Billy Bob was the famed mascot of ShowBiz Pizza Place. When the first SPP opened in 1980, Billy Bob existed only as a walkaround character
. The Rock-afire Explosion was still in development, so it would be a few months before Billy Bob was to appear on stage in animated form. Billy Bob’s character however was already beginning to take shape.
Billy Bob was based on the character ‘Billy Wilbur’ from the Hard Luck Bears Show. Voiced by Aaron Fechter, Billy Bob was innocent, kind, and naïve. He was also jointly named after two people – David “Billy Bob” Irvin, CEI artist and Aaron’s roommate for several years, and Bob Brock, the co-founder of SPP. At the request of Stan Emerson (a member of SPP's advertising agency), Billy Bob was given red and yellow overalls – the colors of ShowBiz Pizza. It was ShowBiz’s way of claiming him as their very own.
Billy Bob became an animatronic character in July, 1980 with the debut of the Rock-afire Explosion. Accompanying him were his sidekick the Looney Bird, the Birthday Bird, and the Smitty’s Super Service Station set – all of which were also inherited from the Hard Luck Bears Show. In the earliest shows, Billy Bob’s stage set was commonly used as a show theme. Skits were wrapped around working at Smitty’s and Billy Bob’s invention of a new energy source – gasohol (also referred to as Goofy Gas). Early on, Billy Bob spoke with a fairly heavy country accent and broken English which was toned down over the years.
Through the years Billy Bob continued to be heavily used. As ShowBiz’s mascot, he was present in walkaround form and used in all promotional material including commercials, posters, and print ads. He was also featured on nearly every kind of merchandise imaginable. When SPP was merged with Pizza Time Theatre in 1984, Billy Bob was featured on merchandise and in contests alongside Chuck E. Cheese.
Toward the end of ShowBiz, Billy Bob’s stage was converted to the ‘ShowBiz Pizza Campground’
, recycling the trees from center stage and defined by a new sign that incorporated the newer style ShowBiz Pizza logo. Also in a bold move by ShowBiz, Billy Bob was removed on stage at three test locations and replaced by Yogi Bear. Eventually Billy Bob and the rest of the Rock-afire Explosion were removed from ShowBiz completely via ‘Concept Unification’.
Through the early 1990s, Billy Bob remained in the public eye existing at independent restaurants and smaller family entertainment chains. Many restaurants arose during this time that used Billy Bob as a mascot and several incorporated ‘Billy Bob’ into the restaurant name. Meanwhile, Creative Engineering was re-designing Billy Bob’s appearance to accommodate the new ‘mijjin’ style animatronic.
The first usage of this new Billy Bob – now much slimmer and sporting a white and red polka-dot shirt beneath his overalls, was in the prototype Mijjins show. He was also featured in all versions of the ‘New’ Rock-afire Explosion. Although the New Rock-afire was given only limited exposure, Billy Bob (new style and classic) continues to perform at select restaurants around the country. In most recent years Billy Bob’s character has been revived for use in the online ‘Billy Bob’s Newsblast’ (2005-2006), private recordings made for fans, and also in new skits for the UK restaurant Hannah Banana.