To Bloom Again

Quiet, intellectual John Bloom transformed himself through his alter ego, Joe Bob Briggs, into a drive-in-movie critic on TV. Now a new character is emerging: John Bloom himself.

Atkinson scores a direct hit on this one: Today, John Bloom sitting in a hotel lounge chatting sounds almost exactly like Joe Bob Briggs on MonsterVision, just a little more hushed.

Tanja Lindstrom is the associate producer for MonsterVision, and she's been an assistant to John Bloom for the past eight years on all things Joe Bob.

"When you go back to his first season on The Movie Channel, especially, you'll notice that Joe Bob was rougher, scragglier, much more of a redneck type," Lindstrom explains. "But moving from The Movie Channel to TNT is a move from a subscription channel to basic cable. John has to tone it down; he can't say the word 'retard,' for instance, or any obscenities. If you'll notice, a running gag on MonsterVision now is all the things TNT won't let Joe Bob do."

As for shedding the cowboy hat, she continues, "That was a purely technical consideration. John didn't care one way or the other. We'd heard it was a lighting nightmare at The Movie Channel, so we decided to drop it."

And the reason "Godstuff" on Comedy Central's The Daily Show depicts John Bloom at that pulpit surrounded by stained glass rather than Joe Bob Briggs is equally happenstance. On the final shoot of his "Joe Bob's Drive-In Theater" for The Movie Channel, Bloom deliberately scheduled some extra time in the studio and, with the help of his brethren at the Trinity Foundation, compiled a short video called "Joe Bob's Godstuff," with the Grapevine movie critic himself lobbing stones at national televangelists at their most absurd, acquisitive and hypocritical. They shopped it around to many broadcast venues, although there was resistance from independent and network affiliate stations because they rely heavily on religious groups to fill odd-hour programming slots. Madelyn Smith, the Comedy Central producer who was then creating "The Daily Show," called up Bloom and said she loved it. Bloom says Smith said hell no to the Joe Bob persona, declaring pseudonyms by correspondents verboten.

Bloom says: "When the fans write me and say, 'Why are you this other guy on Comedy Central called John Bloom?' I say, let me put it this way: Ted Turner made me sign a contract saying I wouldn't work for any other cable company, and there's a guy on Comedy Central who looks like me, and that's all I'm gonna say. But it's good for visibility. People can watch one channel and see Joe Bob, then switch to another and see John Bloom."

With the Trinity Foundation producing "Godstuff" (they write a preliminary script with Bloom, collect the televangelist clips, record them on the editor-friendly Beta format, and send them off to Comedy Central) and Joe Bob Briggs serving as "associate high sheriff" and contributing writer for Trinity's satirical magazine The Door, it's tempting for anyone armed with even a smidgen of knowledge about Bloom's religious conversion and Ole Anthony's teachings to see the current TV versions of Bloom and Briggs as a two-headed hydra hissing at two different targets: one head lunging for secular culture, both intellectual and mainstream, while the other snaps at organized religion.

John Bloom's favorite description of Joe Bob may be as a machine gun spinning on its target, firing rounds at sacred cows, but there exists a visionary agenda behind his kamikaze satire as surely as there is one behind the work of feminists and gay rights and civil rights activists. To John Bloom, the Trinity Foundation teacher, these "sacred cows" are Trojan constructions inside which cower the fallible, solipsistic minds of humankind. With the help of his machine gun, Joe Bob becomes one more weapon to expose the vanity of man, his hypocritical thinking and his intellectual conceits, a vehicle to unmask the chaos that will leave him with no choice but to turn to God. Or so says the Trinity Foundation.

Chances are, you will never hear this spelled out by Joe Bob sitting outside his trailer home with a beer can introducing Maximum Overdrive or gawking at the TNT Mailgirl. Nor, for that matter, will the religious satire John Bloom spins on "Godstuff" ever quite elucidate what it promotes, sticking as satire does to the business of destruction. Bloom as Joe Bob "The Exegete" Briggs, writing for The Door, does indulge in a little Biblical expounding with essays like "The Homo Verses," in which he compares homosexual and heterosexual perversity through some research into the Greek origins of key words in Romans 1:26-28.

When asked if there is a preacher component to Joe Bob Briggs, John Bloom, replies, "Oh, yeah, absolutely that's part of it. But I think that's true of every comic, once they get that platform. I would even use the word 'pulpit.' One of the things you do from a pulpit is destroy everyone's complacency, and that's what Joe Bob does. I'll be preaching like crazy if I do a new, live one-man show as Joe Bob that I want to."

In addition to a script for a Joe Bob movie that Bloom has been working on for three years (plans to film it last fall fell through), the two other projects dearest to Bloom's heart are a national tour as Joe Bob ("I'd like to model it after Bill Cosby, who is fearless; none of the fart jokes or garbanzo crap, just 10- or 15-minute stories without traditional punch lines") to which TNT might lend a producing hand, and a one-man show as the legendarily venomous late-19th-century satirist Ambrose Bierce. That would be John Bloom billed as Bierce, not Joe Bob; Bloom is researching how Bierce, an East Coast patrician transplanted to San Francisco, might have sounded. Both of these projects will presumably stretch the abilities of supporting actor Bloom, who was no doubt tantalized into honing his acting skills by his work in various cameo and supporting roles in feature films, especially his square-off with Robert DeNiro in Casino, released in 1995.

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