When it comes to country comedy, fat is funny. Don't think so? Well, Judge Bill Gibron thinks this music video compilation is the perfect proof of the mirth in girth.
Time to reconsider that starvation strategy, former fatboy.
If there is one rule of thumb in country comedy, it's this—a fat redneck equals funny; skinny redneck equals scary. Don't believe it? Okay, how about Junior Samples? Funny as a mofo, right? Now take David "Stringbean" Akeman? You'd sure hate to meet him in a cold, secluded wood. Ron White? Scotch soaked and very clever. Jeff Foxworthy? The kind of inbred bumpkin that makes your teeth shiver in white trash terror. Perhaps the best example of this cornpone maxim is Barry Poole, who performs under the silly stage name Cledus T. Judd (No Relation). Long a staple of the Nashville music scene, his wicked parodies of some of the genre's biggest hits (and artists) have made him the Weird Al Yankovic of the mountain oyster set. Up until recently, this rotund pile of smiles used his natural girth and God given gift of mirth to successfully spoof performers as massive as Shania Twain, Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson, and Trace Adkins. But now, after a desperation diet and the loss of nearly 100 pounds, Cledus just ain't Cledus anymore. Gone is the sense of a hamhock-snacking stooge barely ambulatory under his own tonnage. In its place is a sinister, gaunt façade—and a lot of loose skin.
Luckily, it's the plump Cledus we get for this greatest hits tie-in collection of some of the comedian's best mid-'90s lampoons. The songs included here are:
"Gone Funky"—takeoff of Alan Jackson's "Gone
Upfront, there are a couple of caveats for any non-fan to consider. Unlike pop music, which by its very definition crosses most cultural limits to be recognizable to almost any music fan, these country cuts require some familiarity with the song to fully appreciate the jibe. Basically, if you don't know it, you won't get it. In addition, you have to understand Cledus, his love/hate relationship to the music biz, and the taboos he is busting when taking on these songs. While Ray Stevens made a fine living out of creating his own clever satires of country standards, he was remiss about remaking other artist's hits. It was seen as a sign of disrespect and just wasn't done. But Judd mixed his buffoonish persona with a clear focus on post-modern country's excesses, and used both to belittle those CMT-launched high and mighty superstars. The result was outright rejection from most in the industry. But his music videos changed all that. They provided him with a readily recognizable image, and it was this visual element that drove record sales through the roof. And you know the old adage when it comes to cash—money changes everything. Not only was Judd embraced by country's biggest, he became a fixture in all aspects of the Nashville scene.
The commerciality of his process didn't hurt. Of the 13 tracks presented here, the best keep the basic premise of the song while slightly shifting the lyrics to a more jovial or jocular conceit. Take, for example, "(She's Got a Butt) Bigger than the Beatles." Instead of focusing on the inner emotion of the woman at the center of the Joe Diffie lyric, Cledus simply riffs on being fat. It's very funny stuff. Similarly, "Did I Shave My Back for This" (which even features Deana Carter herself kicking Cledus's butt for mocking her) is merely a list of comic misfortunes and misunderstandings. Sometimes, the set-up saves the spoof. From a pure performance and parody standpoint, "Cledus Went Down to Florida" is rather dull. But the visualization of the storyline, including the use of a couple Garth/Foxworthy stand-ins, makes the mini-movie priceless. And how can you not love a song about the white-trash World Wide Web as sung by that Bakersfield badass, Alvis Edward "Buck" Owens, Jr. Most of the time, Judd jumps around and bounces his belly. In some ways, it's his signature move. He's also the king of crappy hair and undersized overalls, ever-present man boobs and failed facial hair just screaming Hee Haw hackwork.
While the two Shania Twain songs are probably his best known early numbers, the entire Baker's dozen here is delightful. Heck, even his Yuletide burlesque ("Christ-Mas") is better than that retro-retarded "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer." A few tracks will test your patience, for fairly obvious reasons. "Gone Funky" has to have some of the lamest hip-hop humor ever attempted by a white man, and "Coronary Life" is pretty obvious in its bloated belly laments. Again, familiarity with the original material will help cure some of these concerns, even though it's been almost a decade since many of these songs were in the music mainstream. Judd's not much of a singer, squealing away like a stuck hog most of the time, and he will fudge things just to fit his wit. But these are unnecessary nitpicks for a man who definitely continues the clown-prince conceit that the outer fringes of country music have been known for. Whether it was Minnie Pearl, Jerry Clower, or George "Goober" Lindsay, there has always been some manner of merriment in the C&W experience. But Cledus T. Judd was the first to tie it directly to the hits of the day. It's this fact, among many others, that makes him a singular standout.
Here's where the introductory skinny statement comes into play. The only real bonus feature here—aside from a discography and goofy gallery of publicity pics—is a one-minute red carpet Q&A with Australian television from the Country Music Awards of 2006—and Cledus looks absolutely frightening. Gaunt, gangly, and resembling the anorexic brother of the famous fool, the information he's giving out is unimportant. You won't be able to take your eyes off his radical physical transformation. If research didn't indicate a strict diet and exercise regime, one could easily assume he was sick—really sick. As for the technical end of the title, Razor and Tie delivers these videos in a 1.33:1 full-screen image that's colorful and clean. There are a few analog issues (bleeding, flaring, grain), but they're understandable. After all, this is mid-'90s material we're dealing with. As for sound reproduction, we get a basic Dolby Digital Stereo mix, nothing more or less. The songs sound decent, but don't declare themselves the way a 5.1 remaster would accomplish.
It's important to note that this does not represent the end of Cledus's career as a country-and-western novelty act. He's consistently released singles every year and has had numerous hits since this foundational funny business. While he may never achieve the crossover success of something like "The Streak" or "Guitarzan," Cledus T. Judd will always be the one-time "heavyweight" of post-modern cornpone.
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