16 Dec Interview with Al Robertson
Join me as I interview the “non-bearded” brother, Al Robertson, of Duck Dynasty.
The A & E Network hit TV show Duck Dynasty had a record-breaking audience of 12 million viewers for its Season 4 premiere. The show introduced another significant member of the family, oldest son of Phil and Kay Robertson, Alan. Since his debut on the show as the “Beardless Brother,” (big brother to Jase, Willie, and Jep) Alan says that he has become more recognized in public but not to the extent of the rest of his family. Many fans of the show have wondered when Alan will make his next appearance since that landmark episode. To this he says he will definitely be in the Christmas episode but other than that he doesn’t know. He feels they are still trying to figure out how to best utilize him on the show. Alan says he doesn’t know if his branch of the family will be highlighted on Duck Dynasty, but they are slowly bringing them in. Alan maintains that the family is shown as they are and overall doing the show has been a positive experience.
Alan’s family is all there in West Monroe, Louisiana. Alan’s sons-in-law work at Duck Commander and enjoy hunting. His eldest daughter Anna’s husband is in charge of duck call production. Alex is now working with the church the family has been a part of for years, White’s Ferry Road Church. Alan’s granddaughters don’t hunt yet, but they do go fishing.
EASLEY: Allen Robertson. oldest son of the Duck Commander. Al, thanks for being on the program today.
ROBERTSON: Man, it’s a pleasure. Thank you for having me.
E: Well, I was reading a bit of your bio and I had to laugh at the refering to yourself as you’re the Jacob in a family of Easus.
R: That’s right.
E: CBN viewed you as the odd duck. The beardless Allen.
R: Yeah, everybody has their own T-shirt. Even the dog, even Bobo has his own T-shirt and I don’t have my own T-shirt so I’m trying to picture one of me and my brothers, and dad, and Si and it says, “The Ugly Duckling.”
E: There you go!
R: Yeah, I thought that was catchy, but it still hasn’t taken off. I’m not the merchandising king of the Duck Commander.
E: Well, I’ll leave that to you. You guys seemed to have figured that out.You grew up in a home in West Monroe, Louisiana and you found your way to the pastorate?
R: Well I kind of was dragged in kicking and screaming is what I always like to say. I hear people talking about their calling and it’s always been so noble. Mine was that I was trying to build duck calls, I was married, I had two kids, and the company was literally just getting off the ground and we were all about to starve to death because my grandparents were also working with the company back in those days. So basically the company was trying to provide for three families on about a one and a half person’s income and so it was just always a struggle. So when some guys approached me and really recruited me to go to seminary, I was “No, no,” I loved doing what I was doing and I was going to college as well. They just kind of stayed after me and they wore me down and I finally went, but I didn’t really feel like I had what it took to be in long term ministry and I always thought preachers were kind of weird anyway.
R: I just thought how’s this going to work? But you know when I got in there, I got into the Bible study, I loved it. I was little shaky as a speaker early on; just kind of nervous about it but got better at that as well; got a little more confidence and realized it wasn’t my message, it was God’s. It really turned out to be a great twenty five year career before I left and came back to the duck call fold.
E: Well, people want to know why would a guy leave a local church ministry and join the dynasty.
R: Well it was the uniqueness of the opportunity. It’s funny, because I told you I was kind of dragged in the other way. I felt kind of the same way being dragged out. Willy and I had been talking about it for a year, really ever since the show took off because it took off fairly early. I just wasn’t sure I loved what I was doing. I loved my church work. I loved being in there week in and week out, but man the bigger things got, the more I saw ministry opportunities everywhere. I really had been wanting to do some writing and do a devotional anyway and thought man if I go over now I won’t be on the show as much early on, but that’ll give me a chance to do some of these other projects like our devotional, like our Bible, like helping with dad’s books. So we went ahead and made the jump after about a year of prayer and talking about it. It was a great decision. I mean the ministry now, I feel like is a national and international one and I get to really do some cool stuff around the country meeting people. You know, there’s things I didn’t really get to do being in a local church for so many years.
E: I want to come back and talk about your Bible, but the Robertson family is a is a global name now, right?
R: Oh, absolutely. Obviously, God put us in a position to do what we’re doing, but I have to give respect to A&E and what they did as far as marketing our family and particularly what we call the “big four” with Dad, and Si and Jason and Willy, with their beards and all that. What was happening was, when it was going on, it was just kind of fun and who are these people, these crazy people from Louisiana? Well what it was doing was just putting our name out there in such a big way, and so all that early work for the show has really opened up some great ways for us to be known for what we’re really all about. Of course that all came about once the show kind of took off and had the big platform so it was really interesting to see how God used Madison Avenue and it’s ilk to be able to get us out there the same way where people who knew who we were and then they’d hear the message we had for them.
E: Viewers may or may not know that reality shows are sometimes far from reality.There are a lot of takes, a lot of retakes, a lot of try it again. Give us a little insider’s glimpse on how that looks.
R: I think people for a long time just thought people put a camera on their shoulder and followed you around and whatever you did that day that winded up being a TV show, but obviously, that’s not very interesting and not able to be sustained for very long and so it does take a lot of set up, and prep, and planning, and figuring out locations, where you want to do certain things. In our case, we basically did a big storyboard at the beginning of the series and we kicked out a lot of things we are currently doing, that we had done in our past that our family was about. So even as many seasons that we’ve done in these last three and a half years, some of those stories are still surfacing as we go through naturally and a lot of things that are happening are obviously things that are happening in time. Jep got sick this year and so that just made it in one of the episodes because that was a big part of our lives. Some of it’s ongoing; a lot of it is stuff you’ll see from our past that we did years ago. A lot of times, just an insider for folks listening, what you may see in the story may not be an exact person, who it happened to. It may be funnier than the way we’re telling it, that it was Si and Jep or something, but that may have been me and Dad years ago. So we sort of recreate some of your stories and that’s how they’re put together. They’ve done a nice job with it and again that’s probably props to our production company as well as our influence of making sure we put out good shows.
E: When you think about the nature of story and as a pastor and preacher you know how important it is not to just teach the Scripture, but you’ve got to put it in a story format for a listener or a viewer. If you had to distill why the story of Duck Dynasty works how would you explain it?
R: I think two things, well maybe three: first and foremost it’s a funny show and we’re all very humoristic people. If you were around us very long, that’s how we deal with stuff, we laugh; we joke; we kid with one another. That’s who we really are. Humor works and it works on a lot of different levels and it works for us. I think that’s one of the big hooks on the show, is it was funny, you know when they saw Uncle Si doing something crazy or the way Willie and Jase fight all the time and they thought, that’s funny. That leads to the second thing: it’s very family oriented and drenched in family and how we make it work and it’s a success story. Who in America doesn’t love a success story; a family of people that had a passion for something and in our case it was Dad, first and foremost, had something they loved to do. They wind up being able to build a successful business doing it and you know that’s a story that is very American in nature; that you had the opportunity to do that and the willingness, the independence, the hard work. In our case the blessing, and that’s the third thing, I think is our faith. It’s not a faith show, but the faith shines through. I mean, I think the viewer gets it. We talk about the Bible a lot in there; obviously, we pray at the end of the episodes; and so that was the other thing and that was really missing in the reality genre is anything that was faith friendly and yet was still an interesting show. I think those three elements are why people were so drawn to it.
E: Now you’ve produced a Bible and as a pastor who has seen numerous Bible studies come and go, I’ve got to ask you why another Bible?
R: Well you know to be honest with you I never would have thought this first, I think it came from our devotional book being so successful, which I compiled it but it was contributed by the whole family. We saw there was a real hunger and thirst out there for Bible related things from a family like us where people didn’t necessarily know us in that context totally, although there’s a lot of believers that watch the show. So I think us thinking, man, people are loving this, and then we were approached by the guys at Nelson-Thomas Nelson and they just said, “Look, we think we could do a Bible and we could incorporate some of the things that made your devotional books successful into that Bible, but we want it to be a serious study and study Bible.” So Dad and I, we have seventy years of experience between the two of us in terms of studying and teaching. We were all over it; we loved it; we loved the idea. We weren’t intimidated, that you would be putting your words right along the very words of God as they were carried along all those thousands of years. We were excited about the opportunity and we thought this will be something a little unique because these are people that other people had met through a television program, but at the same time have a much more important message. I liked it because of the timeless nature of it. I have a lot of books, and I’m sure you do too, that are in the library and a lot of books I’ve given away. I don’t know what will happen to all those study books and things I had when I was in seminary. I may at some point look back over them. Some of them I haven’t looked at in years, but I have all my Bible through my whole years of being a preacher and there are many different versions and some are special because they were given to me and I’ll hold onto those for the rest of my life. I don’t know what will happen to the library in the end, but I know what will happen to the Bible.
R: That’s kind of what I thought with this. We’re doing a lot of successful trade books, but to have a Bible is something that somebody can pass down and hold onto for a very long time.
E: Ok, let me ask the cynic question: Duck Dynasty is a financial success and we do love a success story, but there’s some folks out there that are going to say, “You know this is just one more way those folks are making money and they’re doing it on a Bible.”
R: Right. To be honest, those voices have been there almost everything we’ve done. I’ve said it for a long time, you know it’s just like being in church work. You know this, your worst criticism comes from the people that you’re with all the time and we’re the same way. You’re going to get some of that as it comes along, but you just have to realize you got to do it anyway. We did the project because we wanted people to have this in their hands, really to be able to give it to someone else. This Bible was written not only for the encouragement of the believer, but it’s really written with the idea this is a great thing to put in someones hands and maybe they’ve never had a Bible before, but is a fan of Duck Dynasty, or has heard of Duck Commander, or is a hunter. So I tell this a lot of times when I do an interview, I just met a woman last week in Fort Worth at a Walmart. We were doing a signing for her and she told me, “I just gave this to a fifty three year old man who has never had a Bible before and this was his first one.” I said, “You’re the woman I’ve been talking about.” I really think that’s going to happen. No matter what comes out cynically about it, that’s the ultimate purpose behind it. We’ll make a few dollars, but trust me as expensive as Bible’s are to produce, we won’t make near as much off of this as we do trade books anyway.
E: That segways into my next thought, because this will be the first Bible many people ever see. A camouflage Bible with Duck Dynasty on it and um..I mean as a preacher that’s got to scare you a little bit. Right?
R: It does in one sense, but in another I’m thrilled because I think that’s always been a hook anyway. Dad has always had an ability to connect to people. He has a powerful presence about him and so that really crosses over into the hunting genre and all of us are kind of that way. I’m more of the cleaned up version of everybody. Still that’s our base, that’s who the people are so we and that’s why we do so many wild game feasts. We realize that there are guys that their wife or their mom has been trying to get them to come to church for years and can’t do it, but boy, they know every Duck Commander tape because they were watching it, so we realize that’s a big part of what we’re supposed to be doing. We don’t mind, I mean we feel comfortable with those folks.
E: You mention, faith, family on your website, fellowship, forgiveness, and freedom as your core values. Maybe you should add another one in there, funny.
R: Yeah, I think so. Somebody said fowl. I said, yeah as long as we have (spell it out) fowl.
E: You have to play it double entendre there.
R: Exactly. Because you’re right. Humor is a big part of it. And even Dad, Dad is so stoic at times. To me, he’s so funny on the show because by not being funny, he’s hilarious.
R: He’s always the guy that’s the straight. I call him Mount Rushmore you know because he just has that look on his face. I laugh at him more than anybody, including Si, just because I know him so well. When you get those looks, trust me, that is real Phil. That’s not being made up at all.
E: I get that from the whole shtick of it, not to be disrespectful, but you can tell when he’s that deadpan he’s being hysterical. That’s the way he is, right?
R: That’s the way he is. We always learned that growing up and I’m pretty good at it. I can always typically do the good preacher joke too, but then again I can do the deadpan and the hold off as well. It really has served us well and what we’re really passionate about, especially Dad and I, and that is you know presenting to people in a way that you can hook them in and get them to the most important message.
E: Now as the Dynasty continues literally and metaphorically, you’ve got children and grandchildren that are growing up in a very different West Monroe than you did. How in the world do you keep their feet on the ground? They’re a world recognized name, and that’s great in some respect, but it also brings some real heavy weight with it.
R: You’re right and you tapped into it.That’s a great question because that’s our biggest concern. Not just the fame, but also money also that’s associated with that. We’ve all worked very hard and came from very little, and are now very successful and that’s different. You look back over American civilization just in the short time we’ve been here, and you look at those businesses and you’ll see those beginners, and those entrepreneurs, and that hard work, and they get it and you see it passed on and it can sometimes be a wrecking ball in a family. So we pray a lot about that; we try to instill the right values. I will say our first line which is the teenagers of my brothers are kind of our first testing ground because all this hit them as teenagers and they didn’t ask for this and basically they came along for the ride. They have passed with flying colors so far just going through that difficult time in their lives; they’re doing amazing things. Of course, Sadie is very successful with what she’s doing now and yet doing it in a Christian way; the same with John Luke and Reed, who are the older ones. So the first wave is good, so hopefully the younger ones, when we have that benefit of them following their example of how to handle that as they get older into their teen years and their college years and then they get married. You know it takes a lot of work. We’re a family; we’re imperfect. Somebodys going to stumble along the way. We all did. We were there to pick each other up and we’ll do the same for them.
E: I was with Ron Blue not long ago, the financial planner, for many years. He’s seventy two now, I believe. He threw a statistic my way that it was between one hundred and twenty eight plus, billion dollars of wealth will transfer from Phil, in the late fifties, sixties, generation age down to the next decade of our children. The staggering nature of how poorly most people handle that type of transfer of wealth. You’ve mentioned it, but have you thought proactively,even though your kids are grown? Have you thought proactively, how will you steer them?
R: I learned from Korie’s parents. Korie’s parents were successful and grandparents. Her grandparents actually started several businesses here and they started Howard publishing which ironically now, it’s Howard Books, which publishes most of our stuff. but it’s long since been sold. We learned a lot from her grandpa who taught us about trust that didn’t necessarily dump money on youth, but allowed it to grow and come out in ways that they could use it and invest and never really get into the bulk of it where it becomes something they could really run through in a bad way. So we have learned some things that we’re putting into practice for our kids and our grandkids to be able to have a base there that can help them as they have their own dreams and have their own businesses without necessarily dumping a big bunch of money on somebody who really doesn’t have the maturity to handle it.
E: Let’s switch back to books for just a minute. You and I talked about libraries and preachers, build libraries for our own help and for others. What are some books that have been key in your life, Al?
R: I’d say there’s an author; he hasn’t written many books, but his name is Joe Beam. I think he’s only written three books, but two of his books are ironically are two of the biggest impact on me personally because of where I was in my life in ministry. One is called Seeing the Unseen which is about spiritual warfare. It was just a time when I was really faced in light of the ministry I was at, and it just really gave me a good glimpse of it. Ironically, he wrote a book Forgive and Forever, which is now been changed to getting past guilt. They went back and redid it, and changed the title. But that helped. You know Lisa and I went through some real difficulties in our marriage about fifteen years ago. That’s just what I needed to hear. I’ve since come in contact with Joe and I told him, “You really blessed my life with these two books.” I think he’s only written one other one. Another guy I loved to read is Kyle Idleman who pastors down at Southeast Christian, and he’s got a book called Not a Fan. He wrote one called, Aha, which is about the Prodigal Son. He’s had a big influence on me. He’s a contemporary writer now, a younger period. He’s younger than me, but he’s just a great thinker and a great teacher and when I read his stuff, it blesses me. Some of the ones through the years; guys like Steve Farrar and Chuck Swindoll are guys that helped me a lot in my ministry days just to give me some confidence as I was going in the Word that I could illustrate and do the things I need to do and stay true to the Word. Those are just a few of the guys who have probably impacted me both in my terms of practicality ministry, but also in my personal walk, just as a Christian and as a pastor.
E: What question haven’t I asked?
R: Well you didn’t ask why I don’t have a beard? Most people ask me that, so.
E: So why don’t you have a beard Al?
R: Well, just because I choose not to grow one is why. I kind of like being the beardless brother now. It’s funny how many people ask me that. Almost everybody so thank you for not asking me.
E: Maybe you should do a soul patch just to be different. Well, actually as I speak to you on the phone, I have about a two week growth. I’m hoping I’m not going to have to film my pick up this week so I don’t have to shave it off. They actually now don’t want me to grow one. I offered to grow one last year when I first came on full time and not just doing cameos and they said, “No, no, no. We like it better. Your brothers can make fun of you and all that.” They would rather me now not have one, but in duck season, I grow one. We filmed longer than we did last time; we just ended last week. Normally come September, I’m letting mine grow and by January I’ve got a pretty good beard. I’m a bearded bro for about three or four months a year.
E: But you’re the most handsome brother, right?
R: Well of course, and wisest.
E: And wisest.
R: And all those things. Yeah.
E: My producer did want me to ask who’s the black sheep?
R: Well, you know it’s funny, I always say I’m a white sheep in a family of black sheep. That goes along with my …..
R: I’d say, this is going to sound weird, but the black sheep is Willy. He’s the outfront guy; he’s the CEO, he’s all that stuff. Hes the one we’re always having to pull the tether back because he’s so far out there, in terms of on the edge of this sort of cultural place we are. He’s the one we’re always worried about because he knows so many people and walks in so many different circles so seriously, were always saying, “Will don’t get too far out there. If you hear that limb starting to crack, make sure you’re not too far out there on it.” So in some ways, he’s kind of like that. I guess black sheep wouldn’t be a fair comparison, but he’s definitely the one that is the most engaged and involved in our culture so we’re always keeping an eye on him for that reason.
E: Al somebody’s listening to this and their spiritual journey has been interesting, up and down, maybe they don’t have much interest in Christ, or a Bible, or faith. What would you say to them?
R: You know, I always tell people that the human condition and whatever it is that we struggle with, there’s a commonality to all men and all women; that the thing you’re struggling with, whatever it is, and it could be a long list of things, someone else is either going through that or has gone through that recently, or is about to go through that in the very near future. Without something to turn to, something bigger than ourselves, all we can do then is either suffer through it, or become a victim because of it. That’s what faith does for me; that’s what God does for me; that’s what the Bible does for me. It gives me something bigger than myself to realize that I can get passed it; I can get through it; I can get over; I can get around. Whatever it is I’m going through then, the blessing is not only can I do that, but then I have something in my personal vault that I can help someone else just like you’re going through right now to get through that. Because I find some of my greatest victories have not what I’ve been through but it’s been what I’ve helped others get through because then I understood what it was like. I was able to show them the other side of the mountain because I went over the top of it. So I think there’s hope in any situation and it’s just about finding that God appointed person that’s there to tell you their story about how they got through it.
E: Al Robertson, oldest, firstborn, most handsome son of the Robertson clan. The new Bible, The Duck Commander Faith and Family Bible. You can get it online or at your nearest bookstore. Al, thank you for your time today, my friend.
R: Thank you so much. I appreciate what you do, day in and day out, buddy.
E: I appreciate Al’s words about we’re all going to face challenges. We’re all going to face problems in life and we’re all going to turn somewhere. I would encourage you to turn to the Word of God. If you have a Bible, and you open it up to Ephesians Chapter 2: vs 8 and 9. Those are two of the beginning verses for all of us. That we understand what Paul says there when he writes, “For by grace, you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves. It is a gift of God, not as a result of works that no man can boast.” In those two short verses, Paul explains that we appropriate; we receive grace by faith. Now grace is a funny concept. Grace is God’s unmerited favor in the face of deserved wrath. We all deserve wrath; we are not good; we are not better than one another. It’s level ground when it comes to humanity in our sin condition. For some that’s hard to accept, but that is what Scripture teaches: that we’re all sinners; we all fall short. So my prayer for you that you would come to that place in your spiritual journey; that you would trust in Christ, and Christ alone, for your salvation. And if you do, would you let us know? Drop us an e-mail. Let us know. Send us a message. We’d love to pray with you on the most important decision you will ever make in life. This is Michael Easley inContext.