“Yes,” he said without hesitation. “The audience is thinning, and I think its a shame that he’s not better remembered than he is. Lewis represented a particular type of white male in 20th century. I grew up in that world, I know that world, and it is vanishing. The South once had a certain identity, but as times changed and years passed, it’s lost that identity. Grizzard represented the last of that generation.”
Changing Southern identities aside, Oberst said he feels Grizzard is a touchstone, a bookend, as it were, for the 20th century that begins with Mark Twain, another American humorist with a substantially larger literary legacy and a uniquely American appeal who also continues to attract new audiences.
“I am a Southerner, and I feel a real responsibility to preserve that,” Oberst said. “Many come to [the show to] remember that time in their lives, that era, and they come up after the show and tell me their stories.”
Oberst, 47, doesn’t need to worry when the show does reach its inevitable end. He’s morphed from a stage actor playing what he calls “a little club of dead people” into an in-demand film actor with a lengthy list of horror movies on his IMDB page. Still, he will miss Grizzard when the time comes.
“I’m into film more now,” he said, “but I’ve enjoyed playing him. I’ve portrayed Jesus and Lewis, and people have a strong, even vehement reaction to both. I’m not comparing them, mind you—but people react, they know I’m not either of them, but they don’t care. That’s an amen from the church choir.”
“A Tribute to Lewis Grizzard: In His Own Words”
7:00 p.m. - Saturday, Jan. 26
Tivoli Theatre - 709 Broad St. - (423) 642-TIXS - chattanoogaonstage.com