PIGEON FORGE — Since September 2020, Dave Jones and his colleagues at The Redneck Comedy Bus Tours have been juggling two Tennessee locations, discussions of appropriateness in humor and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The director of operations for the business that opened in Nashville 14 years ago is pleased with expansion to the Sevier County tourism market that launched six months ago.
“Thank you to the locals and businesses that have supported us,” Jones said. “We made this decision a year ago, and the Smoky Mountains tours were supposed to launch the first of April 2020. Everybody has been welcoming doing cross-promotion with us.”
Jones owned a limousine service in Nashville when Richmond Ross approached him with the idea of converting an old school bus to one that offered comedy tours of the city’s downtown.
Before establishing The Redneck Comedy Bus Tours, Ross worked in sales for a Nashville timeshare.
“He just saw your basic, boring get-on-the-bus tours from the resort,” Jones said of Ross. “He decided he could do this part-time. He bought a bus and hired a duo of comedians the first year.”
The business now has four tour guides and drivers in Nashville, plus four tour guides and drivers in Pigeon Forge.
Those who are hired as tour guides are comedians.
“They are stand-up comedians that work with us part-time around their gigs,” said Jones. “They have to be funny. We can’t make them funny.”
Though the tour guides follow some scripting, including a “redneck dictionary,” they also bring their own observations to the two-hour tours.
“Each comedian has their own delivery, their own style,” Jones said.
Asked about what material is deemed appropriate for the comedy routines, Jones says evaluations are ongoing.
“That’s certainly a conversation we have had,” he said.
Jones, Ross and the other employees have also had multiple conversations about operating 36-seat bus tours during the pandemic.
“We took temperatures up until the first of this month,” said Jones, adding that each bus is sanitized between tours and passengers load and unload in a system designed to prevent cross-contamination.
“Masks are required to board,” Jones said. “It’s opened up a little more here (in Sevier County). Nashville is still 50% capacity. We’re a little over that in the Smoky Mountains. We remind people to be socially distant.”
The two-hour local tours take passengers to Great Smoky Mountains National Park and include a 30-minute intermission — which doubles as a restroom break — at Ole Smoky Moonshine. After seeing the popularity of the distillery with riders in Sevier County, Jones and Ross added the same stop to the Nashville tours.
“The Smoky Mountains tour is a more family-oriented market,” said Jones. “We do not have people with big coolers with them like we do in Nashville.”
Much of downtown Nashville’s tourism business comes from bridal and bachelor parties.
Jones says the company is working to safely bring an escape for those who decide to board their buses.
“We want to be part of the solution and not part of the problem,” he said. “Most people that are visiting the Smokies want to be somewhere open … People are so ready to laugh in both markets. The pandemic has been a strain on basic society. We want to bring a little bit of laughter to everybody.”