According to MCA Nashville comic/recording artist T. Bubba, “Bubba is not a Redneck.”
“Bubba is a guy whose ancestors were probably Rednecks, but he’s gone on to College now, works in a bank and likes to hunt and fish on the weekends,” 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 Bubba’s” to explain it. John Wayne was the biggest Bubba that ever lived, then we had John Belushi, John Candy and now John Goodman is now carrying the banner for Bubbas everywhere.” See the stereo-type?
And so is T. Bubba!
The comic lives in Pensacola Beach, Fla... In the heart of the Redneck Rivera and 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, where fo 20 years and over 300 shows, T. Bubba has earned a reputation as a down-to-earth humorist whose quick wit crosses all regional, gender, generational and class lines. His debut CD on MCA Nashville, I’m Confused, (recorded live at the Pensacola Little Theater during two sold-out nights in July 2001) captures his ability to meld a Southern accent with humorous insights that make everyone – regardless of where they call home -- laugh. T. Bubba’s routine draws as much from the comedic insights of Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Cosby and Minnie Pearl and Jerry Clower.
T. Bubba started out in life as James Terryl Bechtol, a baby boomer raised in the tiny fishing village of Fontainbleau in the heart of Mississippi ’s Cajun country. “We lived so far in the woods we had to walk towards town to hunt,” he quips. His mother, a Marine veteran of WW II, provided tough love, guidance and a sense of humor. 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.
A star athlete in his high school years, Bechtol received a scholarship to play football and baseball at Perkinston College in Wiggins, Mississippi . After an injury, he transferred to the University of Southern Mississippi his junior year. However, he says there was one course he was looking for that wasn’t in the curriculum catalog: “How to make money.” So, he left. He tells people “I didn’t graduate, but did “finish”! He “finished” USM in 1968! He was inducted into the Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College Hall of Fame in 2005.
Bechtol left formal education to pursue a career in direct sales. He found his natural sense of humor gave him the ability to talk to anybody about anything, whether it was selling home fire alarm systems, tanning beds or owning a funeral home in Gulf Breeze, FL. He built three successful businesses and then career skyrocketed, enabling the young entrepreneur to sell his business and retire by his 40th birthday, and move to his beloved Pensacola Beach , Florida . Along the way, he built a national network of contacts that remembered his leadership skills as well as his laughs. In 1980, he was elected President of the United States Jaycees, the first Southerner to hold the job in decades. He is also past president of the Alabama Professional Speakers Association, the Freedom’s Foundation at Valley Forge , and served one term as a member of his city council.
The stint led to a brief career in politics. 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 as a candidate for congressman in Florida ’s Congressional District 1, in 1982. 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.
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!!”
At this time, he began reflecting on a job he had as a teenager he calls “the greatest influence on my comedy career.” In those summers back on the Mississippi Gulf Coast , Bechtol worked as a driver for the brashly-outrageous standup comic “Brother” Dave Gardner. Gardner, whose regional shtick included jokes about RC Colas and Moon Pies, had gone from regional clubs to frequent appearances on “The Tonight Show.” Bechtol spent a great deal of time with the comedian, driving him around town during gigs in Biloxi . “Brother Dave influenced me greatly. He was just himself and was proud of what he was and other people loved to him tell about it.” He says, “That’s all I do today!”
“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. Brother Dave made me realize I could do it as a profession.”
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 “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. “He was also a huge influence on me,” Bechtol says of the late writer. “He gave us all permission to be Southern and taught us that we were as good as anybody else in the country.” His manager Steve Enoch, was my first manager in show business!!” “They gave me my start, and I’ll always be grateful to them for that!”
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 October 24, 1998, and has performed regularly there ever since.
In the summer of 2001, Bechtol became one of the few standup comics in the nation to receive a major recording contract when he was signed to MCA Nashville.
Though he still calls Pensacola Beach home and loves living “30 yards from the Gulf of Mexico,” He has retired from touring, but still does the shows and conventions he wants to do. At this time he is writing his memoirs and writing comedy for other comics.
For many years he was in “Hurricane Hell”. He lost his home in Hurricane Ivan; rebuild it, lived in it for 21 days and Hurricane Dennis took it again. Shortly after those recovery years, his beloved "BUBBALISHOUS" died. Things changed a lot then, but he has again returned to the stage and loving life again.
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 raised me that way. If I had not done it that way, she would have whipped my ass every time she saw me, but she lived long enough to see me as a regular on the Grand Ole Opry and fulfilled a dream of hers.
He’s a funny man! Listen UP!
Larry Lee, writer and columist