josh hadley | the shadows of pop culture | may 2019
Joe Bob Briggs is kind of a renaissance man, really. He is an actor, a writer, a politician, a comedian, a satirist, a critic, a social engineer and more than anything, the movie host that really knew what we as viewers wanted. When Joe Bob Briggs would show you a movie it was with the three B's (blood, breasts and beasts). Joe Bob Briggs would rant about the seemingly inconsequential things that actually mattered. Briggs was the personification of drive-in movies and the VHS boom come to life. Briggs shaped our view of cinema and made us better people for it ... or was just a loon who failed to understand what a good film really was. Depends on how you look at it.
Briggs is really investigative journalist John Bloom from various Texas newspapers (most notionally the Dallas Times Herald) and the character of Joe Bob Briggs was created more or less as a joke. Briggs is a caricature of a snobby film critic that exclusively reviews the movies that real film critics ignore and a hick to boot – a critic of the horror films, the sex comedies and the mindless action movies. Briggs was a champion of the films that were notscreened for critics.
While John Bloom was a serious journalist Joe Bob Briggs was a nut with a fabricated life story more insane than any sitcom. Joe Bob Briggs' reviews of "Drive-In Cinema" were very popular in newspapers all around the country and he regularly would appear at radio and TV stations in character.
Do you remember where you first saw “Lady Godiva Rides"? How about the first time you ever sat all the way through Scanners series of movies? Would you ever have sought out “Emanuelle in Bangkok" on your own? No, but you would watch it at 1 a.m. just because it was on and that Joe Bob Briggs was showing it to you.
Many of us spent our Saturday nights flipping channels between Joe Bob, USA Up All Night, Headbangers Ball and whatever our local host was showing that week. Watching movies late at night was not as much about the movie as it was about the experience of watching the movie and we had a guide with us for the evening and that was usually the best part. In fact, I bet most of us watched the Joe Bob segments in spite of the movie being shown. Look at your childhood, when you watched shows like “Monstervision" or “USA Up All Night," did you really care what movies were being shown? No you didn't, you watched whatever Joe Bob or Rhonda (Shear) was playing that night.
While “USA Up All Night" was around for people who had basic cable (with the movies being edited to hell and back) Joe Bob Briggs was on The Movie Channel and showed us all of the blood, breasts and beasts we craved.
Joe Bob entered “Drive-In Theater" as a guest host for a month (four episodes) and was so loved by fans that he never left. He was literally so popular that while he never had a contract with The Movie Channel, he remained on Saturday nights (never once missing a single week) for 496 weeks straight. That is a hell of a run for a guest host. Eventually showing two movies every Saturday night on The Movie Channel from 1986-1996, “Drive-In Theater" quickly became the highest-rated show on the channel and earned Joe Bob a ton of fans across America.
Running uncut movies like “Caged Fury," “Cherry 2000" and “Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III" was only part of the allure of Joe Bob Briggs. He would never drop character and would open the show with a rant about some social ill that Joe Bob Briggs would have a unique outlook on and that had no relation to the movie being shown. Episodes were done in one take without edits and the energy John Bloom gave to Joe Bob Briggs was amazing. “Drive-In Theater" was like a 4-5 hour party, with Honey the mail girl, Joe Bob's Drive-In News, The Drive-In Totals, good jokes, bad jokes and even a breast count, not to mention various kinds of Fu: Chainsaw-Fu, Bulldozer-Fu, etc. Jesse Helms even called Briggs out on the senate floor for showing filth on TV when Joe Bob showed “Slave Girls from Beyond Infinity."
Only when The Movie Channel got a new CEO that instituted a policy of "You are never more than 60 seconds away from a movie" and there was no way that Joe Bob could do his job in just 60 seconds.
After leaving The Movie Channel Briggs was back with TNT's “Monstervision," which actually ran alongside “Drive-In Theater" for a while with Penn and Teller as hosts. Ted Turner always insisted his channels must have a movie host, so after Penn and Teller left, Joe Bob Briggs took over. Again, just like with “Drive-In Theater," as soon as Joe Bob came on, the ratings went way up.
Fans followed Joe Bob Briggs to “Monstervision" new blood that didn't have pay channels discovered him for the first time. Jumping from three breaks at The Movie Channel to a dozen or more on TNT gave Joe Bob more time to entertain us, as well as give us valuable (and not so valuable) info on the movie being presented, its stars, its director and so on. The show still had his Drive-In Totals, even pointing out all of the things you would not be seeing now that the show was on basic cable. He still had his beer, his mail, his Advice to the Hopeless and so on. It was more or less the same old Joe Bob with a running theme that included his battles with the TNT High Sheriffs (network programmers and the censors).
The High Sheriffs at TNT decided they wanted to go more mainstream with their movies so “Monstervision" was cancelled (kind of) after four years and without a finale. “Monstervision" became "Joe Bob's Saturday Night" and Joe Bob was forced to show movies like “Look Who's Talking" and “Adventures in Babysitting." As you can guess, the ratings went down until TNT just canned the show outright.
After “Monstervision" Joe Bob Briggs kind of vanished into the ether. Bloom was still writing true crime books and working as a columnist under his real name and while Joe Bob Briggs would pop up now and then it was Youtube that brought him back. People such as myself started posting the host segments to “Drive-In Theater" and “Monstervision" to Youtube and an entire generation that had never heard of Briggs was introduced to the man who is arguably more popular now than he was while he was on the air. This was evident when the streaming service Shudder.com gave Briggs a nearly 24-hour marathon as a send-off (The Last Drive-In) which broke the site. Shudder underestimated how many people would be watching and it crashed the servers.
Now with a regular series also called “The Last Drive-In," Briggs is an institution. He has a t-shirt line and records, his old books are worth a ton on the secondary market and his personal appearances sell out nationwide. I recently saw him in Milwaukee at the Twisted Dreams Film Festival with his touring show "How the Redneck Saved Hollywood" and it not only sold out, it was oversold. There were people being turned away. This is an event that was replicated over and over again around America. Joe Bob Briggs has his legacy and we get to watch it happen.
A fiercely confrontational and arrogant critic whose stubborn nature makes him immanently readable and equally angering, Josh Hadley is a writer for magazines such as Hustler, Fangoria, Paracinema, Shadowland, Grindhouse Purgatory and Cashers du Cinemart, as well as a radio host on Jackalope Radio. Find more from him at 1201beyond.com, a website that only the most anti-social personalities would engage.