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Comedian comes clean
Performer finds success without the raunch
David Ferrell - photo by For The Times

David Ferrell 
Night of Laughter
What: Habitat High benefit featuring comedian David Ferrell
When: 7 p.m. today
Where: Grove Street Station, 610 Grove St., Gainesville
How much: $50
More info: 678-450-5998

Comedian David Ferrell is missing a big toe.

He wasn’t born that way; he lost it in an accident as a kid growing up in North Carolina. But before you feel too sorry for him, don’t worry — he’s managed to work that missing toe into part of his stand-up act, bringing laughter to thousands in the process.

"Growing up poor in the South, we all got the same present for Christmas," Ferrell said of he and his four siblings. "So one Christmas I got a pair of flip-flops, and that’s what they did — they flipped up and flopped off."

Ferrell said he doesn’t mind making fun of himself or anything he’s dealing with in his life. He’s been doing "clean" comedy shows for more than two decades, working his way up from a couple nights a week after he finished his day job to being named among the top 10 clean comedians for the past few years. He’ll lend his stand-up talents to Habitat for Humanity this evening, as part of a benefit show for Habitat High at Grove Street Station in Gainesville.

Along with humor about his toes (by the way, when he caught the toe in the spokes of his sister’s bike, he’ll tell you, his mother was so freaked out she turned around and called a toe truck), Ferrell said his show is also a mixture of celebrity impressions, audience participation and straight stand-up.

"I never do two shows the same," he said. "I do a lot of audience participation; I enjoy doing the ad-libbing and just messing with people, but sometimes they come in a little more reserved."

Starting in radio, Ferrell said he first specialized in impressions of celebrities, politicians and musicians. But an impression of someone on the radio only gives you half the picture — the movements and facial expressions that go along with it don’t translate. The transition to performing in front of an audience did take a bit of getting used to.

"It was a huge transition. It probably took three years to get used to people looking at me," he said. "But now I really enjoy it."

There’s a saying, he said, that it takes about 20 years to be an overnight sensation. And after years of perfecting his comedic act that can appeal to any age or type of audience, Ferrell said the hard work is starting to pay off.

In today’s economy especially, he said, corporations are looking for entertainment that won’t offend anyone — perfect for Ferrell and other comedians who don’t resort to swearing or potty humor. One recent gig for an international company based near Raleigh, N.C., hired Jay Leno a couple years ago for it’s annual party.

Last year, they opted for Ferrell.

Leno, he said, is "$150,000 plus $10,000 in travel expenses. So I’m following Jay Leno. And I did the show and this lady comes up to me and says, ‘You’re not as funny as Jay Leno.’

"I said, ‘Was I half as funny?’ She said yes, and I said, ‘You owe me $75,000.’"

The way Ferrell sees it, he’s glad there are comedians out there like Leno, Ray Romano and Jon Stewart. "They’re very funny and charge astronomical prices."

But to find someone who will do a clean comedy show, that’s a bit harder, he added.

"It’s very hard to find anyone who will do a clean show, and when you start getting awards," he said. "It even sounds impressive until you realize there’s about 14 of us."

But Ferrell said he’s always happy to lend a hand to a good cause, especially one Like Habitat for Humanity. The value of owning a home is something he can directly identify with, after working for 10 years just to save up a down payment for his own home.

"Your equity in your home becomes your biggest asset," he said, noting that he and his wife were able to buy a larger home after living in their first for nine years and watching the value of it grow.

"And the kind of work that they do — they’re not just building a house for anybody, they’re building a house for someone who can’t afford a down payment," he said. "Some people, if they were just able to have someone get them into a house, they could easily make the house payments. ... To me, the American dream is to own your own home."

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