

"It looks like I just made an announcement that I just made broccoli cheese soup or something, you know what I mean?" he continued. "Everybody covering themselves up." 

For nearly 90 minutes, Larry wove away from and back to the topic of the coronavirus, playing to those in the audience who only stopped laughing out loud to wait for the next punchline. 

He used the pandemic and 2020 as a touch point, returning to the theme to poke fun at toilet paper shortages, Walmart's customer service department and the gluten-free section at Golden Corral. 

He's not sure why everyone's first thought was to buy toilet paper in March 2020, he joked. COVID-19 is the last thing he's worried about at Walmart, he said, where "they probably got Ebola behind a box in there somewhere." And the gluten-free array at the popular buffet restaurant has got to be the best place to practice social distancing, he joked. 

Airlines. Garage sales. His own grandma. A free excuse to get out of helping a friend move a couch. For Larry on Thursday, the pandemic was largely fodder for jokes he hadn't gotten to perform at many live venues over the last 18 months. 

The only thing Larry made fun of more than the virus and the discourse that has accompanied it was himself, leaning on self-deprecating jokes about his weight and his image when he wasn't opining on the pandemic. 

"I know my wife loves me because she married me looking just like this," he said. "You know what the good thing is about marrying guys that look like me? There isn't a lot of drop-off as the years go by. That's pretty much it.

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"It's like buying a Kia. Sure, it's a Kia. But it ain't gonna get no worse than that." 

In between the fat jokes and the virus discourse that dominated the evening, Larry found time for jokes about nearly everything else under the sun, including lines about climate change, breast milk, county fairs and the Dallas Cowboys. 

"It's only comedy," Larry sung in full-throated opera style after a quip about Bill Clinton's sex life prompted groans before a wave of laughter. "It's only jokes." 

The only thing that seemed to be off-limits for Larry was the Lied Center itself — aside from a sarcastic "thank you" for its hard work in preparing "beautiful stage decorations" that included just speakers, a microphone and a stool. 

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"I mean, this is too much, really," he said. "You didn't have to go to all this trouble." 

For the most part, when he addressed the Lied Center, he seemed to do so as Whitney, the 58-year-old native son of Nebraska whose daughter had danced on the very stage he spoke from, he said. 

"The Lied — thank you," he said. "This is all for the Lied. This is an unbelievable place. … Make sure you support these guys. And let me just say this: The arts aren't just for all kinds of stuffy people. The arts are for everybody." 

In the closing minutes of the show, Larry stepped out of character and took questions from the audience, describing his time on "The Masked Singer," his golf game, the Huskers and, of course, politics. 

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"When are you gonna run for office?" an audience member shouted. 

"I'm never running for any office," he said, before he called on the crowd to show up for local elections with the same fervor they do national elections — an apparent veiled reference to the failed 2020 recall of Lincoln Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird, an effort Whitney had supported

A resident of rural Lancaster County ineligible to vote in Lincoln city elections, Whitney described himself as a proponent of local politics and framed the comment as the first and only bit of political discourse he had offered all night. 

He followed it with a story about smoking marijuana with Willie Nelson, shouted his "Git-R-Done" catchphrase and wished the crowd a good night. 

Reach the writer at 402-473-7223 or awegley@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @andrewwegley 

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A Kansas City, Missouri, native, Andrew Wegley joined the Journal Star as breaking news reporter after graduating from Northwest Missouri State University in May 2021.

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