As urban legend would have it, it’s assumed that back in the 1970’s rock bands had all the best drugs and booze. Some of you might have heard stories about Led Zepplin’s backstage shenanigans.
I don’t think it’s true that all the mega superstar rock bands had the best nose candy and liquid courage. No. That ‘honor’ goes to many 1970s game shows.
Ah those wacky hazy ’70s. Only in the 1970s would you have such programs like The Match Game and The Gong Show. The stuff of televised legend.
Cause really, who needs cable when all you have to do is search on YouTube. There you will discover gloriously grainy gems, badly transferred from VHS onto the digital age. Why there’s already many clips from “The Gong Show” to choose from. Who can ever forget the Unknown Comic, The Worms, and of course, Gene Gene The Dancing Machine! Just in time for New Year’s Eve, here’s a clip of Gene doing his thing:
That’s right everybody! Party like its a tacky ’77 game show! You go Gene! Check out his swagger with his trademark green jogging jacket! Have everyone throw crappola at you in wild abandon! That’s how you celebrate.
I’m leaning towards Gene nowadays. Back in my childhood, The Unknown Comic was my favorite. In fact, back in 2008, I kinda-sorta did a tribute to him. A parody of a parody. The one where The Unknown Comic posed for a publicity photo sending up the famous Burt Reynolds shot published in Cosmopolitan magazine:
For those who never heard of the Unknown Comic, here’s a clip via YouTube. If you thought your jokes were bad, try this:
Ah, those wacky 1970s. The jokes were corny as hell. Still, it was a bit of magic captured on the small screen. Dropping F-bombs without hostility in a drug-induced haze. Drinking and smoking as if nothing. This TV party was silliness personified. Yet it’s nowhere as mind-numbing as today’s reality shows.
Another thing that The Gong Show had over today’s so-called ‘talent shows’ such as American Idol or The Voice. Despite half of the Gong Show’s antics being staged, there was an organic realness to the freakishness. Whenever the talented, the not-so talented or just plain bizarre walked on stage, it was all in good fun. If an act was just outright odd, their inner freak was embraced. In no way were they weren’t trying to conform to a manufactured Hollywood fantasy. They were proud of being odd. They owned their inner freak. That was the beauty of The Gong Show.
The real star of course, was the host himself Chuck Barris. Personally I think he’s a genius. On his resume he lists American game show creator, producer, songwriter, and of course the emcee of The Gong Show. Although claims about working for the C.I.A. can be seriously doubted.
As a producer he was responsible for such tacky treasures like The Dating Game, The Newlywed Game and The $1.98 Beauty Show.
Back to The Gong Show. To this very day this program remains a cult classic. In fact, there’s a very rare film, created after the first cancellation. In the tradition of The Monkee’s Head movie. It’s not available on VHS, DVD or BluRay. If you’re lucky, you just might catch it on cable or grab scenes from – of course – YouTube.
Oh yeah, the gong itself. Usually the judging panel usually consisted of three b-list celebrities. Jamie Farr and Jaye P. Morgan were regulars. Comedians like Soupy Sales and Joan Rivers also judged.
The studio audience could also be rowdy at times. When I was a kid, I caught a few episodes of The Gong Show here and there. That is, if my mother allowed it. My favorite was usually when the audience would start booing. Meanwhile the judges fought among themselves as to who was gonging first.
Yet strangely, or maybe not strangely enough, many entertainers got their first break being on that show. Many actors appeared under an alias. That was a backup plan because one bad appearance could actually ruin a career. Among the Gong alumni were PeeWee Herman, ’70s Disco singer Cheryl Lynn, musical theater actress Andrea McArdle and a very early incarnation of Oingo Bongo.
No report on The Gong Show would be complete without talking about The Popsicle Twins – a.k.a. “Have You Got A Nickel?” Not only did this segment get Barris and company in trouble with the censors – Phyllis Diller could not comprehend what the hell was going on. She gave the twins a score of zero. Guess she didn’t see Deep Throat.
Since Chuck Barris was a producer, sometimes contestants from his other shows occasionally crossed over to The Gong Show. If you read my blog post from yesterday, you might recognize the name of Cheryl Bradshaw. She was a “bachelorette” from ‘The Dating Game’ – the same one who narrowly missed a date with death. She had won a date with serial killer Rodney James Alcala. (https://witchesbrewpress.wordpress.com/2012/12/30/a-date-with-death/)
Besides another dark incident, (death of a dancer who had won on The Gong Show just hours before) The Gong Show was fun. Over the years The Gong Show has been revived. Yet somehow it always failed to capture the magic that the very original program had. The Gong Show itself is nothing without Chuck Barris as host. Sure, “The Dating Game” could always have a revolving host door. Ditto for “The Newlywed Game.” Come to think of it, the time might be ripe to bring back “The $1.98 Beauty Show.” In this day and age of instant gratification and entitlement this show could work. But “The Gong Show” itself? Nah. In my humble opinion, it could only work with the charms of Chuck. ‘Cause even with all the mayhem surrounding him, he was the glue that kept all the chaos together. He grasped it. He understood it. Like the freaks on stage, he owned it. “The Gong Show” was his show.
I could go on, but the blogging curtains are about to close. Before getting gonged myself, I’ll leave you with one final clip. One of a ‘Punk Rock’ band. Never heard of them until now. They were called Static Cling. And yes, they were gonged.