The Averitt Center for the Arts is well known for stuffing its seasons with Elvis impersonators and tribute bands, coming up on Friday and Saturday, it will kick off its 2016-17 performance season with Lewis Grizzard: In His Own Words, about the much-loved Southern figure: Lewis Grizzard, a chicken-fried comedian famous for his standup routines and humorous columns.
Grizzard a graduate of the University of Georgia, was a sports editor at the Atlanta-Journal Constitution. His claim to fame was the humor columns he ran three days a week, in which he wrote about life with a Southern perspective and a wry twist. Enormously prolific, Grizzard published 20 books — many of them full of his columns — and was syndicated in 450 newspapers, running stories under titles such as If I Ever Get Back to Georgia, I’m Gonna Nail My Feet to the Ground; My Daddy Was a Pistol and I’m a Son of a Gun; and Elvis is Dead and I Don’t Feel So Good Myself.
In his 1994 obituary in the AJC, Grizzard’s fellow staff writers said “he played redneck humor to the hilt.” In a more laudatory comment, New York Times journalist Peter Applebome once called him “the patron saint of the new suburban South,” and the Los Angeles Times hailed him as “a Mark Twain for our generation.”
Portraying the late Grizzard is Bill Oberst Jr., an American stage, film and television actor, mainly in the horror genre. Oberst has appeared in several dozen flicks and short films, in addition to an episode of “Criminal Minds” and the 2011 short “Take This Lollipop,” which was both an interactive film and Facebook app.
He is a master of impersonation, having worn the mantles of Jesus, Mark Twain, Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy. Grizzard’s stage manager Steve Enoch and his fourth wife and widow, Dedra Grizzard, chose Oberst to portray Grizzard in a one-man show called A Tribute to Lewis Grizzard. That show, under various different titles, has been running since 1999.
Oberst, donning Grizzard’s trademark wide-frame glasses, moustache and Gucci loafers (worn without socks, as Grizzard preferred), and a costume that once belonged to Grizzard himself, channels the late humorist to uncanny effect, evoking with him a generational nostalgia for a South gone by. He draws on the printed columns, the books and interviews with Grizzard’s friends to paint an accurate picture of the late humorist.
Oberst’s show, like Grizzard himself, doesn’t shy from material some audience members might find objectionable. The columnist was notoriously anti-feminist and drew accusations of being racist and discriminatory of the gay and lesbian community, and Oberst represents those aspects of the columnist in the second half of his two-act show.
But he also dwells on the more emotional side of Grizzard’s personality, and the humorist’s love of life and the South of his childhood. The result is a faithful portrayal of a mixed-bag human being who — while certainly out of touch with the inclusivity and social justice lexicon of today — was once a beloved staple of Southern culture.
This two-night run of "Lewis Grizzard, In His Own Words" is a joint effort between the Averitt Center and the Boys & Girls Club of Bulloch County, which are coming together for the first time to produce a fundraising opportunity for the benefit of both organizations. The event offers several opportunities for partnership with both entities, from in-kind donations to title sponsorships. The proceeds of each show will be split evenly between the Averitt Center and the club.