Daniel Lawrence “Dan” Whitney was born in Pawnee City, Nebraska. He grew up in a church-going family. His father, Tom, held many jobs. Tom was a school administrator, entertainer – he played guitar for the Everly Brothers – a preacher, and he raised pigs, horses, and cattle. Tom left for work early each morning and returned home late each night. There was no break on weekends either. Tom preached multiple services at different churches. Every free moment Tom had was spent tending to the never-ending chores required to keep the farm running properly.
Due to Tom’s frequent absences, from an early age, Dan spent most of his time with his grandfather who helped out at the Pawnee City sale barn adjacent to Dan’s family’s pig farm. Dan helped his grandfather load and unload trucks of pigs and cattle. Dan so loved the livestock sale barn that he spent every free moment there. Working at the sale barn with his grandfather, Dan became close friends with his grandfather’s friends despite the differences in ages. They eventually became comfortable enough with Dan that they shared their life stories with him, which he loved hearing. Dan later credited his time at the sale barn as one of the most important experiences that shaped his life.
When Dan was fifteen years old, his family moved to West Palm Beach, Florida, where his father was offered a job at the fifth largest Christian school in the United States, The King’s Academy. Following high school, Dan worked as a bellhop at the Hyatt Regency hotel in West Palm Beach, a job that “opened the door” for his future career. Dan made the guests feel at ease. They were drawn to Dan’s outgoing nature. He shared funny stories with them and told them jokes.
Dan realized that his best bet was to get a college education. He enrolled in college and majored in drama and speech. During his junior year of college, a few of Dan’s friends convinced him to try standup comedy at a local open mic night. At first, Dan was intimidated when he saw other comedians, all dressed in suits, studying their jokes on note cards. Dan was no quitter. Although he thought he was a novice in a room full of professionals, Dan made it through his first performance. The crowd’s reaction was enough for Dan. He was hooked. He dropped out of college determined to earn a living as a comedian.
Dan performed without pay at open mic nights until he was booked to do a fifteen-minute standup routine as the opening act for the band Chicago. From there, he made guest appearances on radio comedy shows where he began incorporating characters into his repertoire. Dan said later, “I wanted to create an Archie Bunker character that was likeable.” He based the character on a combination of people he knew in Nebraska and Florida, as well as his college roommates who were from Texas and Georgia. To complete the character, Dan jettisoned his Nebraska accent and incorporated a southern accent. The character he created was so likeable that he focused solely on it and dropped the other characters. Eventually, Dan’s fictitious character became so popular that it eclipsed its creator. The character that Daniel Lawrence “Dan” Whitney created is known around the world as … Larry the Cable Guy.
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