Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Appreciating Chuck Barris, Of Gong Show Fame - One Of World's Most Unique Characters

Chuck Barris died this week at the age of 87. He was
lowbrow, for sure, and I'm eternally grateful to him for that
Word arrived this morning that Chuck Barris, best known as the emcee of the very, very lowbrow 1970s talent contest television program "The Gong Show" has died at the age of 87.

I was a teenager when "The Gong Show" was on, so it fit my mentality perfectly. It was cruel, gaudy, annoying, anti-intellectual, druggy, stupid and a complete waste of time

In other words, perfect.

Most of the acts on "The Gong Show" were amateur, and many were not very good, to say the least.

One act involved two young women eating Popsicles very suggestively, which won them gongs, except of course from Jaye P Morgan, the, shall we say, sexually free regular judge on the program.

Panelist Phillis Diller gave the "PopsicleTwins" as they were called a score of zero on a scale of 0-10, but Jaye P Morgan gave them a 10, saying, "Do you know that's the way I started?"

Yeah, OK. And the show was really that tacky.

(For those who are somehow unfamiliar with the wonders of "The Gong Show," if a judge didn't like an act and couldn't bear watching it anymore, he or she would strike a big gong behind the panel, thus ending the act.

"The Gong Show" was impeccably chaotic. It was obvious that Barris, and many of the judges, were on something, and that something wasn't just a natural good mood. We're talking pharmaceuticals, folks!

By the way, there were some interesting judges on "The Gong Show," including David Letterman before he got really famous. Steve Martin played the banjo on the program. The band Oingo Boingo made a bizarre appearance.

Mare Winningham was on the show, operating under an alias on The Gong Show, singing at age 16. Pee-wee Herman, before he was Pee-wee Herman performed on the show as part of a jazzy duo called Suave and Debonair.

As Billboard reports, other celebrity judges that somehow got roped into doing the show included June Allyson, Milton Berle, Ruth Buzzi, Adrienne Barbeau, Dione Warwick, Sarah Vaughn, Joan Rivers, Tony Randall, Johnny Paycheck, Martin Mull, Wolfman Jack and Peter Lawford.

This is probably the reason we had all these luminaries on "The Gong Show": Whether you admit it or not, all of us like to wallow, to slum it from time to time. It's an opportunity to let your guard down, to not think, to take a break from always burnishing your image.

Chuck Barris understood this, which is why he had so many unlikely successes in life. And made us happy.

Very little of what Barris did with his life Changed History, but his life added plenty of color to plenty of other peoples' lives. Those were gaudy colors, and that was the point.

Barris kept popping up in American pop culture in random ways. He was kind of a smart, goofy, shameless but still loveable Forrest Gump.

As the New York Times reports, Barris first turned up as a guy to babysit a young ABC star named Dick Clark to keep him out of trouble during the Payola Scandal in the 1950s. (Though the Times reported that Barris mostly spent his time on that job drawing on pads of paper.)

The scandal involved the manufacture of radio hits by paying for radio play. 

Barris then wrote  the 1962 fizzy pop song "Palisades Park", performed by Freddy Cannon.

By 1965, Barris hit his glorious tackiness stride by created the television game show "The Dating Game," in which a bachelor or bachlorett would choose a date based on answers of three possible suiters hidden behind a screen.

After that, Barris created the equally lowbrow "The Newlywed Game," that beautifully icky game show that had newly-married couples test how in tune they really were with each other.

Then, in the mid-1970s, of course came "The Gong Show," which echoes on television today.

As the New York Times put it:

"The ghost of "The Gong Show" is evident in numerous reality-television shows of more recent vintage - the early rounds of any given season of  "American Idol", for instance."

See? Barris was a visionary of sorts.

New episode of "The Gong Show" were only produced for about two years, but the party lived on in syndication.

Barris faded from the scene a bit until he wrote the book, "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind" in 1984 where he claimed that in addition to his being a game show king, he was also an assassin for the CIA.

Now, that seems completely improbable, but with Barris, you have to wonder. Was he?  Barris never gave a straight answer, but the CIA says Barris had nothing to do with them. But you never know.   Just another bizarre chapter in an odd life

Nevertheless, a movie based on the book became a smash hit movie directed by George Clooney and starring Sam Rockwell as Barris.

He went on to write several more books in recent years.

The New York Times said Barris would have preferred to be rememberd as an author, but he knew - correctly - that he'd be remembered differently.

Barris said: "I think on my tombstone it's just going to say, 'Gonged at last,' and I'm stuck with that."

I suppose Barris can be partly blamed for the so-called dumbing of the American mind.

However, as I said, he gave us all many welcome chances to go slumming in the most kitschy, strange and dim resources of American culture.

My low brows are very low withiBarris' legacy.

And I'm eternally grateful to him for that.

To give you a refresher course on how delightful, stupidly wonderful "The Gong Show" was, here's a few clips.

Here, Barris, and the judges, are particularly taken by an act called "The Worms," so much so, that Barris kept demanding encore performances:

Next, here's juggler Hillary Carlip on "The Gong Show" performing a glorious, bad physical pun routine that still has me laughing out loud. (This might be my favorite Gong Show clip.)

And here's that "Popsicle Girls" clip, the one I mentioned in the narrative. It's the most cringe-worthy thing I've seen in ages. Also, TOTALLY NSFW

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