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If you know anything about Joe Bob Briggs, you know him as the trailer-park movie critic and avowed B-movie fan who began his career at the now-defunct Dallas Times Herald, had a messy run-in with most of that city's black community, and has since performed one-man shows around the country and hosted two very successful cable shows. You may or may not also know that Joe Bob Briggs is actually the alter ego of John Bloom, who in 1981 was the earnest and thoughtful young movie critic who created this alternative, trash-loving persona. Bloom introduced Briggs as a 19-year old Texan redneck who drove a baby blue 1968 Dodge Dart to the drive-in and appreciated "nekkid" women in his movies. In his own way, Briggs is a connoisseur: He takes his B-flicks seriously, and a rating system—a criteria—all his own. Here's a typical tally, from his review of Big Bad Mama II:"Six breasts. Two stunt breasts. 56 dead bodies. Five motor vehicle chases. Double aardvarking. Five shootouts. One brawl. One cat fight. Exploding gubernatorial candidate. Gratuitous belly dancer. Dynamite Fu. Angie Fu."
"Joe Bob Goes to the Drive-In" became the Times Herald's most popular feature, and Briggs's reviews were less reviews of the exploitation film in question than of American culture. He took on feminists and communists and MADD and Baptists. In 1985, he took on the star-studded African famine relief single "We Are the World," with a version called "We Are the Weird," supposedly sung by drive-in stars. The black community in Dallas was outraged, a huge demonstration was organized, and Joe Bob's Times Herald editor apologized and declared the character dead. Bloom quit in protest, and Joe Bob lived on. First there was Joe Bob's Drive-In Theater, which ran on The Movie Channel for ten years, where it was the highest-rated show. Later came Monstervision, on TNT, which ran for four years. Bloom, meanwhile, has written for magazines from National Lampoon and Rolling Stone to the National Review. And Joe Bob has been writing, too: a UPI column and five books of satire. This month Joe Bob returns to his film-critic roots with the release of Profoundly Disturbing: Shocking Movies that Changed History. John Bloom—not, for the purposes of this interview, Joe Bob—recently spoke to mediabistro.com about his alter ego, his book, and what exactly aardvarking is.
Birthdate: January 27, but he won't reveal the year
Hometown: Little Rock, Arkansas
First section of the Sunday Times: "I'm so anal about it that I read it in order, from the first page to the last."
So tell me about the book.
It's just movies that I've always wanted to write about, that in one way or other changed society or changed filmmaking or changed counter-culture—you know, made us all different. They're not always the best movies, but they're movies that had an impact on America.
We know it when we see it, but what is it that puts a movie on the B-list?
They're movies that your mother doesn't want you to see. And increasingly, the B-movies are ultra-low budget because we have video technology now that makes it possible for virtually anyone anywhere able to make a movie. And that's never happened in the whole history of filmmaking. This is the first time that this has ever been true. And that results in a lot of awful movies, but it also results in, occasionally, movies that just come out of nowhere and don't necessarily get noticed by the public right away but can establish someone's career. I recently saw a movie called Infested, basically The Big Chill, except that all the people in The Big Chill get attacked by these huge swarms of genetically engineered killer flies. And they turn into zombies. And it's a very humorous and scary film. That's first-time filmmaker Josh Olsen, and he'll probably have a career based on that.
Do you personally admire the monster and exploitation flicks that you've showcased on your shows, or are they just enjoyable kitsch that you have to screen with a sense of irony?
Well, it depends on the movie. Sometimes it's just so bad—I mean, we had a movie on Monstervision called Super Beast that was just incomprehensible. I offered everyone a six-pack if they could tell me what the plot of it was, and nobody ever claimed the prize. It depends on the movie, there are good B-movies and bad movies, just like any old movie.
What came first, your writing about drive-in movies or your love for them?
I invented this whole scheme with Joe Bob Briggs as this movie critic and sneaked it into the newspaper when nobody was looking. And by the time they realized that it was in there, it had become too well-known to kill.
The book is credited to Joe Bob Briggs. What's the story behind that persona?
When I first started reviewing these movies, nobody else was reviewing them. The big newspaper film critics were contemptuous of them and just ignored them. And so I wanted to be a film critic who was a populist, because they always made money. It was always written from the point of view of a guy who could forgive a movie anything except for being boring, and didn't have any traditional critical standards.
You weren't making fun of his kind of character, who would watch these movies or say those kinds of things.
Right. One thing that always distinguished me from the other people who review B-movies, is that most people make fun of these movies. They just use them as comedy material. I always try to celebrate the movies themselves but have comedy with it. If you ever watch the Elvira show, she would always put down the movie. And I always found the good and the bad.
You wrote Profoundly Disturbing as Joe Bob, but it doesn't really read like that. Instead of breast and body counts, there's a lot of film history, esoteric anecdotes, and careful movie analysis. It's very smart.
Well, I wanted to go further in depth for the movies that I really liked. A lot of the movies that I review every week, that's pretty much all I have to say on it. Most of the movies you review are bad, so I just have fun with them. But with these particular movies, I wanted to describe why they were so important. If you gave this list of movies to people, most would say, "these are not important movies." Maybe they would say The Wild Bunch is important, but that's a recent thing. And they would say The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is important, because that's used in film schools and such. Everything else, they would say that these movies are lightweights that no one cares about. So I wanted to explain to the world at large why these movies are important. Even if they're not important as movies, or not good movies, they're important because of the way people reacted to them.
So could Profoundly Disturbing very well have been authored by John Bloom instead?
Yeah, it could have been. I don't think it would have been so lively. And Joe Bob is more famous than John Bloom, so I've got to write about movies as Joe Bob.
What is it that makes Joe Bob Briggs a whole fictional character and not merely a pseudonym?
At the time I was doing it, I was also the regular film critic for the paper, so I had to distinguish the two. I had a conversation with Roger Corman, and asked him what elements he put in all of his movies, and I've refined that into my formula for movies—it has to have the three Bs: Blood, Breasts, and Beasts. And that became the rating system, you had to have all those elements to get four stars. I tried to put in martial arts, but I couldn't think of a B word.
Has writing under the guise of Joe Bob affected your writing as John Bloom? I mean, it must get hard to slip into and out of character once they've become so familiarized and often used.
Not really, because even before I was doing Joe Bob, I was always the irreverent guy. There was always satirical edge to what I wrote. There are certain things that I can't write about as Joe Bob, because nobody would publish it if I wrote it as Joe Bob.
Well, I covered the terrorist attacks in New York, and you couldn't put Joe Bob's name on those—too solemn.
Was there a particular message that you were trying to send as Joe Bob Briggs?
No, I just tore stuff down. That's what satire is, you just destroy things. People would say, "But you destroy things in order to be able to build new things up, right?" And I would say, "No, I wasn't thinking about that. I was just destroying things." It's just what I love, myself. That's the kind of comedian I watch, and those tend to be the smartest guys, because they're the ones with something to say. You can't just go up there and say, "Bush sucks." You gotta have something to say about it.
You've been in almost every form of media—newspapers, magazine, books, stage, TV, movies—is there still a dream job out there that you haven't done already?
There's really nothing that I haven't done. There are things that I would like to do better.
What's coming up for you now?
I have a show in development that is a parody political talk show, that I would like to do for somebody. And I'd like to eventually go back to the stage, I just haven't had time to do it. I don't have a time to do it. But I think if I did an act now, it would be a lot more mature. You've got to spend a lot of time just learning how to walk across a stage. And I think that I could do a much more solid show now. I wouldn't have to do dick jokes.
The parody political talk show that you're working on—is that going to be Joe Bob as well?
Yeah, it'll be Joe Bob. Joe Bob's version of The O'Reilly Factor.
Last question: I read on your website one of your fans writing, "if you'd mind defining the oft-used expression on your site 'aardvarking'." And you replied, "Oh my God, honey, if your mama didn't tell you what aardvarking is, I would be afraid to." Could you define it for us?
I have been using "aardvarking" since 1984, and I've never said what it is, but if you read my columns, you get what it is. I had to invent these words because of working for newspapers, where they have a lot of rules about that kind of thing.
Leslie Synn is an editorial intern at mediabistro.com. You can buy Profoundly Disturbing a Amazon.com.