Not Ready for Prime time

The Bobby Jack Pack Show lurks in the shadows of cable access, threatening its creator with low-rent success

After a few hours of planning the space segment, the sun rises, and it's time for Bobby to go to bed and for Higgins to go to work. Bobby will sleep until 1 p.m., then hit the thrift stores in his girlfriend's car in a quest to find cheerleader outfits for the space women.

So far, six episodes of The Bobby Jack Pack Show have been produced, but it's a miracle that the show gets put together at all. There is virtually no budget other than what Bobby makes bartending one night a week at Bar of Soap, a combination bar and laundromat across from Fair Park. All of the actors are volunteers, and all of the props--costumes, hats, furniture--either have been fished out of trash bins, donated, or scavenged from thrift stores. Crew members and actors often bring blank videotapes, beer, chips and sandwiches and Dr Pepper to shoots.

"It sounds hokey, but if we need something, it just sort of shows up," says Bobby. "It's like a potluck dinner. Everybody brings stuff and makes it happen."

Besides his beloved High 8 camera, Bobby owns a good editing deck, which he keeps in his bedroom along with a wall of videotapes of Ed Wood movies, The Three Stooges episodes, and '50s and '60s cartoons. But when he started work on The Bobby Jack Pack Show two years ago, he didn't have a camera or, for that matter, a clue about how to put together a television show.

Bobby was working as a photographer during the day and a bartender at Club Dada at night when he decided to produce his own television show. As he poured drinks, he talked about his vision. The word spread, and he soon had a cast.

The show has come a long way, but the term "low-rent" still applies. It's not uncommon to call Bobby and find that his phone has been disconnected. He's had his electricity cut off before, too, because he has put the money into the show, instead. He recently had to sell his 1960 sea-foam Chevy station wagon with "bat wings" because he was three months' behind on rent.

But the show, of course, goes on.
Although the first episode of The Bobby Jack Pack Show took nearly a year to complete, these days Bobby is working on a three-month turnaround per show, with an average of 30 volunteer actors involved in each episode. Although some are local professional actors wanting to hone their craft, most are literally walk-ons. Conrad Thomas is a 44-year-old insurance claims adjuster. David Morales drives from Denton, where he works as a vascular technologist. Warren Nash works in records management at NationsBank. Denise Carlin, 29, is a film and video production assistant and a songwriter.

"The Bobby Jack Pack Show allows me to be as goofy as I want to be," says Carlin. "It's great to be involved in a project that is all-accepting."

What holds the cast members together is a shared off-centeredness, for lack of a better term, that is a prerequisite for starring in or, for that matter, appreciating The Bobby Jack Pack Show.

When Bobby Jack Pack was 17, he and two friends from high school in Azle, Texas, pooled the money from catching mussels for two summers at Eagle Mountain Lake and bought a Super-8 home movie camera. They'd spend afternoons making films and show them at parties on the weekends. The short films that he and his friends produced 20 years ago are not unlike The Bobby Jack Pack Show.

They'd use stop-action to film beer bottles marching down a road as soldiers or to show boxes of detergent talking at the laundromat, their flaps moving for mouths. They experimented with animation, doing out-of-sync lips, like the old Clutch Cargo cartoons.

"I grew up sitting in front of the TV, saying, 'That's fake as fuck, fake as fuck,'" says Bobby. "It was always a game I would play:How many mistakes could I find? I could turn on just about anything and find something wrong with it." In Gunsmoke, the young Bobby Jack Pack would delight in finding boom-mike shadows and revel in keeping track of the inordinate number of shots coming from the six-shooters. He hasn't changed much.

"What cracks me up in sitcoms is people always say 'hi' to their brothers and sisters when they walk into the kitchen from the living room," he says. "Nobody does that in real life. Am I the only one noticing this?"

In his own show, you can't help but notice. There's always something off-kilter, and if you don't catch it, well, then you're probably asleep. Or dead. A black newscaster interviews a man-on-the-scene and the cutaway close-up shows a Caucasian hand holding the microphone. The sound of a slap on the face precedes the hit. A guy gets blasted with machine-gun bullets through his chest and falls down dead; then, the next shot shows his hand letting go of the telephone in the booth.

Then there's the just plain goofy. For a bit on hair aerobics, Cynthia Cranz has her hair up in pigtails (one tied to a wire held up by a pole overhead). Her pigtail goes up. "Up and hold, hold, hold...release," she says, with a fake-o aerobics-instructor smile and exaggerated breathing.

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