Blount, Roy, Jr. (1941—)

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Blount, Roy, Jr. (1941—)

An heir to the Southern humor writing tradition of Mark Twain and Pogo, Roy Blount, Jr. has covered a wide array of subjects—from a season with an NFL team to the Jimmy Carter presidency—with equal parts incisiveness and whimsy.

Roy Blount, Jr. was born in Indianapolis on October 5, 1941. As an infant, he moved with his parents to their native Georgia, where his father became a civic leader in Decatur, and his family lived a comfortably middle-class life during the 1950s. He attended Vanderbilt University in Nashville on a Grantland Rice scholarship, and much of his early journalism work was, like Rice's, in sportswriting. In 1968, Blount began writing for Sports Illustrated, where he quickly became known for his offbeat subjects.

In 1973 Blount decided to follow a professional football team around for one year—from the offseason through a bruising NFL campaign—in order to get a more nuanced look at players and the game. He chose the Pittsburgh Steelers, a historically inept franchise on the verge of four Super Bowl victories. His 1973-1974 season with the Steelers became About Three Bricks Shy of a Load. Blount studied each element of the team, from its working-class fans to its front office to its coaches and players, with lively digressions on the city of Pittsburgh, country-western music (Blount once penned a country ballad entitled, "I'm Just a Bug on the Windshield of Life"), and sports nicknames.

With the success of About Three Bricks Shy of a Load, Blount became a full-time free-lance humor writer, with contributions in dozens of magazines including Playboy, Organic Gardening, The New Yorker, and Rolling Stone. In the late 1980s he even contributed a regular "un-British cryptic crossword puzzle" to Spy Magazine.

The administration of fellow Southerner Jimmy Carter led to Blount's 1980 book Crackers, which featured fictional Carter cousins ("Dr. J.E.M. McMethane Carter, 45, Rolla, Missouri, interdisciplinary professor at the Hugh B. Ferguson University of Plain Sense and Mysterophysics"; "Martha Carter Kelvinator, 48, Bullard Dam, Georgia, who is married to a top-loading automatic washer") and angst-ridden verses about the 39th President:

I've got the redneck White House blues.
The man just makes me more and more confused.
He's in all the right churches,
and all the wrong pews,
I've got the redneck White House blues.

Blount's most significant chapter focused on Billy Carter, who frequently embarrassed his brother's White House with impolitic comments and behavior. Blount came to like the younger Carter, and found that his fallibility made the Carters more likable: "I don't want people to be right all the time."

Throughout the 1980s Blount continued free-lancing articles and publishing books, with such offbeat titles as What Men Don't TellWomen, One Fell Soup, and Not Exactly What I Had in Mind. Blount's subject matter included orgasms, waffles (he wrote a poem to them), baseball batting practice, and the federal budget deficit (Blount suggested that every American buy and throw away $1,000 worth of stamps each, to fill the Treasury's coffers). He eulogized Elvis Presley (titled "He Took the Guilt out of the Blues") and profiled "Saturday Night Live" cast members Bill Murray and Gilda Radner. And the former sportswriter delivered essays on Joe DiMaggio and Roberto Clemente to baseball anthologies, while also attending a Chicago Cubs fantasy camp under the direction of Hall of Fame manager Leo Durocher.

Blount's first novel was the best-selling First Hubby, a comic account of the bemused husband of America's first woman president. His writing attracted the attention of film critic and producer Pauline Kael, who encouraged him to develop screenplays. His first produced effort was the 1996 major motion picture comedy Larger than Life, starring Bill Murray, Janeane Garafolo, and a giant elephant.

Blount became one of the most visible humorists in America as a frequent guest on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, and he often appeared on the long-running A Prairie Home Companion radio series, hosted by close friend Garrison Keillor. Despite possessing what he acknowledged as a weak singing voice, Blount triumphantly joined the chorus of the Rock Bottom Remainders, a 1990s novelty rock band composed of such best-selling authors as Dave Barry, Stephen King, and Amy Tan.

Divorced twice, Blount has two children. In 1998 he wrote a best-selling memoir, Be Sweet, where he acknowledged his ambivalent feelings towards his parents (at one point actually writing, "I hated my mother."). Later that year he also contributed text to a picture book on one of his favorite subjects, dogs, with a truly Blountesque title: If Only You Knew How Much I Smell You.

—Andrew Milner

Further Reading:

Blount, Roy, Jr. Be Sweet. New York, Knopf, 1998.

——. Crackers. New York, Knopf, 1980.

Gale, Stephen H., editor. Encyclopedia of American Humorists. New York, Garland Press, 1988.

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