When Trae Crowder moved to Los Angeles in 2017, his hardcore Southern drawl stood out like overalls at the Oscars. But the chaos of the Trump years and the pandemic made some folks in Hollywood reconsider, as he jokes on his recent comedy special, “Damn Boy!”
“Maybe my accent plays better because we’re in the middle of an apocalypse,” he muses, his voice twanging like a rubber band. “Like, maybe people hear me talk and they think, ‘I’ll bet he’s got a lot of meat in cans.’”
Since going viral as the “Liberal Redneck,” Crowder has been on a mission to debunk the idea that everyone from the South is of a piece — backward, Bible-thumping, bigoted. He brings his smart, assumption-busting stage act to Laugh Boston for four shows Friday and Saturday.
His weekly social media posts — explainers that break down the latest outrages of the last president and his supporters — have earned him a following that includes political junkies as much as comedy fans.
“I wouldn’t let the House GOP run my dishwasher,” he says in a recent “Porch Rant.”
“To be fair to them, their whole thing is screaming about how government is bad and dumb. So it would be kind of weird if they weren’t bad and dumb at it.”
Crowder traveled for several years with fellow comedians Drew Morgan and Corey Ryan Forrester on the WellRED Comedy Tour. Together they wrote “The Liberal Redneck Manifesto: Draggin’ Dixie Outta the Dark” (2016). In September, Crowder and Forrester published a second book, “Round Here and Over Yonder: A Front Porch Travel Guide by Two Progressive Hillbillies (Yes, That’s a Thing).”
Several years into his social experiment, Crowder says, words of support from fellow Southerners who are tired of being stereotyped far outweigh the trash talk from diehard conservatives.
“I get more from people who are like me, who are on my team, like ‘Oh, finally, somebody also from the South who’s not a lunatic,’” he says.
“I’m not saying we outweigh them. I’m just saying the people I actually hear from, I get way more positivity from other Southerners than [negative comments] from the ones who are pissed at me.”
One reason Crowder identifies as progressive is his Uncle Tim, an openly gay man who lives in Crowder’s tiny hometown, Celina, Tenn., population 1,495. It’s a former factory town that fell on hard times after the area’s largest employer, OshKosh B’gosh, packed up its factory (yes, overalls) and moved to Mexico.
In school, some of Crowder’s classmates called him gay because they knew who his uncle was. When he reached adulthood, he asked Uncle Tim how badly he’d been discriminated against. It wasn’t overt, Tim told him.
“Nobody was throwing bricks through his window or being openly hostile to him,” Crowder says. “To hear him tell it, it’s more like people tried to ignore it.”
Tim is staying in Celina because his mother — “my Meemaw,” Crowder says — is in a nursing home there.
“He doesn’t go to church, and he’s super liberal. It’s not fun for him there. No one is up in his face. He’s just driven crazy all the time by the general atmosphere around him.
“He feels trapped there, like a lot of people.”
Crowder’s father, who died some years ago of pancreatic cancer, ran a video store out of a single-wide trailer. That’s where Crowder, an intelligent boy whose family insisted he had to be the first of their kind to go to college, fell in love with comedy. He scarfed up heavy helpings of Will Ferrell and Jim Carrey and the “Austin Powers” movies.
“‘Dumb and Dumber’ was my favorite,” he says.
Eventually he discovered stand-up: “I illegally downloaded Eddie Izzard’s ‘Dressed to Kill’ off Limewire or whatever. I watched that probably a hundred times.”
Crowder earned a degree in psychology and an MBA at Tennessee Tech University. In Knoxville, he tried stand-up and quickly became a regular at the city’s sole comedy club, Side Splitters, which has since closed.
One of the first things he noticed when he began touring the country, he says, was that it’s not just the South: Rural areas everywhere tend to be more conservative, and cities tend to vote Democrat.
“It’s pretty universal, really. California is 100 percent like that. Even the blue states — Portland, Oregon, is this liberal utopia-slash-hellscape, depending on your perspective, but you drive east, not even that far, and it’s red as hell. Neo-Nazis and all kinds of [stuff] up there.”
In his YouTube special, Crowder notes that since the Trump years, the rest of the world looks at all Americans the same way Northerners see the South: “They’re all loud, they’re all dumb, they all love Jesus, they’re all racist, they all got guns.”
Well, yes, he says. But Europeans can get loud, too: “Tell an Italian you put pineapple on pizza.”
During the pandemic, Amazon passed on a proposal for a series he created with the musician and record producer T Bone Burnett and Callie Khouri, who wrote “Thelma & Louise” and created the show “Nashville.”
Since landing in LA, Crowder has developed several pilots for television, none of which have been picked up. That’s par for the course, he says, noting that Kenya Barris, the creator of ABC’s “black-ish,” was rejected again and again before selling the show that launched his empire.
“I think he had 12 pilots that didn’t go,” Crowder says. “I’ve had five, so maybe I’m not even halfway there.”
At Laugh Boston, 425 Summer St. Oct. 27-28, 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. $33-$38. laughboston.com
James Sullivan can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him @sullivanjames.