Queen City Nerve

Charlotte's Cultural Pulse

The Return of Joe Bob Briggs
Everybody's favorite movie partner

By Joshua Robbins

April 17, 2019

The man, the myth, the legend, Joe Bob Briggs will be in Charlotte on 4/20, and while that sentence may make some people explode with joy, others will surely ask, “Who?”

To explain who Joe Bob Briggs is, I need to lay the groundwork for the concept of movie marathon hosts. Maybe you’ve watched Turner Classic Movies and, while coming back from the breaks, watched Robert Osborne with great gravitas give you backstory to Lucille Ball in Yours, Mine and Ours. You’re probably more familiar with Cassandra Peterson, or as we truly know her, Elvira. The general concept is that in the United States we once had personalities who would host movie marathons on cable TV in character. There was Larry Vincent, aka Sinister Seymour, in Los Angeles; John Zacherle in Philadelphia; and Ernie Anderson as Ghoulardi in Cleveland, among many others. In most cases, these marathons would come on late-night during the weekends. The programming was often horror or sci-fi — what we might call b-movies or “genre films” if you’d like to be more respectable about it. 

John Irving Bloom’s character, Joe Bob Briggs, is a redneck Texan with a love for the drive-in theater. You can think of him as the anti-Robert Osborne. Instead of high-brow criticism, you get faux machismo and exploration of low-brow culture. The Joe Bob persona was so tight, it’s often difficult to tell where the persona ends and the Vanderbilt University-educated Mr. Bloom begins.

The genesis of Joe Bob Briggs came about when Bloom when he was working for The Houston Herald in Texas. He created Joe Bob so he could review exploitation and other genre films. His writing would often be about anything other than the movie itself, and maybe just be one long anecdote that very loosely tied back into the movie.

In 1985, Joe Bob starred in a one-man show An Evening With Joe Bob Briggs. This led to a nearly ten-year run on TMC with Joe Bob’s Drive-In Theater. The show was at one point the channel’s top-rated show and even led to some cable awards. TMC eventually changed their format in the mid-’90s and Bloom departed, but in a few months he had landed back at TNT’s MonsterVision, which lasted four years, until September 17, 2000. That concludes our history lesson.

Now here we are in 2019, and Joe Bob hasn’t just been hitting the road, he’s also returned to television — or some form of it — on the horror/thriller streaming service Shudder.

So does the world still need Joe Bob Briggs? In the past, the host was an important source of factoids about movies before the advent of the internet. Maybe you could have gone to your library and found facts about Ed Wood, but nothing matched the minutiae of the late-night host (and let’s be honest, you weren’t going to the library to look up facts about Ed Wood). Now with the internet we can find all the facts and feel like an expert. Hell, we can even the critic, too.

But I digress, you don’t want to hear me keep digressing, you’d rather hear it from the man himself. I recently got the chance to ask Joe Briggs why he’s still needed, and I’ve included his full response below: 

“The short answer is that movies aren’t designed to be experienced alone. If you’ve ever watched a great movie on your phone or tablet, then the first thing that happens after the closing credits is that you feel lonely. There’s no one to talk to. If you try to talk to your friends or family, you’ll bore them to death with plot details. You’ve isolated yourself from the community the event was supposed to be shared with. Movie hosts came back because of a longing for community.

The more technical answer is that cable networks loaded up their shows with commercials. An hour of TV used to be 48 minutes of entertainment and 12 minutes of commercials. Today it’s often 41 minutes of entertainment and 19 minutes of commercials — no room for hosting.

And if I had to guess why my show returned — believe me, I’m as surprised by it as anyone else — it would be because all of my commentary was always based on the movie itself. I never got too far away from the movie. Of the two classic schools of hosting — Elvira and Zacherle — I’m much closer to Zacherle. It’s all about the film. We talk about the film. The hosts who go in the other direction, toward comedy sketches that are distinct from the movie, don’t satisfy that hunger to talk about the experience.”

Briggs’ new show first aired as a 13-film marathon that proved so popular that it crashed the live-streaming servers. That led to two more loosely themed Thanksgiving and Christmas marathons before he settled into the weekly double-feature show The Last Drive-In With Joe Bob Briggs, essentially the same concept as Monstervision but without the cable censors.

It’s safe to say that Joe Bob Briggs is back, and it was a great job of Back Alley Films to snag him while he tours his one-man show. Organizations like the Charlotte Film Society, and of course my people at Visart Video, are bringing festival-approved genre films, documentaries and speaking engagements to Charlotte, and it’s good to see that folks are starting to pay attention.

How Rednecks Saved Hollywood with Joe Bob Briggs, presented by Back Alley Film Series, is on Saturday, April 20th at C3 Lab, 2525 Distribution St.; Though it had originally old out, Charlotte Film Society put 25 more tickets up for sale today.

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