'In His Own Words'

Bill Oberst offers best of Lewis Grizzard at Tivoli

By Barry Courter Article posted on Thu. Jan. 24th, 2013
Bill Oberst has played the role of Lewis Grizzard for 12 years.
Bill Oberst has played the role of Lewis Grizzard for 12 years.
Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

IF YOU GO

What: Bill Oberst's "Lewis Grizzard: In His Own Words."

When: 7 p.m. Saturday.

Where: Tivoli Theatre, 709 Broad St.

Admission: $26.50.

Phone: 642-TIXS.

Website: www.ChattanoogaOnStage.com.

YOU MAY HAVE SEEN HIM IN ...

Bill Oberst has starred in dozens of films, including "A Haunting in Salem," "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides," "Scary or Die" and "Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies."

  • photo
    Lewis Grizzard, shown in this 1993 file photo, gained fame as a columnist for the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and as a national entertainer. He died in 1994.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Because of his looks, Bill Oberst said, he is primarily cast as a villain in horror movies. Those same looks helped him land a gig portraying Lewis Grizzard onstage, however, and he has played the role for the last 12 years.

"I have acne scars, so I end up doing horror shows," Oberst said. "I'm known as the creepy guy [in Hollywood]. So, it is an additional joy for me to come down South and not be scary."

Oberst, who will portray Grizzard in a one-man show, "In His Own Words," Saturday, Jan. 26, at the Tivoli Theatre, said it was not his idea originally to portray the Southern funnyman/columnist/humorist, but Grizzard's family was looking for someone to carry on his legacy. Oberst was recommended because of his past portrayals of historic figures such as Jesus, John F. Kennedy and Mark Twain.

"I love history, and I made my living in theater before doing films," he said. "I'm a history nut, but it can be boring. If you read the source material, it is boring, but if you hear people talking about it, it comes alive."

Oberst was born and raised in South Carolina and "like any Southern guy from my generation, I knew about Lewis Grizzard," he said. "He wrote a column about Southerners who turn their lights on and pull over to the side of the road for a funeral. I kept that in my wallet for years."

Grizzard died in 1994 at age 47. Oberst said that while researching the show, he discovered multiple similarities and connections between Grizzard and Twain.

"It was eerie, the back and forth," Oberst said. "Twain was speaking for the country at the beginning of the century and Lewis at the end of the century.

"I call him Lewis though I never met him. Everyone does. When people speak of him, it's like they speak of an uncle coming to Thanksgiving. People felt like they knew him, and it was the same for Mark Twain. That is the genius of what they both did."

Oberst said his show combines the funny side of Grizzard with the touching and often poignant side who wrote about his father's death and later a beloved dog.

"I can't tell you how many people come up to me who have copies of that column," he said.

"He captured that mix that you have in the South when you go to a funeral. Afterwards, people will gather and laugh and tell stories, and then a little later they will have a tear in their eye.

Grizzard Quips

• "Kinky sex involves the use of duck feathers. Perverted sex involves the whole duck."

• "I don't think I'll get married again. I'll just find a woman I don't like and give her a house."

• "It's difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a homegrown tomato."

• "Sex hasn't been the same since women started enjoying it."

• "If you ain't the lead dog, the scenery never changes."

• "I grew up in a very large family in a very small house. I never slept alone until after I was married."

• "The only way that I could figure they could improve upon Coca-Cola, one of life's most delightful elixirs, which studies prove will heal the sick and occasionally raise the dead, is to put rum or bourbon in it."

• "For years, I thought drive-in theaters were for watching movies out-of-doors. Then I went to one with Kathy Sue Loudermilk, bless her heart. She was a lovely child and a legend before her 16th birthday. She was 21, however, before she knew an automobile had a front seat."

• "Women who drink white wine either want to get married, sell you a piece of real estate or redecorate your house. Either way, it's expensive."

• "In the South, there's a difference between 'naked' and 'nekkid.' 'Naked' means you don't have any clothes on. 'Nekkid' means you don't have any clothes on ... and you're up to something!"

Contact staff writer Barry Courter at bcourter@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6354.

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