From behind an anchor desk ringed with empty Budweiser cans and Jack Daniel’s bottles, the pundits of “Red State Update” dissect election politics from the good ol’ boy point of view.
The Web-based sketches star “Jackie Broyles” and “Dunlap” deriding Democrats’ inability to talk to NASCAR fans or inflating and then deflating home state hero Fred Thompson. (He’s not lazy, the real-life former Tennesseans insist — “he’s just real old.”)
They ape cable network talking heads with such comedic commentary as volunteering to help Mitt Romney on his yardwork so he won’t be criticized for hiring illegal aliens or speculating on Rudy Giuliani’s love life. They focus on national politics but play to blue collars outside the Beltway instead of Washington insiders.
In two years, Red State Update shorts created by Travis Harmon, 38, and Jonathan Shockley, 36, for YouTube and MySpace have attracted thousands of subscribers. The Internet episodes have regularly rated four stars-plus, with the most popular viewed more than half a million times online.
Jackie and Dunlap got a shot at mainstream celebrity during CNN’s YouTube Democratic debate in July when they asked the candidates whether all the media attention on Al Gore “hurts y’all’s feelings?”
Their offbeat video query helped propel the redneck duo beyond a loyal Internet following, built up with weekly video blogs on Salon.com and DirecTV’s “The Fizz.” They’ve even made a few pundit appearances on CNN.
“Definitely the end result is a major motion picture,” jokes Harmon, who plays gray-bearded Jackie in red plaid shirts and overalls while chain-smoking Kools.
“Or commercials,” suggests Shockley, who swills Buds and dons an American flag T-shirt as the younger Dunlap, “for like a garden supply company or a tractor supply warehouse.”
OK, so maybe these guys aren’t getting offered a reality television deal like the “Leave Britney Alone” guy, but they’ve created a niche in political humor as the presidential campaign season heats up. A writer’s strike has silenced Jon Stewart and David Letterman, but Red State Update is posting fresh material as often as once a day from an apartment kitchen in Los Angeles.
While no presidential candidate has yet agreed to sit between the two and share a cold one, Shockley and Harmon are taking their v-blog to the candidates, or at least trying.
When Thompson announced his candidacy on NBC’s “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” Jackie and Dunlap taped outside the studio quizzing Californians on their knowledge of the candidate and handing out homemade campaign signs.
When a woman asked what Thompson had lobbied for, Dunlap shrugged and said, “You know, whatever. America. Freedom.”
They were eventually ordered off the property, but Shockley says that hasn’t dissuaded them from more campaign trail stunts.
“We would love to spend a week on Rudy Giuliani’s or Hillary Clinton’s bus,” he says. “Wait, I take that back. I don’t want to spend a week on either one of their buses. But a couple of hours would be nice. I just want to see what they eat.”
Jackie and Dunlap staked out the Las Vegas Democratic debate in November and coaxed on camera Dennis Kucinich’s wife (Dunlap hit on her) and longshot candidate Mike Gravel, who told Jackie his beard “looks awful good.”
The show may be recorded in California, but Jackie and Dunlap live in Murfreesboro, Tenn., the college town about 30 miles south of Nashville where the comedians met.
Jackie, who runs a fictional barbecue/general store, and Dunlap, his mouthy sidekick, exchange political wisecracks from a low-budget set against a backdrop of U.S. and Tennessee flags. Their slant may be Southern conservative, but they’re equal opportunity lampooners.
In a recurring plotline, Dunlap is trying to persuade Jackie to run for president and advises him to “pander shamelessly to the Christian Right. Not John McCain pandering, but pandering a little.”
Tennessee state Rep. Stacey Campfield, a Republican, has been a fan since before the two shot to semi-fame on CNN and often links to their videos on his personal blog.
“If you’re in politics and can’t look at that and laugh, you take yourself too seriously,” Campfield said.
Their accents are exaggerated, but Harmon says that’s no turnoff to their mostly Southern fans who appreciate country comedians like Jeff Foxworthy and Larry the Cable Guy.
“I bristle too when I hear a bad Southern accent in a movie,” says Shockley. “I hate when I see bad stereotypes — which I guess is what we’re doing.”
The joke may be lost on some, like Delaware Sen. Joe Biden, who responded to Jackie and Dunlap’s question in the Democratic presidential debate question by suggesting that the people of Tennessee were the ones who had their feelings hurt.
Biden has now made their Nixonian enemies list, and Dunlap has set his sights on global domination.
“Local politics is a fool’s game, and I thought we should aim for the top.” Dunlap says. “Jackie is such a brilliant political mind that we need to be on the world’s stage.”
Jackie responds like a homespun version of fellow Tennessee statesman Al Gore: “I don’t want to be president. I don’t want nothing to do with that. I wish you’d quit saying that.”
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