When veteran comedian and actor Joe Bob Briggs steps on stage at the Clayton Center in Johnston County this Saturday, he’ll be just a few miles from a point in his career more than three decades ago in which a Sanford resident played a big part.
Ron Perkinson of Sanford, a retired lawyer and mediator who has also dabbled in standup comedy over the years, recalled that in the mid 1980s Briggs penned a movie review some found controversial and as a result had his syndicated column pulled from the News & Observer. In response, Perkinson helped Briggs get a booking at Raleigh’s Charlie Goodnights, where the two comedians shared the stage.
With Briggs (real name John Bloom) – known for his comedic contributions to the world of horror and other genre film, as well as appearances in movies like Casino, Face/Off, and much more – returning to the area for his “How Rednecks Saved Hollywood” performance on April 22, The Rant interviewed Briggs and Perkinson together for a stroll down memory lane, a discussion of where Briggs is today with his comedic performances, and how his work has connected him to at least one other notable Sanfordian.
“What I remember about (the 1980s Goodnights performance) is there was some ladies at a table in that show, four of them, who looked like they were country club ladies,” Briggs said with a laugh of the performance in Raleigh. “And they were drinking, and they just heckled me all night long. They did not like my material.”
Upon hearing Perkinson’s recollection of the column that got him “canceled,” at least in North Carolina’s capital (it apparently involved an unflattering description of actor Billy Barty and a bodily function), Briggs recalled another time his humor led to controversy. He had been interviewed for a television news magazine show by Connie Chung, and jokingly said he was planning to host what he called “The Drive-In Academy Awards.”
“I was making jokes all through the interview and they asked me where were the Drive-In Academy Awards held. The Drive-In Academy Awards is just something that was in my column. They didn’t really exist. Every week I would nominate people for the Drive-In Academy Awards,” he said. “And I said, ‘well, as a matter of fact, the Drive-In Academy Awards ceremony is next week at Paul’s Lamplighter Inn in Kokomo, Indiana.” I just made that up. There was no Paul’s Lamplighter Inn. There’s no ceremony going to go on. I was making a joke.”
“They put this in Connie’s show in a very serious way. So on the day the show came out, people all over the country were calling this guy who owns a company in Kokomo, Indiana called Paul’s Lamp Shop. It’s a guy who just sells lamps,” Briggs continued. “Everybody was calling me to say, ‘why did you say this?’ I was on vacation and I remember everything just blew up. The Kokomo paper was calling to say, “Are you really coming here for the Drive-In Academy Awards?”
Briggs said Chung “was incensed that I told this lie on the show and was not good-humored about it and they had to make a big apology. I was amazed – I was the lighthearted feature. I was not some serious news item. So, Connie Chung never talked to me again.”
Briggs’ current show is a two-hour performance he calls “a combination of actual history, film history and everything in between.”
“There’s 250 clips and stills illustrating the history of the redneck. I identify the first redneck in history. I identify the greatest redneck films in history. I conclude with the greatest film in the history of the world, which is a redneck film,” he said. “There was this experience where rednecks were really, really cool. In all the other parts of film history, rednecks are not cool at all. Anyway, it’s a film history thing. And we go into dark places, we go into comedy places. It’s very fast-paced and ultimately very lighthearted.”
Briggs also noted that North Carolina is the home of the first documented use of the word redneck, a story who’s details he promised would be part of the show.
Perkinson isn’t the only local connection for Briggs, who played a part in Sanford native Britton Buchanan’s music video for “October’s Queen,” which was filmed and released at the height of the COVID pandemic.
“Darcy the Mail Girl and I both put in an appearance in that Halloween video,” he said “He had a cast of thousands in that thing. That was a wonderful little idea. I think that was in the middle of the pandemic. But I was happy to do it. That video was one of the projects that I was trying to support during the pandemic, as the indie filmmakers were still trying to get out there and make stuff.”
Briggs’ profile is somewhere near the intersection of horror, camp horror, comedy and other interests he describes as belonging to “the mutant family.”
“We have a community that’s formed around drive-ins and horror movies and sort of exploitation movies in general. What it is is escapist entertainment,” he said. “We had record viewership during the pandemic. People needed to watch a cheap horror movie. It’s almost like a medical use. It keeps us from killing each other. So that community of misfits has formed around all the shows that we do. And I love to hear their stories. That’s why at every show that I do I do two meet and greets. I do a meet and greet before the show and after the show and I stay until everybody’s gone.”
“How Rednecks Saved Hollywood” is at the Clayton Center in Clayton for one night only at 8 p.m. on Saturday, April 22. Buy tickets here.