Comedian Jeff Foxworthy has been a successful fixture in the entertainment industry for years. While he's become well-known for roles in shows like "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?," "Blue Collar TV" and "The Jeff Foxworthy Show," it is his newest project -- "The American Bible Challenge" -- that is putting him in the headlines of late. TheBlaze interviewed the host earlier this week to discuss the show's monumental success, to speak about his views on the Bible and to explore his personal faith background.
GSN (formerly Game Show Network) took a risk, in the eyes of some, when the network decided to launch a game show based exclusively upon the Bible. After all, no one had ever tried it before. And while there's certainly a massive Christian market in America, uncharted waters can be difficult to navigate -- and costly, especially if they fail to bring in ratings. Drafting Foxworthy, a noted Christian, as host, GSN paved the way for blockbuster success.
Photo Credit: GSN
Taking the Gig
In many ways, Foxworthy was the perfect candidate to be the public face of the project. In an exclusive interview with TheBlaze, though, he said that answering the call to take the job wasn't a slam-dunk decision. Instead, it was something he thought carefully about before committing.
The actor and funny guy said that he was approached by the network after his show, "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?" didn't get renewed. While the faith-based project was instantly attractive, Foxworthy said he didn't want to exploit the Bible.
"My first thought was, 'I don't want to be standing in line in hell going, 'It was the game show,'" he quipped. "My faith is a huge part of my life and, at the same time, you don't want to exploit it."
As he took the time to ponder the project, he realized that the show differed from other television competitions in a profound way. Rather than offering contestants personal fortune, those competing were playing for charity. After Foxworthy realized that contestants would be "playing to love on somebody else," he decided to take the hosting gig. And the rest -- well -- it's history.
The power of the show, Foxworthy contends, goes above and beyond testing Biblical knowledge. The comedian claims that the real appeal is the power that the program has to reach non-believers.
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"If somebody didn't have faith and they were watching -- they're not going to be converted because someone knows the answer to a question," he said, going on to claim that the charities being represented -- food pantries and other human service groups -- will, instead, touch viewers.
Foxworthy's Faith Journey
Foxworthy has been a Christian for decades. In fact, he told TheBlaze that he remembers accepting Jesus Christ when he was just seven years old. He recounted being at church with his mother and telling her that he was ready to go down to the sanctuary to accept the Lord. His mother, assuming he was still too young, told him to wait until he had a firmer understanding. However, this did little to dissuade the young man.
"I argued all the way home and the preacher came to the house and he said 'he knows what he's doing,'" Foxworthy said. "We went back that night [to the church]."
Growing up in the old Southern Baptist tradition, Foxworthy said he had a difficult time complying with the often-times strict rules and regulations. He remembers thinking, "I love God, but I can't act and dress like that."
Initially, he didn't know what to do, but that by the time he turned 30, the pieces started to come together; he realized that God didn't need him to follow rigid rules and regulations surrounding clothing and outward expression in order to be a good Christian.
Like many Christians who would consider themselves non-denominational, Foxworthy said that he's "not real big on religion" (typically, believers of this stripe place their primary focus on faith and the Bible and not on more hardline tradition and religious structure). Rather than being "scared to death to have a sense of humor," he encourages Christians to experience God's "joyousness" and not to get "caught up in legalism."
As for his own faith journey, the comedian prefers to be hands on.
"Here's what I feel like. Rather than going and sitting in a service for an hour every Sunday and that being extent of my faith, it's more important that I live it out," Foxworthy said. "I lead a Bible study with homeless guys on Tuesday mornings...I have done it for years."
The entertainer then went into detail about this unique public service activity, describing the small group as having started with only 15 male participants. Over the years, the Bible study has grown to more than 100 homeless men who are attempting to better their lives.
"If they agree to go through treatment and do well, [the organization running the study] puts them up for a year, takes them through counseling and helps them reunite with their families," Foxworthy explained.
While he believes wholeheartedly in getting involved in service projects, he also goes to church regularly and relies upon the Bible for guidance in his everyday life. Foxworthy enthusiastically described the importance of the holy book.
"It's kind of the anchor of the whole thing. It's kind of what guides me in how to deal with my career, my money," he explained. "Nothing in life prepared me to have money...I didn't come from it. Nothing in life prepared me to be quasi-famous."
Photo Credit: GSN
Foxworthy's view is that the income that he has been fortunate enough to earn isn't really his. Since "it belongs to God," the comedian said that he finds it important to ask the Lord what to do with it. Part of the process, of course, is prayer and consideration of how best to spend it. Thus, Foxworthy finds himself "finding the time to be still enough to listen."
"For it to be a relationship, you can't do all the talking. That's not a relationship," he explained. "You've got to listen. God doesn't scream. God whispers."
In addition to his comments about listening to God and having a solid relationship with the Almighty, Foxworthy shared his own struggles with trying to figure God out -- a feat that he believes to be, on its face, senseless.
"If you could figure out God and what he's doing then he's not worthy of worship. I think that's the way comedians are wired -- questioning," he said. "That was a struggle for me for a long time. Now, I'm comfortable saying, 'I have no idea.'"
Foxworthy went on to illustrate this statement through an experience that unfolded at the Bible study he runs. He explained that it's important to allow the homeless to experience the benefits of giving back. Since they're often on the receiving end of charity, those in need sometimes miss out on the blessings that can come from being generous.
So, Foxworthy gave each guy in the group $50 and told them that, if they donated the money to school supplies and hats, gloves and supplies for people living on the streets, he and the other leaders would match whatever was given.
"All 150 guys got up and put their $50 bills in the basket," he said, while conveying that he was clearly moved by the experience. "Every person in there gave every single penny they had on them. I sat against the wall and sobbed for 10 minutes."
Foxworthy admitted that he thought he had God figured out. While he assumed the men would pocket the money, they did the exact opposite. Not only did they donate the $50 he gave them, but they also emptied what few pennies they had on them into the offering plate.
No Longer "One and Done"
Considering all of these elements, it's no surprise that Foxworthy is down-to-earth and grounded when it comes to addressing his career. Unlike many others in the entertainment industry, he claims that his professional experiences don't define him.
"I love doing stuff like "5th Grader" or "Bible Challenge," he said. "[But] it's not what defines me in life. I'm a husband and I'm a dad and I'm a part of this community..."
As for his most recent success, he joked, noting that he's had "two hits in a row," considering the widespread success of "The American Bible Challenge" and "5th Grader."
"Usually, with me and TV, it's one and done," he quipped. "I've now become the authority on religion and politics -- the two things that get people riled up."
As TheBlaze has previously reported, "The American Bible Challenge" ended up being the most successful program in the network's history (the show's finale for season one is Thursday evening at 9 p.m. ET). GSN recently announced that a second season is on the way.