John Bloom remembers spending the majority of his early career on the road. As an investigative journalist for the Dallas Times Herald in the early 1980s, he drove around Texas with a radio phone waiting for his next assignment.
"I would cover tornadoes, hurricanes, murders, and whatever," Bloom says. "I was never at home, I was always in the car."
After becoming the paper's film critic in 1982, Bloom spent decidedly more time stationary, which allowed him to find his true calling: B-grade movies and cult classics. But because these flicks were "considered beneath contempt by the mainstream media," Bloom had to develop an alter ego to review them.
In fact, film buffs might know him better by his pseudonym: Joe Bob Briggs of the "Joe Bob Goes to the Drive-In" column. Bloom is now making an unexpected comeback thanks to his own cult following and an appearance as Joe Bob over the summer that broke the internet.
The genesis of Joe Bob
His editors "wouldn't have approved it," Bloom, 65, says of the "Drive-In" column, which he originally buried renegade-style in the back pages of the Times Herald's Friday edition. By the time they noticed, it had already developed a readership. The column was eventually syndicated.
By 1985, "Joe Bob Goes to the Drive-In" had garnered enough attention that Bloom started receiving invitations to appear at events.
"I would go as John Bloom and read Joe Bob's columns," he says. "I got a lot of laughs and wondered what would happen if I started appearing as Joe Bob."
Performing as Joe Bob Briggs, which Bloom describes as an exaggerated, funnier version of himself, Bloom developed his alter ego for audiences. The one-man shows were so popular that he was invited to guest host The Movie Channel's late-night movie show, Drive-In Theater, in 1986.
He was quickly invited back for what became a 10-year gig as a beer-swilling Texan host of horror flicks. Seated in a recliner with steer horns on the back, Joe Bob mocked film critics and celebrated cheap thrills.
After his time the Movie Channel, Joe Bob re-emerged as the host of MonsterVision, an identical show on TNT, for four years. While on television, Bloom continued as a journalist, contributing to several national publications under his own name and publishing five books as Joe Bob Briggs. He also started acting and once auditioned for a small role in 1995 epic crime drama, Casino, reading opposite Robert De Niro in front of Martin Scorsese.
"We were waiting for De Niro to get there," Bloom recalls. "And Scorsese asked me, 'What's the best women in prison movie?' I told him it was Chained Heat." The director agreed and Bloom ended up getting the part.
An unlikely comeback
In early 2018, Bloom was asked to host a movie marathon for Shudder, a video streaming service devoted to horror films. It was meant to be a one-time thing, appropriately titled The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs.
"I was shocked," Bloom says. "I told them they were making a mistake by doing the exact same format of a show we did in the '90s."
But Bloom agreed to sit in his recliner as Joe Bob one last time for a 24-hour marathon, which was streamed live. The announcement garnered a surprising amount of attention online and Stephen King immediately tweeted his approval. When The Last Drive-In aired on July 13, so many people tuned in that Shudder's website crashed.
"I started getting all these messages and texts," Bloom says. "They were saying I broke Shudder and broke the internet."
At first, Bloom was disappointed -- he didn't recognize breaking the internet as a compliment to his popularity, as fans continued to pepper his inbox with inquiries and frustrations.
"I got this email from a guy who said he had a 120 people in his basement," Bloom says. "He said, 'We have two big-screen TVs and several kegs of beer. What should I tell them?' I emailed back and told him to start in on those kegs."
Shudder quickly made the marathon available on-demand and ordered two more: Dinners of Death, which featured The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and a Thanksgiving horror film called Blood Rage, and A Very Joe Bob Christmas, a holiday special that airs on Dec. 21. In addition to hosting a special event called "How Rednecks Saved Hollywood" at Alamo Drafthouse in Richardson on Dec. 13, Bloom expects to debut a weekly double-feature series on Shudder next year.
Bloom's resurgence is no doubt uncanny, especially considering the success he's had resurrecting an outdated format in the digital era. Even he finds it surprising.
"I'm the beneficiary of people tuning out of society," Bloom says, with a laugh. "This country is so sick of politics and constant dysfunction. People are tuning it out, so they get a hobby. They learn to fix old cars, crochet or watch every horror movie ever made."