Joe Bob Briggs would probably blanch at the description, but the cult movie enthusiast, humorist and media personality is above all an astute social critic. All his wit, politically incorrect quips and keen insight into Americans — particularly Americans who reside south of the
Mason-Dixon line — was running full throttle when How Rednecks Saved Hollywood, Joe Bob’s freewheeling comedic history lesson peppered with exploitation and mainstream movie clips, kicked some serious ass with a sellout crowd at the Back Alley Film Series and Charlotte Film Society’s presentation at C3 Lab Saturday night.
As cult movie fans already know, Joe Bob Briggs is the nom de pickup truck of Texas-born and Arkansas-raised author and journalist John Irving Bloom. In 1982 Bloom, then a reporter for The Dallas Times-Herald, created his over the top redneck alter ego for Joe Bob Goes to the Drive-In, a cult movie review column that was eventually syndicated in 57 papers. The column was noted for Bloom’s discursive stories about his character’s misadventures, colorful terms for forms of combat, including chainsaw-fu, pool cue-fu and garden hose-fu; euphemisms for sexual activity such as “aardvarking,” and precise tallies of each movie’s bare breasts and dead bodies. He would conclude each review with the phrase, “Joe Bob says check it out.”
Bloom’s side gig became a redneck chain reaction. The column spawned a popular one-man show, which begat a gig hosting the B-movie series Joe Bob’s Drive-In Theater on The Movie Channel for close to a decade, which led to a similar hosting stint on TNT’s Monstervision for another four years, as Josh Robbins dug into with his latest installment of VisArt Diaries. Last year, Bloom returned to cult movie hosting with The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs on the streaming service Shudder, and now he’s touring his latest one man show, which touched down in the Queen City on Saturday.
Joe Bob began How Rednecks Saved Hollywood with a clip of the notorious gimp scene from Tennessee-born Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. “No one has to tell you where these guys came from,” Joe Bob quipped as he pointed out the film’s sodomizing, Southern-accented villains. Yep, they were rednecks — Hollywood’s current crop of go to bad guys. In the course of the evening’s profane presentation, Joe Bob touched on 16th-century Scottish theologian John Knox, whiskey running, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Smokey and the Bandit and several points in between. Such as disparate range of topics could, to quote another insurgent journalist Hunter S. Thompson, “spread like a puddle of piss on concrete,” but damned if Joe Bob didn’t tie it all together and make it pertinent to the redneck experience in America.
Joe Bob delivered on his promise to be an equal-opportunity offender. His withering humor was unsparing toward snooty New York movie critics and Hollywood producers, as well as rednecks, North Carolinians and Charlotteans. [No dear city, we will never live down the passing of HB2.]
There were plenty of local and regional touchstones. The Last Drive-In‘s Diana “Darcy the Mail Girl” Prince was with Joe Bob, and she used her connections as a former attendee at the training clinic for the Carolina Panthers’ TopCats to get team mascot Sir Purr to work the crowd.
Monstervision‘s Renner “Rusty the Mail Girl” St. John was also in attendance. Joe Bob pointed St. John out in the audience and revealed that the former Air Force pilot quit showbiz and became a Charlotte attorney before moving to Alaska.
We also learned that the term redneck first appeared in print in 1830 as an uncomplimentary description of the residents of Fayetteville, and that the very first — and in Joe Bob’s estimation best — moonshine movie is the 1958 Asheville-lensed Thunder Road, produced and written by star Robert Mitchum, who also sang the title song. For good measure, one of the posters adorning the auditorium walls was for Chain Gang, produced by and starring Shelby auteur Earl Owensby, fondly nicknamed the redneck Roger Corman.
In the course of the evening’s entertainment, a through line emerged, a rollicking yet well-researched history of the origin of rednecks and our culture’s love-hate affair with them. It was a frequently snarky and discursive narrative tracing the migration of the insular and recalcitrant Scots Irish to Appalachia, that clannish culture’s distrust of government and outsiders, their propensity to convert cash crops to whiskey for which they refused to pay taxes and how running illegal moonshine spawned NASCAR and Hollywood’s love affair with the car chase. Along the way there were detours for the Whiskey Rebellion, the once-popular “hillbilly lite” genre represented by The Beverly Hillbillies,” the persistent trope of the ferociously oversexed redneck woman, the “That Crazy Redneck Might Kill You” subgenre exemplified by Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the literal rise of the short shorts dubbed “Daisy Dukes.”
Joe Bob screened clips from film classics like To Kill a Mockingbird, In the Heat of the Night and Deliverance, plus not-so-classics including Hillbillies in a Haunted House, Ernest Saves Christmas and Gator Bait, former Playboy Playmate Claudia Jennings’ career pinnacle.
By evening’s end all roads led ultimately to Smokey and the Bandit, the apotheosis of all redneck movies and the high-water mark of Burt Reynolds’ career before it all went south for Burt with the Charlotte-lensed flop Stroker Ace. In fact, Joe Bob quoted Arkansas native and Sling Blade writer, director and star Billy Bob Thornton to the effect that, “Down South we consider Smokey and the Bandit a documentary.”
If you can’t see the connection between Smokey and the Bandit — which includes every key redneck movie trope including fast cars, hot women, dimwitted law enforcement and illegally transporting alcohol across state lines — and the stiff-necked Presbyterianism preached by John Knox, don’t worry, it’s all there in the scene from Smokey in which Burt Reynolds’ Pontiac Firebird Trans Am miraculously defies gravity and sails over a washed out bridge. Joe Bob claimed that the impossible feat illustrated divine intervention, thereby proving that God watches over rednecks. And we believed him. After all, if Joe Bob says it checked out, it checked out.