The Gong Show Movie

Director: Chuck Barris                  
Chuck Barris, Robin Altman, James B. Douglas

Special guest review!

By Mike Sullivan

In the 70's, pretty much everything on T.V. was mind-numbingly awful. It seemed there was no escape from soulless variety hours and grating sitcoms. Oh sure, there were some bright spots, like M*A*S*H and when Don Knotts replaced Norman Fell on Three's Company, but it was mostly crap. That was until 1976, when NBC premiered The Gong Show. The Gong Show was an off the wall parody of Ted Mack's The Original Amateur Hour, where contestants with questionable talents (as long as I live, I'll never forget the duo who played squeaky toys like flutes) were judged and subsequently gonged by B level celebrities (Jaye P. Morgan, Jamie Farr, and accused shoplifter / film critic Rex Reed, to name just three) with even more questionable talents.

All of this was hosted (and produced) by the perpetual clapping machine known as Chuck Barris. The show was an instant success, and not only made Chuck a household name, but also some of the contestants like The Unknown Comic, Gene Gene the Dancing Machine, and (very indirectly) Pee Wee Herman. There were the unsuccessful offshoots The $1.98 Beauty Show and the variety show satire The Rah Rah Show, and like most things that are extremely successful, the inevitable movie. The film was written by, directed by, and starred Chuck Barris, and came out when the show's popularity was waning and because of this, audiences avoided it and critics ripped it apart.

But does this really surprise anyone? A vanity project starring Chuck Barris sounds about as appealing as sitting through an endless loop of professional media whore Darva Congors whining that the media won't leave her alone, but is only to eager to promote her Playboy pictorial during the same interview. So here's the surprising part; the film is actually pretty good. If you ignore the more self indulgent moments, it's a pretty savage indictment of show business, complete with jabs at spineless toadying executives and obnoxious, dull-witted fans.

Poor Chuckie. He hates to get up in the morning because (cough) life is so hard for him. When he goes out jogging he's attacked by a dog; when he gets a cup of coffee he spills it all over himself and is accosted by a bum; and when he goes to work, people ambush him on the elevator in order to get on his show. (While all of this is going on we hear the film's theme song, which was written and performed by Barris himself, proving once and for all that as a singer/songwriter, Chuck makes a good producer.) When he finally gets to his office, his secretary informs him that an 84 year old woman is slapping him with a paternity suit. While Chuck thinks this over, he's greeted by the pompous Network V.P. Mr. Didlo (James B. Douglas). Didlo chides Chuck for impending slippage, and sadly because of this drop in ratings which may or may not happen, Chuck doesn't get the pay raise he was promised a year ago (*gasp*). After some silly bureaucratic banter about Chuck's supposed use of a limousine, Barris announces he's late for auditions.

The auditions part of the film is an absolute highlight, because the people that are auditioning are not actors, but real people who desperately want to get on the show and just don't care how they do it. Amongst the headache inducing "talent" is a woman who claims cockroaches have been living in her ear for three years, a man (who resembles the Cheron from Star Trek) has a honking crotch, a high pitched singer performing a song about legalizing prostitution, and a monotone comic who talks about his pet rock peeing on him. Scary, but fascinating stuff.

Following a disturbing one-sided conversation from Harvey "Eric Von Zipper" Lembeck about him "hocking" various women, and a revelation that Chuck's life outside The Gong Show isn't all movie premieres and starlet banging but sleep (gosh, celebrity life certainly is rough isn't it? It's a shame he has to settle for all of that money and fame), we get to the real reason this film was made, and that is to show uncensored clips of The Gong Show. It's sort of a pre-cursor Jerry Springer's Too Hot for T.V. except we don't get to see two women fighting over a toothless guy with a mullet.

But we do get to see The Unknown Comic's stale routine, a seemingly retarded man singing "Sweet Adeline", a puppet singing out of a limber women's ass, Jaye P. Morgan flashing the audience (which on the sexiness meter, ranks slightly below Carol Channing's strip tease in Skidoo), and an old man named Melvin frantically clucking out the song "In the Mood". After being egged on (no pun intended) by Chuck to do a couple of curtain calls, Melvin has a heart attack backstage.

Chuck feels responsible for Melvin's heart attack and decides to visit him in the hospital, and, for some reason, drags his girlfriend Red (Robin Altman) along with him. However, the moment he walks into the hospital, he is relentlessly hounded by various doctors and nurses who want to be on the show. After getting flour thrown in his face, Chuck finds Melvin, who appears to be dying. But the key word here is "appears", because as soon as Mel senses  that Chuck is in the room, he jumps out of  bed for an impromptu audition, which proves to be an awe inspiring combination of hopping around and grunting. Chuck hastily exits the room, but he is pursued by Melvin with his life support system still attached. Mel's ambition is then rewarded with a thorough beating from the nurses.

After witnessing the whole situation, Red tries to convince Chuck to leave The Gong Show and have Jamie Farr replace him. Chuck declines, and decides to unwind by performing another awful self pitying song, and regrettably Pat McCormick isn't around to gong the hell out of these guys.

Following Chuck's towering musical rendition of "Why Me Oh Lord" (which I believe was on The Beach Boys classic album Crap Sounds), it's time for some more clips. Amongst the usual cursing and an old guy smashing eggs on himself are the nearly legendary Popsicle Twins. If these two would've somehow gotten on the air it would have been the first time inferred fellatio appeared on television. (Instead, that honor went to a very special episode of Charles in Charge.)

Due to nervous T.V. affiliates canceling the show because of its increasing levels of raunchiness, Mr. Didlo invites Chuck and Red out to dinner to discuss the show's future. At the restaurant, Chuck's celebrity status forces him to eat dinner in the kitchen, and worst of all Rip Taylor is their waiter, who just won't leave them alone. Red again urges Chuck to leave the show and do anything (including, "playing with himself") but the show. Didlo shows up right at that moment to give Chuck an undermining pep talk and to be the butt of Taylor's "dildo" joke. (Well, with a name like Didlo it was only a matter of time before the inevitable dildo joke to showed up.)

The next morning Chuck and Red wake up to find Didlo climbing their balcony to make Barris sign an agreement that he and Jaye P. will behave themselves during the show. For some reason, the film then cuts away to show various Gong Show celebrities getting out of bed, including Jaye P. waking up with five men in a huge heart shaped bed and The Unknown Comic cuddling with his wife, who also has a paper bag on her head.

Chuck's life becomes progressively worse when a large man picks a fight with him, and then has his ass handed to him by this large guy. Even during the fight, pin-headed fans harass Chuck and demand that they get a picture with him, and for some reason the song "Rag Mop" is played during all this. Friends fear that Barris is on the verge of a nervous breakdown and try to convince him to see a doctor. Chuck refuses, but before you can say doodle, doodle, doodle, he's spilling his guts to a shrink. (If this seems a little obtuse, see any episode of F-Troop where they're trying to get Col. Agarn in a dress.) Chuck breaks down and tells the psychiatrist that he doesn't want to do the show anymore because people see him as a clown. Please give me a second to choke back the tears.

Things go from bad to worse (just go with it) when Red Breaks up with Chuck and newspaper headlines scream Barris Assaults Fans! Chuck has finally had enough and decides to get away. But no matter where he goes, he can't avoid annoying fans who gleefully yell, "Holy Sh*t! It's the little fart from The Gong Show!", and then become extremely vicious when he walks out on their makeshift auditions (sort of predating a similar scene in The King of Comedy.) As a last resort, Chuck hides out in the middle of the Morracan desert (Wouldya believe he got there by taxi?) and is ambushed by a marching band and pretty much the entire cast of the movie who guilt him into coming back to the show by singing (the not so bad) "Don't Get Up Song". Some interesting moments in the song are Chuck's daughter singing that if he doesn't get up, she won't be a movie star and she'll probably wind up pumping gas, and Chuck's band whining that if he doesn't get up they won't get a recording contract. Well, despite the fact that Chuck did get up, I'm sure all of them are enjoying their jobs asking people if they would like fries with their Big Bacon Classic at Wendy's.

Actually the "Don't Get Up" sequence is a lot of fun (if you're a Gong Show fan.) Seeing all the personalities from the show together in one big clump is like seeing a moronic distaff version of The Justice League of America (I really have to stop comparing everything to that comic book.) But the big questions remain: Does Chuck come back to the Gong Show? Does Red Come back to Chuck? Is the Unknown Comic unbelievably unfunny? I won't reveal the answers to these questions, but I will say that there is a touching sequence at the end where noises of farm animal come out of a man's ass.

This film is a vanity project. Not the kind of vanity project where flash in the pan celebrities with delusions of grandeur wander from scene to scene as crippled children throw away their crutches just to get a closer look at their (cough) "hero". (See the Oscar winning Viva Knievel for the absolute nadir in vanity projects.) Chuck on the other hand seems to have taken the opposite route by making himself out to be a tired, haggard guy who is mocked by nurses, beaten up by a fighting couple, and literally pissed on in one scene. Plus the film is all over the place; one moment we're watching Red and Chuck's nasty breakup, and the next we're watching a clip of Gene Gene the Dancing Machine spastically writhing on The Gong Show. The film only has a semblance of a plot towards the end, and even that's rushed through in order to make room for more uncensored clips. But the most confusing aspect of the film is the Mr. Didlo character. It's never made clear if he's supposed to be the film's villain or Chuck's conservative but well meaning friend. However, the film is saved by it's double-barreled take on showbiz, its strange supporting characters, and bizarre situations (courtesy of co-writer Robert Downey, before he sunk to the depths of mediocrity and stayed there.)

Overflowing with guest stars (Vincent Shaivelli, Mabel King, Jamie Farr, Milton Delugg, a gun-toting Phil Hartman, Rosey Grier, and Gary Mule Deer), this is one odd, mean-spirited, self indulgent mess. Although I liked this film, I can't recommend it unless you're a fan of The Gong Show. Otherwise, this film will be about as enjoyable as a cavity search from Captain Hook.

(For further information on Chuck Barris and The Gong Show, check out Barris's autobiography, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. This book reveals that Chuck was working for the CIA in-between Gong Show episodes (and might be turned into a film starring Mike Meyers.) XYY magazine had an article that stated that the government suppressed The Gong Show Movie, and of course, the Crazy magazine parody "The Gunk Show" and it's follow-up "The Kong Show".)

UPDATE: J. Canker Huxley sent this information about one detail of the movie:

"Great review of The Gong Show Movie,  however I must point something out.  To the following quote about the "Popsicle Twins:"

"Amongst the usual cursing and an old guy smashing eggs on himself are the nearly legendary Popsicle Twins. If these two would've somehow gotten on the air it would have been the first time inferred fellatio appeared on television. (Instead, that honor went to a very special episode of Charles in Charge.) "

"If memory serves me (and I was entering puberty the time I saw it and boy -- did I remember this -- but that's another story for another time), the Popsicle Twins (two hot young ladies in skimpy clothes whose act consisted of them sucking on Popsicles in a "professional" way) DID appear on The Gong Show TV series.  They appeared under the name "Buddy, Could you spare a Nickel?"   They basically did the same act as in the movie, although not as "ambitiously" and "energetically."

"I cannot remember if they won, but they did get like 26 out of a possible 30 points.  I hope this helps or at least revives some tingly feelings."

Check for availability on Amazon (Blu-Ray)
Check for Chuck Barris' autobiography "Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind"

See also: Flicks, Outtakes, Prime Time