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The Fascinating Origins Of Joe Dirt

David Spade has been around for a long time, and ever since his career-making stint on "Saturday Night Live" back in the '90s, he has been a common sight in comedy movies like "Tommy Boy," "Black Sheep," "The Emperor's New Groove," and "Grown Ups." He is known for being snarky, sarcastic, and overly confident, and that style has remained consistent in everything from his early standup to his television appearances in shows like "Just Shoot Me!" and "Rules of Engagement." But there is one movie that stands out among Spade's work for allowing him to act out a different type of persona. As a result, he played one of his most famous movie characters: Joe Dirt.

The first "Joe Dirt" movie came out in 2001 to not-so-great critical reception and moderate box office success, which may make people wonder why it's still being talked about today. The story focuses on the affable character of Joe Dirt, a dim-witted janitor working at a radio station, who is coaxed into telling his whole life story on the air. His journey includes dozens of absurd vignettes across the country as he grows up to become a philosophizing deadbeat. Whether you love the mullet-wearing rascal or you think these movies, including its 2015 sequel, are as dumb as Joe himself, there's still a lot you probably don't know about it. Read on to find out the fascinating origin of Joe Dirt.

They almost made a Joe Dirt cartoon

Although "Joe Dirt" didn't blow anyone's mind back when it came out, there was still enough buzz surrounding the flick that producers considered expanding the character into new formats. It turns out that the movie became a cult classic with groups of internet comedy fans who enjoyed the light-hearted silliness of the character and wanted more.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, all the way back in 2010, David Spade was in serious talks to reprise his role as Joe Dirt in an animated spinoff series. A deal was struck for a pilot to be written in conjunction with Sony Pictures Television and Happy Madison Productions, which is Adam Sandler's studio responsible for films like "Grown Ups," "Jack and Jill," and "Billy Madison," to name a few. According to then-Executive VP Michael Wright at TBS, Spade was such a comedic powerhouse that they were totally willing to give him his own series. Wright went on to say, "We look forward to seeing how he and his fellow writers and producers take this character in new directions as TBS continues exploring the world of primetime animation." Unfortunately for everyone involved, no "Joe Dirt" animated show ever came to fruition. "Joe Dirt" fans will just have to settle for "Joe Dirt 2: Beautiful Loser" to satisfy their Dirt cravings.

Roger Ebert hated it

It's no secret that critics were not kind to "Joe Dirt" when it came out. The movie was universally panned for being low-brow, stupid, and not very funny to a majority of critics who sat through it back in 2001. Sadly, that includes the beloved Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert. While Ebert was known to be a harsh critic of certain movies, he occasionally surprised readers by seeing the positive side of movies that his colleagues disliked.

Some notable examples of this were his shockingly positive reviews of low-scoring films like "Cars 2," "Land of the Lost," and "The Happening." He even had nice things to say about the awful 2004 "Garfield: The Movie" starring Bill Murray as the Monday-hating cat. Ebert seemed to enjoy the movie and said, "'Garfield: The Movie' captures the elusive charm of the most egotistical character on the funny pages, and drops him into a story that allows him to bask in his character flaws." Let's agree to disagree. But in the case of "Joe Dirt," he was not nearly as kind. In his review of the first film, Ebert lamented on the immaturity of the movie's humor and over-reliance on poop jokes. He said, "But what these movies, including 'Joe Dirt,' often do not understand is that the act of being buried in crap is not in and of itself funny."

They recast his parents

A central element to the plot of "Joe Dirt" is that, as a little mullet-wearing, 8-year-old kid, Joe Dirt was abandoned by his parents at the Grand Canyon, and was forced to fend for himself well into adulthood. His biggest goal in life is to someday find his parents again and be reunited as a family. His wish comes true, thanks to his celebrity status gained from telling his life story over the radio. Unfortunately for Joe, his parents turn out to be even more selfish and terrible than he thought they'd be, especially considering they only contacted him to cash in on his clout. This sad story is balanced out by the hilarious performances of Caroline Aaron and Fred Ward as Joe's mom and dad, who really sell just how crappy of people they are. 

What you may not know is that these weren't the original actors cast in those critical roles. Originally, none other than Roseanne Barr and Gary Busey were hired to be Joe's parents. They even filmed some actual scenes, and there is a shot from the movie that's still floating around out there to prove it. This was a long time before Barr became controversial due to her outlandish political opinions, so the reason for their re-casting is a bit mysterious. 

Joe Dirt might take place in the same universe as Ferris Bueller's Day Off

It might sound like a stretch, but there's some compelling evidence that "Joe Dirt" and "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" might take place in the same universe. Or, at the very least, the creators of "Joe Dirt" put a big reference to John Hughes' classic 1986 film right in the dialogue of their own. As you probably already know, "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" is the story of a cool, slacker, high school student who plays hooky from school with his friends. The film has gone down as a coming-of-age cult classic with some amazing moments.

In the movie, Joe Dirt's desperate search for his parents leads him to a list of names of the people who were on the same tour bus as his family on the fateful day he was abandoned at the Grand Canyon. At one point in the story, he reads these names out loud to his companion, Kicking Wing. It turns out that these names are actually the same as the ones read out by Bueller's teacher during attendance in this iconic scene. So do Dirt and Bueller live in the same, shared universe where they could meet each other someday? Probably not. But even if it's just a fun reference to the legendary Hughes film, that is enough to warrant some credit to the creative team behind "Joe Dirt."

Joe Dirt originally had a different title

While "Joe Dirt" seems like an appropriately simple name for such a simple movie, it turns out that the movie may have had a different title well into the early stages of promotional material that lead up to the movie's release. While changes during production are common for movies — like when "Back to the Future" was almost called "Space Man From Pluto" before director Robert Zemeckis insisted it changed — these issues are usually ironed out well before advertisements are made.

But in the case of "Joe Dirt," there were actual pieces of marketing material made when the movie had a slightly different name. According to a posting on Swank, there was a preview of this film that called it "The Adventures of Joe Dirt," instead of the shorter title that we're all familiar with today. You can even find some posters still out there on eBay with the older title, with a promise that the movie is coming soon. This may not sound like a huge difference, and that's because it's really not, yet it was a big enough decision for the creators of the film to make different posters, boxes, and cover art that matches the official name fans know and love.

Dennis Miller doesn't talk about the movie

"Joe Dirt" had its fair share of celebrity appearances stuffed into the cast, with one-off jokes made using Christopher Walken and Kid Rock, who both show up out of nowhere to do something goofy. But the role given to comedian, talk show host, and former SNL alum Dennis Miller was much more integral to the plot than those other examples. Miller played the role of radio DJ Zander Kelly, who allows Joe Dirt to speak on air about his life experiences, despite the fact that he's just a janitor at the station. Although it's clear Kelly intended to make fun of the eccentric man with a mullet, he genuinely seems invested in helping Dirt out by the end of his story.

Dennis Miller has been around in the entertainment industry for a very long time. He got his start back in the '80s doing standup comedy before he transitioned into television and radio roles. His big break was similar to David Spade's career. Miller was added to the "Saturday Night Live" cast in 1985, where he became the main host of "Weekend Update" for several years. Eventually, this fame led him to be cast in movies like "Joe Dirt," "Thank You For Smoking," and "The Campaign." Despite having a prominent role in "Joe Dirt," Dennis Miller has rarely ever commented on the movie at all. However, he does seem to be on good terms with David Spade since they've appeared on each other shows as recently as 2019 during an episode of "Lights Out With David Spade."

Quarter toss scene comes from David Spade's standup

It turns out there's probably a lot about David Spade that you might not have known, but the biggest thing is that he got his start in standup well before his television and film career took off. Starting with standup is common for many comedic actors since it allows them to hone their skills by going around to different open mics and trying jokes out on the crowds. This led to lots of material being made, which Spade would later bring into his performances in shows and movies like "Joe Dirt." That's exactly what happened with the creation of the quarter-toss scene.

In his 1998 standup comedy special, "David Spade: Take The Hit," Spade tells a personal anecdote about how he once had to try and stick a quarter onto a frying pan sprayed with PAM at a carnival. While just a joke in his standup act, it also may sound familiar to fans of "Joe Dirt" because that's exactly what happens in the movie. Spade incorporated that bit of his previous material into the story by having his character run a carnival stand, where he's required to spray the pans down with PAM himself.

They didn't actually film at the Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon plays an important role in "Joe Dirt" as the location Joe Dirt's parents ditched him as a kid. While there are some scenes in the movie that are supposed to take place at the Grand Canyon, it turns out that the film's production never went there at all. Instead, they went to an entirely different place and just pretended it was the Grand Canyon because it looked vaguely similar. 

It is common for film productions to make more convenient filming locations look like other places, but it was noticeably less compelling in "Joe Dirt." It's an unfortunate reality that making movies is an expensive endeavor that requires tons of hours, manpower, money, and skill to make happen, no matter the size of the production. It is for that reason that most movies try to cut costs by filming at cheaper and easier locations, even if it doesn't always match the setting. Based on an article by Kuoni, the Greater Los Angeles area is still one of the most popular areas to film in the whole world. This explains why the creators of "Joe Dirt" probably didn't want to go too far to make these scenes at the Grand Canyon a reality, which is why, according to the ItsFilmedHere website, all of the Grand Canyon scenes in this movie were actually filmed in Vasquez Rocks Park in Santa Clarita and Dead Horse State Park in Utah.

There might be a third movie coming

Although "Joe Dirt 2: Beautiful Loser" got completely panned by critics and fans alike with a dismal 10% score on Rotten Tomatoes, the franchise still has enough of a cult following for people to wonder if we'll ever get more of Joe Dirt. Well, the answer sounds like it's a "maybe," according to David Spade himself.

Spade talked a bit about the "Joe Dirt" franchise on an episode of Theo Von's podcast, "This Past Weekend," in May of 2022. In the episode, he's asked by a fan if there will ever be a third movie in the series, and then Spade and Von go on to discuss the process of making the films. While he did say that he'd rather watch an animated series following the character over a third film (since he's getting older), it also doesn't seem like the doors are closed on the possibility of another film. So hold on to those mullets because who knows, "Joe Dirt" may return in the future.

Robby is Kid Rock's real name

Yet another celebrity cameo to make an appearance in "Joe Dirt" is none other than Kid Rock, a singer, and rapper who is famous for attempting to mix multiple genres together with hip hop, rock, and country to mixed success. His popularity grew throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, until he finally got enough fame to appear on the silver screen.

It turns out that "Joe Dirt" was actually Kid Rock's first appearance in a movie, and it was certainly one for the history books. He plays the character of Robby, a spiteful bully who constantly harasses Joe Dirt by talking trash at him and attempting to marry the love of his life, Brandy. What you may not have realized is that Robby is actually Kid Rock's real name, and the character was named as such to reference that fact. Kid Rock was born as Robert James Ritchie and took on a stage name for his early career as a DJ.

There's a big reference to The Waterboy

When people think of David Spade, many also start to think about Adam Sandler. The two have been frequent collaborators since their days on "Saturday Night Live," and Spade has made countless performances in Sandler's own movies, such as "Grown Ups," "Hotel Transylvania," and "Jack and Jill." Sandler's production company, Happy Madison, has also produced some of Spade's biggest movie roles like "The Benchwarmers" and (obviously) "Joe Dirt." It's because of their close working friendship that there is a big reference to one of Sandler's most popular movies in "Joe Dirt."

Although Spade doesn't appear in "The Waterboy," it was the movie he decided to reference in "Joe Dirt" by bringing back Farmer Fran. In "The Waterboy," Farmer Fran is a hard-to-understand character with a deeply thick, Cajun accent who is played by Blake Clark. Clark reprises the role in "Joe Dirt," showing up not long after Joe Dirt returns home, telling him that his mullet haircut is "outta date!"