By Grace Thornton
The Alabama Baptist
When Bro. Billy Bob Bohannon shows up in his trademark mismatched clothes and red and white dress shoes to entertain at a church, he normally does so with a wagonload of props.
“I have a ukulele that looks like a watermelon, a guitar made out of a commode seat and several harmonicas,” said Bill King, who started entertaining under the Billy Bob persona years ago.
But when he checked in to Green River Correctional Complex in Central City, Kentucky, on Feb. 22, he had to strip his show down quite a bit.
“I was only allowed to take one guitar, one banjo and one harmonica inside,” said King, director of missions for Tuskegee Lee Baptist Association. “That limited me a little bit. And the performance was supposed to be 30 minutes longer than what I usually do.”
He was a little apprehensive about the venue too — he had been in a prison before to do research for a novel but never to perform.
But he loved it, he said, and at the end, “pretty much every inmate there” came by to shake his hand and thank him for brightening their day. “It was a good experience for me and for (them),” he said.
King started performing as Billy Bob Bohannon unintentionally 16 years ago, he said.
“We were having a Valentine’s Day banquet at the church in Mississippi where I was pastoring, and the person who was supposed to come entertain canceled the week before,” he said.
So the person in charge of the event asked King if he could bring his guitar, sing some funny songs and tell some jokes.
“I said yes, and I decided to throw on some mismatched clothes to do it,” he said.
The rest is history
And Bro. Billy Bob Bohannon, humorist and musician, was born. He thought it would be a one-time thing, but another church asked him to come perform for them too.
The rest is history.
Hundreds of performances later, he got asked to entertain at a banquet for pastors and church leaders in Kentucky’s Liberty Baptist Association.
“The chaplain of the prison was surfing the internet and came across my site and saw that I was going to be in his area,” King said. “So he got in touch with me and asked if I could visit the prison.”
King had to have a background check done in order to come, and inmates had to have a clear conduct report to be able to attend.
And then, of course, the “rare edition” commode seat guitar had to stay behind.
“But it was the first time an event like that had been held for the inmates,” King said. “And it was definitely a first for me.”
Chaplain William Kizziar said a prison definitely isn’t a normal venue or audience for a Christian comedian.
“Billy Bob Bohannon exuded confidence and hilarity in bringing forth a bit of levity to an otherwise dreary existence,” he said. “Thank you, Mr. King.”