I first discovered the B-movie expert Joe Bob Briggs
from his regular column on drive-in movies as it appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle
. Who was this guy? He had a Texas persona, cared little for political correctness, introduced me to "aardvarking" and variations on Kung Fu (there are apparently as many forms of "Fu" as there are Inuit names for snow) and made me appreciate for the first time the nuances of the type of movies I'd glimpse on USA Network's Up All Night
series. He's also always been both damned funny and more often than not, pretty darned astute, too.
So, who is this guy? As it says on his own web site, "the early life of Joe Bob Briggs is shrouded in mystery and legend, much of it of his own invention. What's known is that he comes from some obscure rural county in West Texas. When he was 19 years old, he was hired by Entertainment Editor Ron Smith at the long defunct Dallas Times Herald
. As best can be determined, the column called "Joe Bob Goes to the Drive-In," which appeared on January 15, 1982, is the first time he ever set pen to paper except for three trifling efforts that resulted in felony forgery charges, later dismissed. His first review - an appreciation of the Italian cannibal programmer The Grim Reaper
- resulted in such a frenzy of popular support (two people called the paper, or one more than had ever been the case in the staid institution's first 100 years of existence) that it became a regular weekly feature, interrupted only by those periods during which Briggs, poorly aided by his famous attorney Bobo Rodriguez, languished in the Bossier City, Louisiana, jail at the end of a long weekend of crossing interstate lines for immoral purposes."
Joe Bob's regular Friday column, a parody of "We Are the World" called "We Are the Weird," ran into trouble when a Dallas County Commissioner took offense, insisting that Briggs be fired from the Times Herald. The editor caved, but Joe Bob discovered he had a lot of supporters who protested his dismissal. Briggs quickly picked up a new syndicator for his writing, and also created a stand-up comedy/stage performance show that he took nationwide.
Proving his merit as a performer led to Joe Bob getting a guest host gig on Drive-In Theater, a late-night B-movie show on cable's The Movie Channel. (As an actor, Joe Bob has also appeared in a few movies - Casino, Face/Off, The Stand and, most recently, The Storytellers - and various TV shows.) Joe Bob's Drive-In Theater became the network's highest-rated show, ran for almost ten years and was twice nominated for the industry's Cable ACE Award. The show ended when the network changed format in early 1996, but he was off the air for only four months before joining TNT to host MonsterVision for four years. In the late 90s, he spent two seasons as a commentator on Comedy Central's The Daily Show, beginning with the premiere episode.
But separate from his TV life, Briggs has always remained active as a writer, working as a contributing editor to the National Lampoon, freelancing for Rolling Stone, Playboy, the Village Voice and Andy Warhol's Interview. He's published five books of satire - Joe Bob Goes to the Drive-In, A Guide to Western Civilization, or, My Story, Joe Bob Goes Back to the Drive-In, The Cosmic Wisdom of Joe Bob Briggs, and Iron Joe Bob, his parody of the men's movement. His two syndicated newspaper columns - "Joe Bob Goes to the Drive-In" and "Joe Bob's America" - were picked up by the New York Times Syndicate in the 90s, and he continued to write both until putting the columns on hiatus in 1998.
A few years ago, he started up the "Drive-In" column again for national syndication, as well as a second column, "The Vegas Guy," which chronicles Joe Bob's weekly forays into the casinos of America. More recently, Joe Bob delivered the book Profoundly Disturbing: Shocking Movies That Changed History
, which examined the under-explored depths of exploitation films, and his newest book is the follow-up, Profoundly Erotic: Sexy Movies That Changed History
One underappreciated aspect of Joe Bob's legacy was The Door, a magazine of Christian satire; or, as a writer for Stars and Stripes (!) put it, "a bit of a Rolling Stone for Christians, except that many Christians wouldn't put The Door on their coffee table for fear of offending the pious, which is what The Door does best."
Joe Bob has also provided commentary tracks for Elite Entertainment's I Spit On Your Grave (Millennium Edition) (out of print), Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter and Double D Avenger as well as nine titles for Media Blasters.
I e-chatted with Joe Bob, who was kind enough to answer a good number of my mostly random questions; brief, but to the point.
How many if any drive-in theaters are left in this country?
I've seen estimates of anywhere from 400 to 800. I don't think anyone really knows because most drive-in owners don't belong to the National Association of Theater Owners, which keeps track of such things. The good news is that drive-ins are reopening, new ones are being built, and the ones in rural areas are thriving.
How do you prefer to watch movies these days - DVD, TV/cable, theater, on cell phone while driving, what?
Are you suggesting that I don't go to the drive-in every night?
Um, why, no. So how would you suggest people make their own drive-in theater experience at home (without breaking any laws)?
Put a sheet on the garage door and provide plenty of beer.
What do you think of this recent trend of sadistic horror movies - like Saw, Hostel and the like? Are they "profoundly disturbing"?
They're completely over the top, sick, disturbing, and perversions of the classic horror genre. I love 'em.
Seems like a lot of B-movies are being made direct for DVD but I'm not sure how many people are seeing them or how many of them are any good... Are B-movies alive and well, or barely kicking?
B-movies have never been healthier than they are today, mainly for the reasons you cite. There are more of them than ever before. Over the past ten years the technology for making a movie has become so cheap that literally anyone can make one. Yes, it's true, that 99 percent of them are crap, but that's pretty much true anyway. The more that get made, the more innovation we have.
What are some of the best recent drive-in type films that Joe Bob says we should check out?
I love Audition. It's my fave Takashi Miike film.
What about Slither? I thought that was a great B-movie/drive-in homage.
It was a little slimy.
Do you still publish The Door - or does today's real world version of Christian fundamentalism almost render any satire of it moot?
I'm still intimately involved with The Door, as one of The Doorkeepers. And we're on the case. The fundies took a drubbing in this last election, though, so should we beat on 'em while they're down? Of course we should!
I heard you're working on a new TV network - what's that all about?
It's called "Redrum," and it's the first 24-hour cable network devoted to horror, suspense and thrillers. At this point I'm the acting head of programming.
How did you come up with the term "aardvarking" to mean making sexy sex?
You've obviously never aardvarked.
Best B-Movie actress ever?
Michelle Bauer, still my fave.
Where are the Russ Meyers and Herschell Gordon Lewis's of today?
All over the place! They've just got smaller cameras and they shoot on tape.
What were the Hubbie Awards (for newbies out there) and will you ever resurrect some form of 'em? (Joe Bob used to point out that they were "the only awards that NEVER honor Emma Thompson under any circumstances.")
The Drive-In Academy Award, better known as the Hubbie, is engraved on a Chevy hubcap. Among past recipients are Roger Corman, Stephen King, and - the only person to pick up his Hubbie in person - Arnold the Barbarian.
You got a lot of mileage in the 80s out of King adaptations, and then in the 90s out of those Arnold movies (your Conan the Destroyer review was particularly memorable). Is there anything or anyone today that would inspire you the same way that those films did?
Well, it's a different world. I will receive five zombie movies in the mail this week. I know this even though I have no idea who's sending them. There was some virtue in a system that restricted filmmaking to people with funds.
Why did your scene in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 get cut? (They left in Kinky Friedman!)
Cannon Films was trying to cut the film for length, and they took it out about two weeks prior to the theatrical release. [Director] Tobe Hooper fought for it, then called me and told me he lost. This is the reason the film didn't do better at the box office.
How would you compare your commentary for Incredibly Strange Creatures... versus how Mystery Science Theater did the film?
Well, there's a fundamental difference in that I celebrate the film, no matter how bad, and they make fun of the film, no matter how good. I make fun of the films, too, but it's in the context of support for the exploitation flick.
You wrote the book Profoundly Erotic. Are there still profoundly erotic movies being made today or is there an even more prudish attitude about them? There's porn, and then there's cable soft porn and then there's "regular" movies. Are there still sexy "regular" movies?
Oh yeah, definitely, and there's always a place for the sex farce. Especially the teenage sex farce, like American Pie.
Any new books on the horizon?
The next book is called We Will Eat Your Flesh: Stardom in America.
Where did you get the inspiration for the quote (used in a column) "We're talking a horny Dorothy who gropes the Tin Man's groceries and they're 'off to see the Wizard!'"
I guess I've witnessed way too much grocery-groping in my day.
Since we're in holiday mode, and now that Black Christmas is out on DVD, what is your own favorite dark Christmas movie?
One of the all-time classics has to be Silent Night, Deadly Night, which was actually pulled off screens in 1984 after a protest by national organization of PTA's.
Lastly... Where's Osama Bin Laden?
In North Waziristan, of course. Borat could get him out.