Illustration: Jonathan Fehr
Illustration: Jonathan Fehr

Larry Black talks about the success of his RFD-TV show Larry’s Country Diner and the opening of his future Nashville restaurant

Cowboys & Indians: Over seven years after the premiere of Larry’s Country Diner, your show continues to be one of the most popular programs on RFD-TV. What do you think has been the key to its success?

Larry Black: Right from the start, we treated it like the show was done at an imaginary setting in Podunksville, USA—somewhere off the beaten path. The theory was that the local cable company, because they had nothing better to do, would send a couple of cameras into the diner at lunchtime every day just to shoot who’s there. It just happened to be that, every day, a country star would stop by. The sheriff in the town happened to be a world-class guitar player. He would come have lunch — and if the occasion arose, he’d pull the guitar out of the back of his car, and play for whoever was there.

C&I: Some of the funniest moments involve Nadine, the talkative church lady played by Mona Brown, and her interactions with you and the country music artists who drop by. How do you prepare for those segments of the show?

Larry: I don’t. I don’t have a clue what she’s going to do when she does it. We don’t talk about it. We don’t act out any of the things. We don’t rehearse any of the things. We just play off of each other. I really knew she was coming into her own near the end of the first 13 shows. The last one we did was with Larry Gatlin—and she set Larry back on his heels. I mean, he was left stammering. I thought, “OK, she’s got it.” She tears everybody up. The audience loves that, and the artists love it, too.

C&I: What about the rest of the show? Do you have scripted segments, or do you use cue cards, or ... ?

Larry: We don’t have a plan. Our show is total improv. It’s sort of like how Dean Martin did his variety show years ago. When he signed the contract, he said, “I will do the show, but I will not rehearse. I will come in on the day of the show, and you can go through with me what you think I should do — and then we’ll go and tape.” It’s my understanding that he never knew who was going to come crashing through the door. That it was always a surprise whenever he opened the door.

C&I: You take the same freewheeling approach to interviewing your guests, right?

Larry: Well, I love when you get somebody off of the track they’re on, and you throw them a curveball. If you’ve seen the show, you know it’s laidback and relaxed. You get the feeling that you don’t know what’s going to happen next. And that’s true, because we don’t know what’s going to happen next. We had the Oak Ridge Boys on, just chit-chatting with them, and I asked, “OK, you’re on the road. After a show, you get on the bus. What do you watch?” Because they said they all had their own televisions in the bus that they ride in. One of them said, “I watch all the snake things, and all swamp, all the time.”They watched all of the silly cable things that we watch. Garage sales, all the stupid things. They had such fun just explaining that. And I think they were glad it was not just another thing where all we talked about was, “Where’s your next concert? What do you like about your new record?” It was fun to just talk to them about who they are.

C&I: Obviously, your show is aimed largely at an older demographic. But do you think you attract a few whippersnappers as well?

Larry: [Laughs.] Absolutely. And we’ve seen proof of that when we’ve done shows at the Starlite Theatre in Branson, Missouri. When we’re in Branson, you’re able to see, feel, and touch the audience. You’ll see 30- and 40-year-old children that are there with their moms and dads, because their moms and dads love Larry’s Country Diner, and the kids have brought them there as a special event or whatever. But then we find out that a substantial number of the kids also love the show. They love the spontaneity. They love that it’s so obvious that it’s not planned, that we’re not reading from cue cards. And that you never know what’s going to happen.

REALLY BIG SHOW: Larry’s Country Diner airs weekly on the RFD- TV cable network. You also can stream episodes of the show by accessing Diner TV online.

COMING ATTRACTION: Larry Black has plans to open a real-life Larry’s Country Diner—a restaurant in Nashville—in the near future. But don’t expect anything but down-home cooking on the menu. No kale. “And none of that gluten free stuff,” Larry promises.

From the February/March 2017 issue.