By Stephen Young
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"These weren't beliefs I previously had," Bloom says. "But it was the first thing that ever made sense to me. My father flirted with going to the Baptist seminary, but he dropped out when his mentor in Oak Cliff was discovered to be having a homosexual affair and was drummed out of the church. He never entered the Baptist church again. But my mother kept taking us on Sundays. When I was 14 or 15, I agreed to walk the aisle and let the preacher dunk me. But it was just to make her happy. I read all the words you were supposed to say, but they meant nothing to me. I found Baptists to be a humorless people, without emotion."
Among some editors, Bloom's nickname when he worked at Texas Monthly became John the Baptist, after he'd written a particularly intense and lyrical feature about an eccentric Baptist preacher. Right around this time, Bloom met Anthony, who had taken a vow of poverty and was living in the tiny Trinity Foundation office down from Bloom's. They began to have extensive late-night conversations about "the issues of life" at the now-defunct Lucas B & B coffee shop.
"John will kill me for saying this, but a lot of his shy nature is shame-based," says Anthony. "He had polio as a child, and it deformed his right leg. That can really destroy your self-esteem. But there has always been an explosive side to this very inward guy. Joe Bob Briggs was a device to let that out."
Bloom's interest in Anthony and the Trinity Foundation remained detached and cerebral until 1984, when Anthony says "John opened his eyes and saw God." Bloom confirms he later underwent a ceremony that included a "laying-on of hands." He became one of five or so Trinity Foundation teachers, ordained to educate others in Anthony's principles of service to the poor and the unfortunate, as well as its non-bureaucratic approach to Christian devotion.
"When you first become a believer, the most common mistake is you shoot your mouth off too soon," says Bloom. "I ran a Bible study out of my apartment, but it was something I was not cut out for. I was trying to find my place at Trinity. A group of us met a couple of times a week for about a year and a half. The meetings were too intellectual. A friend brought a friend, and there were people there without high school educations. Those kinds of things always bring people who're hurting in some way. I was talking about the Q document [the name scholars give to the hypothetical source upon which the Bible books Matthew and Luke are presumed to be based] and somebody was there because they got kicked out of the house."
Anthony claims that John's ill-fated stint as a pastor was based upon "trying to become me." Now he insists that he and John are equals in the Trinity Foundation. Anthony says an associate jokingly called his early tutelage of John Bloom "the destruction of a great American mind" because of an important Trinity Foundation principle that Bloom took to heart: the need to expose "the folly of human effort and the vanity of man."
"I teach and believe that everything is finished, but that we are constructed to push all barriers," says Anthony. "We push our intellect to the end, go through all kinds of philosophies, and discover that all is chaos. [This associate] said John and I facilitated that with our billions of discussions. John finally understood that all is chaos. The Joe Bob character and his persona was a logical extension of what he saw as the mystery of God."
Bloom will neither confirm nor deny that the desire to expose the folly of human effort and the vanity of man underlies the Joe Bob Briggs mission of shooting up every room he enters. But he drops plenty of hints in conversations about the all-purpose venom Briggs spits, such as: "Some well-meaning people have defended Joe Bob, saying that I created something by tearing something down. I always said, satire is destructive. Joe Bob doesn't build up, he always destroys. The only way it was defensible is that Joe Bob makes fun of everyone."
Anthony turns surprisingly secular when he talks about the healing role Joe Bob Briggs has always played in the life of John Bloom. "It was a choice between therapy and Joe Bob," he says, "and Joe Bob won."
When you ask Bloom point-blank if Joe Bob Briggs is now just John Bloom sitting in a fake trailer-park set every Saturday night on TNT, his answer is factual and, as always, not quite revealing: "Joe Bob has always been John Bloom. I've tried never to say anything as Joe Bob Briggs that I don't believe as John Bloom. I just exaggerate it."
As it turns out, there are some fairly circumstantial reasons why the MonsterVision Joe Bob looks, talks, and acts differently than did the Joe Bob of The Movie Channel and past syndicated columns. On the issue of the relaxed accent, Jim Atkinson reminds people, "Even before he invented Joe Bob and did that outsized rube voice, John had a decent Texas-Arkansas accent. It wasn't all that great a leap for him to talk like a hillbilly."