Colquitt’s Dirt Road Sports — from left, Craig “Quezelle Erskin” Tully, Billy “Floyd B. Lloyd” Kimbrel and Cory “Marvin Spitznargle” Thomas — spun off from the Swamp Gravy folk life play into a comedy troupe whose demand in the region is growing rapidly. The Sports will perform two shows in Dawson April 6.
COLQUITT — Plenty of people can tell funny stories. It’s the rare person, though, who has the ability to tell stories funny.
Count the three madmen who make up the Dirt Road Sports among the latter. Spend a little time with the Sports — “Floyd B. Lloyd,” “Marvin Spitznargle” and “Quezelle Erskin” — and listen to them talk about Uncle Dump and Aunt Scrap, Cousin Bookie, Sen. Humphrey Fargo and the Right Rev. Pencil Johnson, and you’ll quickly discover you’ve happened upon a trio gifted in the art.
Or, as Aunt Scrap might say, “Them boys just ain’t right.”
“Some people have indicated that we’re bourgeois,” says the refined Spitznargle, whose alter ego is Colquitt City Manager Cory Thomas. “We prefer to think of ourselves as bon vivant.”
Chimes in Lloyd, who some know as auctioneer Billy Kimbrel: “Of course, being from a rural area, it has been pointed out to us that maybe we’re not quite as sporty as we think.”
Then there’s this from Quezelle, the “quiet” one of the bunch who doubles as Colquitt Fire Chief Craig Tully when he’s not busy entertaining: “We qualify as classy because we take our own folding chairs to weddings.”
The Sports evolved from the fertile talent pool that has put on Colquitt’s Swamp Gravy folk life play for the past 20 years. Kimbrel and Thomas, at the urging of Miller County Arts Council President Jimmy Holt, assumed the roles of characters from the long-running syndicated cornpone “Hee Haw” TV comedy and headlined a benefit for the Southwest Georgia Academy school in nearby Damascus.
The show was a smash.
“That first time, we got permission from Gaylord Productions, which owns the rights to ‘Hee Haw,’ for the guys to do the show and even use one of their old scripts,” Karen Kimbrel, who serves as the Sports’ manager/PR agent/floor sweeper and as Billy’s better half, said. “But they told us we couldn’t do anything else using the ‘Hee Haw’ names or music or anything else associated with the show.”
So Kimbrel and Thomas, with an assist from Karen, came up with their own characters and their own concept. They called it “Mayhaw” in honor of Colquitt’s signature fruit, which is recognizeded with a yearly festival.
“We ‘broadcast’ shows from our own radio station — WMHAW, 555 on your radio dial, whose 5,000 watts carried to three countries, all 57 states and three sunken islands — in the voices of the 31 characters we created,” Billy Kimbrel said. “It took off.
“One night I had to be at an auction, so we got Craig to fill in. He was great as Quezelle, and people started asking what we were going to do with Quezelle after I came back. We said we were keeping him, and we became a three-man group.”
For the next eight years, from April of 2005 through April of 2012, the trio performed “Mayhaw” as often as 12 times a year, venturing into the region wherever folks were anxious to hear their brand of “clean Southern, redneck-with-class comedy.”
Last year, though, the Sports decided they’d taken “Mayhaw” as far as they could. They met and kicked around ideas that would allow them to take their act to the next level. They developed a business plan and started work on a comedy act based on “people we grew up with, people everyone knows.” They chose the name “Dirt Road Sports” to represent the wisdom of their upbringing.
“It’s just something we’d all heard all our lives,” Thomas said. “It came out of the air, and we thought it described perfectly what we were doing.”
The Sports made their debut at a benefit for the Seminole County High School girls softball team, and they were a hit. They taped and recorded that show (which is now available on CD and DVD), and it helped spread the word. They also become favorites on Charlie Platt’s local WDHN-Dothan “Top of the Morning” TV show, a staple in extreme Southwest Georgia.
“There are farmers here who say ‘If Charlie doesn’t say it’s gonna rain, it’s not gonna rain,’” Tully said. “For some reason Charlie took a liking to us, and when we can work it out to be on his show a lot of times he’ll have us on for the entire one and a half hours, doing the weather and everything.”
The Dirt Road Sports haven’t tried to reinvent the brand of Southern comedy made famous by the likes of Jerry Clower and Lewis Grizzard. They have, however, put their own unique spin on it.
Facts and figures about Colquitt’s Dirt Road Sports:
NAMES: “Floyd B. Lloyd” — Billy Kimbrel, auctioneer/realtor
“Marvin Spitznargle” — Cory Thomas, Colquitt city manager
“Quezelle Erskin” — Craig Tully, Colquitt fire chief
NEXT SHOW: April 6, Main Street Theater, Dawson
MERCH: Order Sports CDs, DVDs and T-shirts online at www.dirtroadsport...
BOOKINGS/INFO: On Facebook (www.facebook.com/...) online or by calling (229) 220-4925, (229) 254-5060, (229) 254-2727
“These characters we’ve created are characters everybody knows or has in their families,” Thomas says. “Everybody in the South knows a Rev. Pencil Johnson, who’s 485 pounds and wears a cheap double-knit suit. Everybody has an Uncle Dump and an Aunt Scrap.
“We’re working on a brother Grady for Sen. Fargo who’s like Billy Carter was to Jimmy Carter when he was president. We try to tell these stories that everyone knows and inject our own kind of humor into them. If we can help people forget their problems for a couple of hours while they’re at one of our shows, well we’ve done our job.”
As the three sit on the porch of Kimbrel’s backyard “beach house” that he’s dubbed “The Rock,” offering a visitor a sampling of their quick, impromptu wit, both in character and out, and showing off, among other things, Kimbrel’s “Uncle Billys” barbecue sauce (“It’s good on anything but French toast and doughnets,” Quezelle/Tully offers, deadpan.), it’s easy to see why the Sports are such a hit.
Karen Kimbrel insists she has to make the three rehearse at least a little before each show, but they insist overpreparation diminishes their spontaneity.
“We play off each other; there’s just an amazing chemistry that we’ve developed,” Thomas said. “We borrowed this thing from Paul Harvey, but we agree with his old saying that part of what’s wrong with America is that we’ve paved over too many dirt roads.
“We didn’t really come together to make this happen; it happened in spite of us. So we’re going to trust the Good Lord to lead us and just see where it goes from here.”