The news that Comedy Central is reviving "The Gong Show" this summer hit the Variety newsroom like...a gong. A bunch of us began swapping memories of favorite acts, favorite judges and favorite unintelligible sounds made by host and producer Chuck Barris.
We learned that one of our staffers actually appeared more than once on the later 1980s version of the show, but that incarnation surely paled in comparison to Barris' original 1976-1980 masterfarce. Variety managing editor Kathy Lyford gushed about how much she loved Gene Gene the Dancing Machine, aka stagehand Eugene Patton, who was always good for a boost if the show was dragging with his unique bit of soft shoe as the orchestra (yes, this was back when even low-budget game shows had live music) boogied to Basie's "Jumpin' at the Woodside."
Here's a representative sample of his hoofing. And who knew? Patton put out a record back in the day (click here for a blog post with details):
David Letterman famously did a stint as a "Gong Show" judge (click here for proof). Others who did turns on the show in their pre-fame days include Oingo Boingo and Paul Reubens. This time around, the host will be comic Dave Attell, and it will hail from Adam Sandler's production banner, Happy Madison Prods., as Variety reports. They are already canvasing for freaks and geeks to strut their stuff on the show -- send your best pitch to email@example.com
Most of all, talk of the original "Gong Show" takes me way-way back to weekend afternoons spent in the den of my parents' home. Back then, it had a yellowish-tan shag carpet so shaggy you could braid it, a magazine rack in the corner stuffed with issues of Sunset and Time (we were a Time house, never Newsweek) and a big Zenith TV set with a matchbook wedged behind the clunky channel-changing dial (yes, a dial) to improve the reception (don't ask me how that made a difference but it did).
I'd stretch out on the carpet (itchy) or on the couch, with a bowl of ice cream and watch what must've been weekend reruns of the then-current syndie primetime episodes. I've been racking my brain to remember what channel -- I'm guessing KHJ (now KCAL) or KTTV. I also remember that "Gong Show" ran in tandem with "The $1.98 Beauty Contest," which was never as much fun as "Gong Show."
Those were the days. Jimmy Carter was in the White House, Boston and Steve Miller Band were big on the radio, my dad had long-ish hair, my mom sported a Dorothy Hamill bob, and on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon I could watch TV until my eyes bugged out without a care in the world.