[Exclusive Interview] – JOE BOB BRIGGS – First With “Last”

Just because he’s already hosted over 800 horror movies on cable and now streaming, doesn’t mean that 70-year-old Joe Bob Briggs has any intention of slowing down any time soon.

This fall, Shudder and parent company AMC announced that they signed Briggs (the colorful broadcast persona of award-winning investigative journalist/author John Bloom) for a mammoth-sized sixth season of The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs, which began streaming last month. The new package will include Halloween, Christmas, and Valentine’s Day specials, as well as another 30 movie titles for Joe Bob (joined by the indispensable Darcy the Mail Girl, a.k.a. Diana Prince) to comment on, beginning in March 2024. Gruesome checked in with Joe Bob to get the exclusive scoop on his latest bloody broadcast bonanza.

Shudder recently announced your “supersized” sixth season. Did you ever expect to be working so hard at this point in your life?

Not on this! I expected to be writing more books about satellites and stuff [laughs]. I didn’t really expect to be going back to horror hosting. It’s been a big surprise and a big change. In 2016, I wrote a book [Eccentric Orbits] that was on the Wall Street Journal’s Top 10 Nonfiction Books of 2016 [laughs]. And then this was like turning an aircraft carrier around to switch over to this alternate career. So, yeah, it’s been a big change.

What are some of the cool things we can expect in season six of The Last Drive-In?

Well, what we’re trying to do is cover every genre and subgenre of horror in the history of the world [laughs]. I had a meeting recently with my director [Austin Jennings] where I said, “Hey, you know, we haven’t had a Jean Rollin movie.” How many people would have that meeting? And he is like, “Oh, which one?” And he starts naming them! [laughs] And I’m saying, “Do you think I can remember the names of those? I’m not gonna remember those.” But anyway, the idea is not to repeat ourselves. A lot of times, the core fan group, they live in the ’80s, right? They love the ’80s. They want the mid-range movie. They love it when we show something like Demon Wind, which is a sort of rediscovered thing. And I feel like I’ve done my job if six months after we play it, it turns up as a midnight show at the Alamo Drafthouse. It’s like, “Oh, OK, good. We accomplished something there.” We brought back some director’s career.

But it’s hard to say. We showed Possession, and we had a great response to it. We had a Nosferatu double feature; we showed the original on the 100th anniversary, and then we showed the Werner Herzog remake from 1979. Now, that’s two tough watches when you’re on a general interest show. And, boy, they stayed with us. They stayed with us right to the end on that one. Nobody went to sleep [laughs]. And so, we’re gonna do some more of those where it’s like testing the limits of the audience.

Is there anything you could say about the Halloween, Christmas, or Valentine’s Day specials?

We don’t announce the movie titles in advance. That’s sort of a tradition that got started and seems to work. We’ve had disastrous Halloween shows where I misunderstood the meaning of the Celtic calendar and do the wrong decorations and everything [laughs]. And, of course, I’m always corrected by Darcy and people who know more about it. So, I turned it over to Darcy as far as the decorations and getting the guests. She always makes fun of me for [mispronouncing Samhain] and saying, “Sam Hane” [laughs]. It’s saw win. And I’m like, “OK, but I can’t remember that. It has to be Sam Hane when I talk about it.” And so, the theme for Halloween is a Darcy takeover.

Christmas has gotten really complicated ever since we did the first charity auction. This will be our fourth year. The first year we just auctioned off stuff that was laying around. You know how you worked in a horror office for years? There’s stuff in the office, and it’s been on TV, and so you can auction it off. And so, we got this remarkable response. We got all this money for these charities, and so every year we’ve been trying to top ourselves. And now I’m taking stuff down off my walls so we can auction it off and beat last year’s charity number.

And we always do some of the more-rare Christmas horror movies. When we started, I said, “Well, we can’t keep doing this ’cause how many of ’em are there?” Like 10 maybe? And no, there’s like probably 120 of ’em. I just was clueless about Christmas horror. In fact, there are some that are really terrific but we can’t find the owners, so we can’t show ’em. But we try to show the ones that are not overexposed.

Are you going to be doing more AMC crossover specials like you did with The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon?

I don’t know if I’m supposed to talk about that. We now shoot in the old Walking Dead studio in Sonya, Georgia, because The Walking Dead shows have all left and gone to other locations. We have their studio and backlot. I haven’t even begun to think about how we can use it [laughs].

When doing your research, how deep is your dive?

It has to be as deep as possible. And the reason is, people like yourself, who are fanatics about horror, there are zillions of ’em. When I was on TNT, I could make a big mistake. And it might not be discovered at all, or it might be discovered six years later. On The Last Drive-In, if I make a mistake on the research, I hear about it five seconds later. I don’t hear about it from just one person. I hear about it from 30 people [laughs]. That’s how knowledgeable the hardcore horror audience is. But I try to go beyond the surface research that’s on the Internet. I go to original interviews from old fanzines from back in the day. I would get these fanzines that would have 30-page interviews with character actors from the horror world. And occasionally, I’ll remember one of those. I’ve kept all those fanzines. I’ve actually said to one of my more devoted assistants, “Would you try to start cataloging these things? And if you can’t do it, would you try to find some library that would adopt it as a project?” [laughs] That’s the one great resource that is not accessible on the Internet or anywhere else, really. Some of the fanzines had 50 issues, some of ’em had two issues. Whenever I find original material like that, I always try to preserve it somehow. But the answer to your question: “Deep, deep, deep, deep, deep.” That’s what people want.

You said recently that in the old days, your show would piss off the old people. Now it’s the young people…

When I was just starting out at Showtime Networks, they would come to me and say, “You know, you can’t say this,” or “You can’t say that because you’re gonna offend the older viewers.” Now they occasionally go to me and say, “You can’t say this. You can’t say that. You are gonna offend the younger viewers.” [laughs] And so I’m like, “What the fuck? Is there a time in history when all ages can agree what’s permissible and what’s funny and what’s not?” It’s very strange. Then the other strange thing is, I always had the reputation as being the flamethrower and the bad boy and all that. And so, I would get all this great mail challenging me. And now it’s kind of a love fest. I don’t know what I became, but they don’t get mad about anything I say anymore. So, I guess that’s a good thing, but it doesn’t make the mailbag very interesting [laughs].

You’ve spoken about conflicts with the wokesters of today. Can you give an example of some of the notes you’ve received from Shudder executives about what you can and can’t say?

It’s not so much that … there’s always that at any network, right? But it’s more like, at various times, I’ve been called every single bad thing you can be called. And there’s two schools of thought on that: You should either address it or ignore it. And I always address it, and I just address it by saying, “Well, OK, you may think that, but look at this article from 1976! It disproves your whole theory.” [laughs] There will be little groups that will say, “Oh, you said that, then you must believe this.” And usually, it’s just bull. But by keeping the door open and constantly talking to all the little groups that have one cause or another, we have actually made everybody happy. Maybe not happy, but… [laughs]. We’ve gotten across the idea that we are not anyone’s enemy. And that we’re inclusive in the sense of, we include even the people who are not inclusive. In other words, we don’t judge. And I’ve stood by that for 40 years. You should just let everybody speak. And we do let everybody speak, and sometimes they start fighting online. But generally, we say, “OK, time to stop fighting,” and they stop fighting [laughs].

What’s it like to be able to see and react to fan responses in real time as you’re now doing with The Last Drive-In?

Well, it’s good and bad. The good thing is you can react in real time. The bad thing is, you have to answer the same thing 50 times. People ask the same thing over and over and over. What’s really been amazing is that on the actual premiere nights, we’ve always trended number one, two, or three. Unless there is professional basketball or certain wrestling shows on, we’re number one in the online trends. We did a show recently where we were number six, and I was like, “What happened to us? We’re number six?!” [laughs]. And, it turned out there were hockey playoffs, baseball playoffs, and a big basketball game. There were three other things going on that night. That’s the worst we ever did. But our online presence when we’re on the air is just amazing to me. And I don’t know how people can type that much while they’re watching a movie, to tell you the truth, ’cause I can’t. We must have an audience of geniuses, ’cause they can multitask like crazy.

Tony Timpone