For those who read my blog Cinespiria, you know that I am a pretty big fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000. It is a show that helped me appreciate my love of film in all its forms, especially that low brow stuff they like to make fun of as the basis of their show. MST3K wasn’t the only influence I had, however. There is a man who came out before that great show; a man that taught me a lot about b-movies and cult films, especially horror flicks with a high level of absolute awesomeness. That man’s name is Joe Bob Briggs.
All men are not created equal and the same should be said about Texans. As far as I’m concerned, Joe Bob Briggs is the greatest Texan ever born. He is certainly the most entertaining and knowledgeable when it comes to the things I love most: motion pictures.
In the early 80s, Joe Bob took offense to the redevelopment of the Times Square area in New York City. 42nd Street was well-known for its multitude of grindhouse theaters that specialized in b-movies with double and triple bills. These theaters typically ran films 24 hours a day. Briggs encouraged a campaign that saw film fans write to city officials, pressuring them to preserve the area. Briggs referred to 42nd Street as “the one place in New York City you could see a decent drive-in movie.” Briggs wanted to preserve a piece of Americana and referred to these theaters as places where “Charles Bronson can be seen thirty feet high, as God intended.”
In the mid 80s, Briggs started a one-man comedy show called An Evening with Joe Bob Briggs. He eventually re-branded the show as Joe Bob Dead in Concert. The show was a bit of a variety piece, showcasing Briggs’ many talents. It encompassed comedy, storytelling and music. Joe Bob’s show toured the country and played in over fifty venues within two years.
In 1986, Joe Bob Briggs was hired by cable giant The Movie Channel (the sister network to Showtime) to host a new show called Drive-In Theater. This was the gig that first brought Joe Bob Briggs into my life.
I didn’t discover Drive-In Theater until the summer of 1989 when I was ten years old. I often times spent the night at my cousin’s or my friend’s house and both of them had The Movie Channel. Back then, parents weren’t in helicopter mode like they are now. As long as we didn’t commit atrocious acts out in the world, our parents were pretty lackadaisical about censoring what we watched. Truthfully, they were usually asleep and had no idea what we were watching, as long as we stayed quiet enough. Plus there weren’t all those parental controls on cable boxes and whatnot.
I watched a lot of great flicks, many of them probably way too intense, sexual or scary for a ten year-old mind. Still, I turned out pretty okay and what these weekly experiences did was help me develop my love of film. That love already existed but what Joe Bob Briggs did was he introduced me to films I probably wouldn’t have seen otherwise. He spoon fed me giant helpings of feature films that the art house snobs and penguins at the Academy would thumb their noses at.
Drive-In Theater was the highest rated show on The Movie Channel and it was nominated twice for a Cable ACE Award. It ran for ten years and I got to see most of it. But when Joe Bob’s run at The Movie Channel came to an end, it wasn’t all doom and gloom. In fact, things got even better.
In 1996, Joe Bob Brings joined the TNT network where he would go on to host their spectacular MonsterVision movie show for four years. Now TNT couldn’t show the gratuitous violence and boobies that The Movie Channel could get away with. However, TNT geared a lot of their movies on MonsterVision towards a horror and sci-fi format, hence the name.
Most of MonsterVision‘s offering were 70s and 80s horror and sci-fi classics. It also showed some older films in the genre but the show was at its best when Joe Bob Briggs got to add his commentary and two cents on films like the Friday the 13th series, Return of the Living Dead, Phantasm, Swamp Thing, Gremlins, They Live, The Warriors, The Fog, Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn, Critters, Logan’s Run, Deadly Friend, Soylent Green, Salem’s Lot, The Beastmaster, Halloween III: Season of the Witch, the Poltergeist series, The Funhouse, Night of the Lepus, The Fearless Vampire Killers, The Fly (1986), Child’s Play, Saturn 3, Back to the Future, The Exorcist, The Wraith, Predator, Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, Ghoulies, Godzilla vs. Mothra, The Last Starfighter, Nightbreed, Highlander, Tron, The Black Hole and so many more.
Joe Bob Briggs would often times have guests on the show as well. MonsterVision opened their doors to horror greats and scream queens and allowed them to talk about these films. Briggs was a hilarious and thoughtful interviewer and his appreciation for a lot of the movies he was showcasing was apparent in how he talked about them and how he shot the shit with his guests.
MonsterVision existed in my later teen years and I am glad that it was a part of my life then, as I was growing into a man with a more refined taste and a pretty discriminatory palate in regards to film. It was a major influence on me and it inspired me to scour the mom and pop video stores for more obscure titles in the horror and sci-fi genres. Luckily, the Internet was becoming a big thing by this time and tracking down some hard to find movies was made a little bit easier.
After MonsterVision ended, I went through Job Bob withdrawal. The same thing happened when Mystery Science Theater 3000 left the airwaves too. Unfortunately, both of these shows disappeared around the same time and never has anything else come close to being as genuine in its appreciation of low brow cinematic art as these two shows were. But my love of these things never ceased and I never stopped watching the films that fit the type of ilk as those featured on both shows.
About five years ago or so, I was a political and economic blogger. My site, at that time, was getting about 100,000 hits per month. I sometimes got shares and mentions by famous people on Twitter. Kelsey Grammer once shared a post, as did several political pundit types. However, one day I was taken aback. The Twitter account for my site got a follow from Joe Bob Briggs. He even reposted a link to some story that I had written. Now I don’t know if he actually read my words but it was a pretty cool fucking feeling seeing a guy I looked up to for most of my life, share something that came from out of my head.
I miss Joe Bob Brigg’s presence on television tremendously, even to this day.
Things are starting to look up though, as Mystery Science Theater 3000 is returning in less than a month, after a nearly two decade hiatus. However, I am still waiting for the day that Joe Bob Briggs returns to the small screen, now in widescreen high definition, to grace us with his two cents once again. I don’t know if that will ever happen but damn it, it needs to.