WILLOW SPRING — Jerry Carroll tells the kind of jokes that only a farmer-comedian could write: the grandmother who dipped snuff, the border collie with obsessive-compulsive disorder, the wife who went fishing and hooked a cow.
He grew up in southern Wake County, growing tobacco and raising hogs with his father, and he had livestock for an audience until he tried an open-mic night at Goodnights Comedy Club.
But Carroll, 55, has joined the winner’s circle for blue-collar comics. Starting next Thursday, he’ll co-host six episodes of a nationally televised reality show that airs on the Sportsman Channel – a program starring Sarah Palin.
“I fought for 20 years, trying not to be famous, and they found me anyway,” Carroll joked.
For 20 years, Carroll has juggled comedy with farming, entertaining at corporate events or cattlemen’s banquets, opening for Lyle Lovett and Larry Gatlin, all while tending his soybeans in Willow Spring.
He got the call from his agent in November while moving cows into their winter pasture. The Sportsman Channel had seen his videos on YouTube. Would he be interested in hosting “Amazing America” with the former vice presidential candidate and governor of Alaska?
“I thought he’d been drinking or something,” Carroll said.
The Wisconsin-based channel specializes in hunting, fishing and shooting programs, and it describes “Amazing America” as a nationwide tour of people and places connected to the outdoor world.
“Meet people who blazed their own trail, never backed down and aren’t afraid to get a little dirty,” a trailer for the show explains.
Palin acts as an emcee, and several co-hosts such as Carroll crisscross the country introducing the guests. “The network showcases a lifestyle that I love and celebrate every day,” Palin said in a statement.
Reviewers have already taken some jabs at the conservative pundit’s second stab at reality TV. From DailyKos.com: “It looks to be Sarah Palin saying things about freedom in front of a green screen interspersed with some sort of redneckier-than-thou celebration of people shooting things or injuring themselves.”
But Carroll, who hasn’t yet met Palin, described the experience as amazing – “truly a reality show.”
Over four or five weeks, he traveled from Tennessee to Arkansas to Texas and to Maryland, never knowing whom he’d be filming until a few hours before the cameras whirred.
He met a remote-area medical team in Knoxville, delivering health care by plane.
He got in the ring with wrestler James “Cowboy” Storm.
He drove a DC-3 down a runway.
“It’s not a hunting and fishing show,” he said. “We never fished.”
The show has several other hosts, but Carroll said one of his segments will appear in the first episode. He had one chance to meet Palin, but it came during the busiest part of his farm conference schedule. But he’s been promised that he’ll meet the whole team for the show’s second season.
It’s heady stuff for Carroll, known as “The Willow Spring Wildman.” He never tried comedy till he turned 35 and tried the stage at Goodnights.
If he weren’t acting as host on “Amazing America,” he might qualify as a good guest.