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Friday, March 23, 2012

Things That Really Exist: 1980's The Gong Show Movie

Posted By on Fri, Mar 23, 2012 at 8:30 AM

click to enlarge sc_42_gongshowmovie.jpg

If you've seen Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, you have a pretty good idea of what The Gong Show is. If you haven't, or you don't, you soon will. You'll also know how incredibly sorry Chuck Barris felt for himself in the late 1970s, because that's entertainment!

The Gong Show was part talent show, part game show, part parking spot for up-and-coming (or otherwise out-of-work) celebrities to be judges. Included on the panels were a very young (and very smart-ass) David Letterman as well as foul-mouthed singer and actress Jaye P. Morgan. As for the "gong" in the title, if someone came on the show and really sucked, one (or all) the judges on the panel would stand up and bang a huge gong -- the universal signal of "DONE!" -- to end the act.

So. The movie opens with a morning in the life of host Barris, who also directed the film, wrote the songs (including "Sometimes It Just Don't Pay To Get Up"), and co-wrote the script with Robert Downey Sr., legendary cult film director and Iron Man's dad.

Chuckie Baby's life is an endless series of people begging him to be on the show, or at least get an audition. And here we get to one of the reasons this film exists: to show "uncensored" footage of performers who never would have made it on TV.

And what of the people who make it?

After a performer has a heart attack during the show, Chuck visits him in the hospital -- where the performer starts auditioning at him again. As do the doctors. Everybody auditions at Chuck!

And, as we see while Chuck sings "Why Me, Oh Lord?," anyone who doesn't want to audition for him just hates him and his show.

Anyway, Chuck has a hard life and doesn't want to do The Gong Show anymore. There, that's the plot. Now it's time for more "uncensored" footage, including the two of the most famous Gong Show incidents: The Popsicle Twins, and Jaye P. Morgan's breasts. (NSFW, depending on where you W.) There's also The Unknown Comic, a k a that guy with the bag on his head (who also made a poster of himself wearing nothing else but a bag on his, uh, member).

click to enlarge The Unknown Comic and his Unknown Member
  • The Unknown Comic and his Unknown Member

In 2006, I was a "celebrity judge" along with Mikl-Em and Dave McKew for a live version of The Gong Show -- not The Gong Show Movie, thank goodness -- at The Dark Room. In addition to the Popsicle Twins, we had our own Unknown Comic, and his performance still cracks me up.

Chuck and his girlfriend Red are just trying to have dinner in a swanky restaurant's kitchen, but the cook insists on auditioning with a song, complete with the doctor from the previous scene on piano. If that kind of eye to continuity ain't the Robert Downey Sr. touch, I don't know what it is. But, more importantly: Rip Taylor!

Chuck decides to get away from it all and fly to Morocco. And who's in line behind him at the airport? Phil Hartman, in his film debut!

Remember when I mentioned that The Wizard of Speed and Time was not the first time an artist/producer wrote, directed, and starred as themselves in a film about their real-life struggles, and just when all is at its bleakest in the final reel (the forces of evil have apparently won, and/or he has given up on his art), a crowd of people appears to literally sing a song about how awesome the artist/producer is, causing him to realize that he is appreciated and is doing God's work?

Yeah. This is the other one, the biggie. It didn't need to be four minutes long, but it is anyway, and this is after the marching band leaves.

The film triumphantly (?) ends with Chuck returning to his job, but the movie was released right around the time The Gong Show itself went off the air, and the movie quickly faded away as well, like the reverberation of a ... heck, I don't know. A gong, or something.


Sherilyn Connelly is a San Francisco-based writer. She also curates and hosts Bad Movie Night at The Dark Room, every Sunday at 8pm.

Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF (follow Sherilyn Connelly on Twitter at @sherilyn) and like us on Facebook.

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