“Hee Haw” meets H.P. Lovecraft. That’s how I’d describe “Red State Update.” A YouTube sensation turned podcast series, “Red State Update” follows the lives of Jackie Broyles (played by Travis Harmon) and Dunlap (Jonathan Shockley), two good ol’ boys from Murfreesboro, Tenn., who spend half their episodes ranting about politics and culture and the other half on local goings-on, be it the rise of prostitute-turned-businesswoman Tee Tee Slott to the position of mayor or that time a group of demon dogs attacked the local production of a musical based upon the life of Junior Samples. It’s hard to summarize for folks not in the know (which becomes its own running gag), but it’s consistently hilarious.
Travis and Jonathan have recently launched a new podcast, “Redneck Matinee.” Keeping with the Jackie and Dunlap personae they have cultivated for more than a decade, the duo spends an hour or so each episode surveying some of the classics of redneck cinema, opening their series with 1973’s “White Lightning.” Filmed in Central Arkansas, especially around Benton, “White Lightning” tells the story of Gator McKlusky (Burt Reynolds), who makes a deal with federal authorities to get out of prison, promising to report back on local moonshining operations but really working to take his revenge against J.C. Connors (Ned Beatty), the sheriff who murdered Gator’s little brother.
“White Lightning” is one of the most well-known movies made in Arkansas, and not just because of Reynolds’ star power. Stuntman Hal Needham, who had lived in Arkansas earlier in his life, did some amazing work, including jumping a car onto a moving barge. (The car did not land perfectly, as the barge was going faster than expected, but the imperfection lends a sense of verisimilitude to the stunt.) Needham and Reynolds became fast friends during the shooting of “White Lightning,” leading to a partnership that resulted in several exemplars of redneck cinema, most notably three “Smokey and the Bandit” movies, which Needham directed.
But in “Redneck Matinee,” Jackie and Dunlap do more than just recap the story of the movie. They also uncover a wealth of strange trivia about the people behind it. For one, Steven Spielberg was originally slated to direct “White Lightning,” but was reluctant to have his first feature film be such a lowbrow genre piece. More interestingly, the film’s writer, William W. Norton, had joined the Communist Party in his youth and was later convicted of smuggling guns to the Irish National Liberation Army. And the same year Burt Reynolds appeared in “White Lightning,” he also released his only musical album, “Ask Me What I Am,” which was rather poorly received (unlike William Shatner’s “The Transformed Man,” this one was just bad enough not to be good). Jackie and Dunlap also do a fair bit of hilarious exegesis on some of the movie’s stranger lines of dialogue. For example, when Lou (Jennifer Billingsley), while fooling around with our main character, says, “Now I know why they call you Gator,” what on earth does that mean? “Is he scaly down there?” asks Dunlap.
Harmon and Shockley talked about “Redneck Matinee,” up now on iTunes, Stitcher and other podcast outlets, in a joint email to the Times.
What movies do you have in the queue?
“White Lightning” and “Gator” are in the can. “Breaker! Breaker!” “Macon County Line.” “Walking Tall” I-III, “Billy Jack” and its sequels, the “Smokey and the Bandit” trilogy (all these sequels, by the way, are legitimately bonkers.) “Any Which Way You Can,” “Every Which Way But Loose.” “Convoy.” “Road House.” “Black Dog.” AND MANY MORE.
How would you define a “redneck” movie?
Redneck movies don’t have to be set in the South, but they do need a truck, or at least a CB radio, or at the very least Billy Jack. We’re starting with truckers and Pussers but we’ll get to “Steel Magnolias” and “Rhinestone.” Is “Roadhouse” a redneck movie? Is “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” What about the “Ernest” movies, or Billy Bob Thornton movies, or anything with Mel Tillis? Are we going to have to watch “Bait Shop”?
(TLDR: If it was popular in a video store in Tullahoma, Tenn., in 1986, it’s probably on the list.)
How often do you think episodes will be released?
We plan on releasing small batches every couple months, like a moonshiner whose kids have busy soccer schedules, or the Netflix “Queer Eye.”
How many of these star Burt Reynolds?
Like 18. Seriously, someone could do a whole Burt Reynolds podcast, if there isn’t one already, and we may, even if there is. We could talk about him forever. We already want to record additional episodes about “Gator” and “White Lightning” so we can keep talking about him. We’re afraid when we talk about him it sounds like we don’t like him, but we do. We swear it!
Although, look, there’s some Trump to him: beloved by red state America, not as funny as he thinks he is, thin-skinned narcissist, bully who advocates violence/slapping. The biggest difference is no one wants to see Trump naked. The second biggest difference is Trump looks stupid in a hat.
What made you start with “White Lightning”? Is there something about it that is so quintessentially redneck, what with moonshining, evil sheriffs and a hero whose very name, Gator McKlusky, combines references to both Cajun country and the Scotch-Irish hillfolk of Appalachia, thus embracing highland and lowland Southern cultures? Or did you draw straws?
Like Gator McKlusky, lover of illegal whiskey, outrunning cops, freedom PLUS working with the Feds as a ratfink informant, it can be two things at once.