J.B. wrote a regular column, perhaps on food or travel, I don’t remember. But for fun, he began running a weekly column under the pen name Joe Bob Briggs, in which he reviewed Drive-In movies, mostly horror and B-Grade flicks. His Drive-In column was right-wing and red-neck, and insulted any ethnic group faster than Archie Bunker, and he posted orbituaries for every Drive-In closing in America, labled “Communist Alert”, on the theory that the Communists were wiping out the drive-ins.
Needless to say, he was a big hit in Dallas.
This went on, to everybody’s great and mutual satisfaction, for several years. Everybody in Dallas understood that it was all tongue-in-cheek; there is a kind of Texas humor in which you state the most ridiculous things, but completely serious. Any Texan comprehends this kind of humor.
It doesn’t always play other places. I knew the manager of a Sausalito Fine Art gallery, a wiry and know-it-all New Yorker who wrote in anger to Joe Bob, complaining of some disrespectful reference to Italians. Joe Bob published the letter, and answered, “Michael, my reference to lazy dagos was not meant to be offensive to hard-working persons of Italian heritage such as yoursef, but after all, it’s not like I lumped you in with the kikes and wops and greasers.”
Back in Dallas, about that time, Michael Jackson came out with a song called We Are the World. This inspiring song had many famous singers, and the lyric sung of how all men are brothers.
Joe Bob’s column that week, entitled “We Are the Wierd”, managed to insult every ethnic group and minority in the world, one after another, just like the verses of the song, and of course parodied the song and all these popular singers at the same time.
Well, that was the way it was interpreted. (As Joe Bob told me later: “I didn’t insult anybody in the lyrics to the song, but it was perceived that I was making fun of starvin’ African chilluns.”)
An ultimatum was rushed to the newspaper by John Wiley Price, a Dallas County Commissioner, and about 200 of his supporters. And while Joe Bob was in College Station (home of the Aggies), giving a speech for National Library Week, he was fired.
Now in Dallas, there is an alternative weekly called the Dallas Observer. It’s like the San Francisco Guardian or the San Jose Metro; that is, a 3/4-sized left-wing paper, slanted toward entertainment, personals, service journalism, and young folks.
The Dallas Observer immediately offered Joe Bob column space.
That afternoon, Joe Bob walked into the Times-Herald advertising office and purchased a small display ad, which said, “Joe Bob Briggs column can now be found in the Dallas Observer, a weekly, Non-Communist newspaper.”
The prepaid ad ran for one day before being angrily cancelled by Times-Herald management, on the grounds that Joe Bob was calling them Communists. As Joe Bob pointed out in his Dallas Observer column, he’d done no such thing, and then he lambasted them for violations of Freedom of the Press, Truth in Advertising, and the Mann Act.
All of which was funny as hell.
Like so many true stories, this one had a happy ending. The Dallas Observer’s circulation soared. The Dallas Times-Herald — forever referred to as the “Crimes-Herald” and the “High Sherriffs” by Joe Bob — returned to business as usual, slanting the news and peddling advertising.
And Joe Bob went on to bigger things, hosting a show on cable where he presented B-Grade movies with commentary. He’s written books and made videos, and as of this week he appeared to be selling some stuff on Ebay. But he says no.
“It’s not me selling that stuff on eBay,” he explains. “It’s my legions of fans.”
There you have it. Straight from the horse’s mouth. So remember: Communist Alert! Don’t get complacent! As Joe Bob says, “Eternal Vigilence is the Prize of Freedom.” Don’t say it can’t happen here!