”Bubba is not a redneck! Bubba is a guy whose ancestors were probably Rednecks, but he’s gone to junior college, worked in a bank and likes to hunt and fish on the weekends,” T. Bubba Bechtol observes. “He wears the uniform of the South, but it’s not T-shirts and overalls, like on ‘Hee Haw’. He’s probably wearing a white, starched Oxford-cloth shirt with a stiff collar, a blue blazer, khaki pants, penny loafers and no socks, like I do. He’s a loveable ‘galoot,’ that big, roly-poly kind of guy with a heart of gold that’s in your family. And he’s not just from the South. I like to call them “John Bubbas” to explain it. John Wayne was the biggest Bubba that ever lived, then we had John Belushi, John Candy and now John Goodman is carrying the banner for Bubbas everywhere.” See the stereotype? And so is T. Bubba. And he’s also an entertainer, a corporate speaker, a comedian, author and recording artist.
The comic from Pensacola FL has become one of the nation’s funniest observers of basic Bubba nature simply by calling it like he sees it. In a recent interview when asked to identify his “brand of humor”, he replied, “I just repeat what I hear and add my opinion to it!” Whether it’s entertaining audiences on television talk shows, performing as an opening act in concert halls or doing his standup routine as a regular guest on the world famous Grand Ole Opry, T. Bubba has earned a reputation as a down-to-earth humorist whose quick wit crosses all regional, gender, generational and class lines. He makes everyone laugh, regardless of where they call home. T. Bubba’s routine draws as much from the comedic insights of Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Cosby as Minnie Pearl and Jerry Clower.
T. Bubba started out as James Terryl Bechtol, a baby boomer raised in the tiny fishing village of Fontainebleau in the heart of Mississippi’s Cajun country. His grandfather, a circuit-riding Southern Baptist minister, exposed Bechtol to oral tradition. At 12, Bechtol was preaching himself at tent revivals up and down the Gulf Coast. “I broke away from that once I got to high school and discovered Jack Daniels and cheerleaders,” he says.
Bechtol left formal education to pursue a career in direct sales. He found that his natural sense of humor gave him the ability to talk to anybody about anything, whether it was selling home fire alarm systems or tanning beds.
In the ‘80s, Bechtol moved to Washington D.C. to join the Ronald Reagan camp as a fundraising director. He worked for two years in the Reagan White House and then ran for office himself. He won the primary, but lost the general election. He then returned to Washington for two years, as a fund raiser for the GOP, before ending his political career.
On the speaking circuit Bechtol developed a friendship with another humorist, syndicated columnist Lewis Grizzard. Taken with Bechtol’s bluntly-transparent view of life, Grizzard began writing about “T. Bubba” in his books and columns in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. When Grizzard’s health problems became severe, he asked Bechtol to serve as a substitute for personal appearances he was not able to make.
With a growing reputation as a standup comic, Bechtol was taken under the wing of Grizzard’s management company, which began booking him on comedy dates. He was spotted by former talk show hosts Charlie Chase and Lorianne Crook, who booked him on The Nashville Network’s “Music City Tonight.” In his first year on the program, Bechtol appeared more than two dozen times and became immensely popular with country music audiences. Impressed with his talents, Opryland Productions recruited Bechtol to host a musical review called “Boots, Boogie & Blues” at the Governor’s Theater in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. He made his first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry on Oct. 24, 1998, and has performed regularly there ever since.
Looking at the crossroads of his future, Bechtol heard his phone start to ring. People were calling to see if he would serve as a speaker at various functions. Soon, the one-time salesman-turned-politician found himself in high demand as a motivational speaker at conferences, conventions, and industrial events. One quality made him stand out from most on the rubber-chicken-dinner circuit: Bechtol was funny. Side-splittingly funny. He has been a proud member of the National Speakers Association for 37 years, and earned the highest Professional Speaking designation in the world, the CSP, Certified Speaking Professional. He did not come into stand up comedy from comedy clubs and night clubs, but took a different route as a Professional Speaker. T. Bubba says, “I did that, because that’s where the money was!!”
“What makes people laugh has fascinated me my whole life,” he says. “I was buying comedy tapes when kids my age were buying rock music.
Bechtol became one of the few standup comics in the nation to receive a major recording contract when he was signed to MCA Nashville.
What does he consider the key to his appeal? “I can be funny without having to use words or actions others resort to,” he says. “You can repeat my little stories and opinions at work on Monday in front of anyone, even at church. Besides, I’ve had to keep my comedy clean, because my momma’s still alive. If I didn’t, she’d give me an ass whipping this very day!”