Brad Paisley Talks New Netflix Comedy Special and Using 'Hoot-and-Holler' Humor in Songs Like 'Ticks'

Richard Gabriel Ford/WireImage
Brad Paisley performs during CMA Festival in Nashville, Tenn. 

If you've listened closely to Brad Paisley's cheeky hits "Camouflage," "Alcohol," "Online," or the sneakily provocative "Ticks," you're already fully aware that he has a pretty good sense of humor. But for those who may not be as familiar with the country superstar, his latest venture may seem a little out of left field: Paisley is starring in a comedy special, Brad Paisley's Comedy Rodeo, which hits Netflix today (Aug. 15).

The hour-long special documents two comedy shows Paisley hosted at Zanies Comedy Club in Nashville, as part of the Wild West Comedy Festival that took place in April. Featuring comedians Nate Bargatze, John Heffron, Jon Reep, Sarah Tiana and Mike E. Winfield -- along with an opening number from the singer himself -- the special gives "a real fun look at life from various perspectives," as Paisley puts it.

While Paisley has been part of the comedy festival since 2015, this is the first time he'll be bringing it to those who have yet to make it out to the fest -- but of course, the Wild West Comedy Festival isn't Paisley's only invovlement with humor. In fact, it's been a part of his life even prior to his 17 Country Airplay No. 1s (a tally which includes both "Online" and "Ticks").

Something else that's obviously special to Paisley is his guitar collection, and he recently added a very personal one to the bunch -- The Brad Paisley Signature Tele, which he teamed up with Fender to create. Telling Billboard about the sparkly design of the silver-and-paisley guitar, he further showed off his sense of humor: "With a name like Paisley, I was never going to be subtle, as far as that goes."

Ahead of Brad Paisley's Comedy Rodeo hitting Netflix, Billboard dug a little deeper into Paisley's experience with comedy, both in music and in life, as well as his love for guitars. Take a look at an edited transcript of Brad's words below.

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Ever since day one of my career, I have incorporated songs that have humor in them, in a big way, in my music. I don’t do a record without something lighthearted and laugh-out-loud on there. They’re not just tongue-in-cheek -- they make you laugh. 

I learned from an early age there were certain things that would make people laugh. I started really working on this unknowingly when I was a kid, and learning to entertain. And I would watch guys that I idolized in country music. We have a long history of comedy, whether that’s Jimmy Dickens or Roy Clark, Buck Owens. Johnny Cash -- if you go listen to At Folsom Prison, he’s hilarious in that. He’s goofin’ around, and he’s making these guys hoot and holler in this prison. And telling jokes and songs almost in a dark, murderous kind of way. So it’s always intrigued me.

When I first started performing, I learned -- even as a teenager playing in my hometown -- that [humor is] really the thing that creates the most entertaining experience for people. I also learned that what’s going on in between songs live is an important thing: What are you saying? Are you entertaining [the audience] when you’re not singing?

Starting to host the CMAs, back when Carrie [Underwood] and I first did that, it was really the first time I’d walked that tightrope where you’re really out there to tell jokes for five or 10 minutes. Learning to not only do some things between songs, but write a monologue, and become a comedy act. We learned quickly how to incorporate some of that music, but at the same time, it’s still a comedy act. Nobody wants to hear us do our monologue on the CMAs and start crying. That’s the moment for making fun of what’s going on, and that’s honestly so important in our society, and in the world.

[Comedy] benefits me. There are artists that stay away from it, that wouldn’t go near it with a ten foot pole, that don’t want to be seen comedically in any way. And that’s a choice, and that’s probably the right call if they don’t have a funny bone, you know, the instinct for it. Because we’ve all seen people try to do comedy and fail, and it’s not funny -- it’s just uncomfortable. But then there are people that pull it off all the time in music that you don’t expect. I love being one of those artists that you look at and you don’t know. I think if you turned on your television, and I’m on it, you’ve got to pay attention to see if it’s serious me or comedic me, because it could be either -- and if I’m doing “Whiskey Lullaby,” I’m probably not kidding. 

I would describe myself as somebody who uses the guitar and songs to take a perspective on life as we know it right now. I’m very self-effacing. I kind of definitely make fun of myself, but at the same time, there are a lot of relationship nuggets in my records -- It’s easier to pull off the heartfelt song if you’ve given them this levity, as well. It’s just sort of the natural way that I look at things. I know if a line makes me laugh, it’s probably a good line in some way. I feel like we’re onto something as songwriters on my records when when we are entertaining ourselves sitting there, because we kind of have a good line that we can’t wait to play for people. And it always influences my writing in the sense that I look at it really seriously from a standpoint of, ‘How is this going to play?’

The first experience with that was “I’m Gonna Miss Her.” I wrote that song at Belmont when I was still a college student -- I was playing the songwriter showcase, I had won the audition to be one of the songwriters that was featured. I had all of these sad songs and ballads, and my co-writer on that -- who later would become my producer, Frank Rogers -- and I said, "Look, I’ve got to write something that doesn’t make you want to kill yourself." And between these other songs, we wrote “I’m Gonna Miss Her” as a joke -- a stand-up act, really. It became a No. 1 record, so it sort of goes to show that, "Hey, if it works, it works."

The first time I ever sang “Ticks” was with an acoustic guitar in San Antonio. I was with my co-writers, and I was going to a gig and I said, "I’m going to play a verse of this and see if they come unglued." And they did, because it’s that kind of hoot-and-holler, "smack somebody on the back when you hear the hook" type of song.

I remember one of my co-writing friends in Nashville got mad when he heard it, because it was a combination of emotions. We had produced this really sort of crystal-clear record with a couple guitar sounds and a funky groove, and it sounded like a highly produced song -- but the hook of the song made him so frustrated. He said he got mad and just went, "Well, hell. They’re just going to let him get away with anything, aren’t they?" [Laughs]. And I thought that was great. I was glad to elicit that reaction in him.

My stand-up act in the comedy special starts with what I call the director's cuts. It’s me singing some of my serious songs, [where I] change the words and call them "the version that didn’t make it." It’s me singing, like, “She’s Everything,” but the song is actually “She’s Almost Everything,” like, "If you were going to be completely honest in 'She’s Everything,' no matter who you fall in love with, is she really everything you ever wanted?" It starts serious and takes you a second for you to understand where I’m heading. I love that curveball aspect.

I only do three of them in this [special], but I think there are several chapters of this. I mean, I hope this is the first of several forays into this world for me. I think this is good for me as a writer and a human being -- it really forces you to look at things.

One of the songs on Love and War was because of my association with this comedy festival, the song “Selfie” ["selfie#theinternetisforever"]. It was written for the Wild West Comedy Festival two years ago, and I actually redid it. It’s just this idea that you've got to be ashamed of your selfie and that people fail at that. We wrote it as a comedic act and realized, "Oh, this makes a pretty good record" -- and you can imagine live it goes over really well, because who doesn’t relate to this ridiculous time when people are taking selfies in front of caskets and stuff?

I love looking at things from the healthy perspective of humor. One of my favorite quotes of all time is, "If you’re going to laugh about something later, you might as well start now" -- and living life, it’s not easy to do, by the way, especially if you’re standing there with your fly down on a stage in front of thousands of people. But it’s healthier to just right away go, "Okay, you got me." This is the other extreme of saying, "Hey, if you take off the shackles of being a serious artist, what can you accomplish?" So, that’s what the Netflix special really is, I think.

The Brad Paisley Signature Tele Fender guitar is available for purchase now -- for more information, visit Fender's official website.