Succulent ’70s Salaciousness: A Tribute to “The Gong Show”


Let us now pay homage to one of the funniest, most raucous, transgressive and subversive shows in TV history, “The Gong Show,” hosted by its shambling, shuffling, shaggy dog producer, the enigmatic Chuck Barris. There were, and are, people who don’t “get” this show—thinking it the pre-Jerry Springer version of the end of civilization—but never since has the tube been so wonderfully chaotic and, yes, off-the-cuff witty and surreal. The reactions of the panel to the infamy being perpetrated on stage were priceless, as was Barris’ stoner demeanor and saliva-soaked, ungrammatical ad libs – often punctuated by his awkward hand claps that the audience would humorously mimic. Barris often modeled an arsenal of bad hats, perched precariously over his forehead and covering his eyes, for maximum goofy visual effect. Although some people claim this is an early version of American Idol because part of the fun is watching the bad acts get razzed, that comparison misses the point. A bad act on the Gong Show was just as likely to win the prize as a good one. In fact, some talented people were gonged off the stage while some truly awful acts evaded the boot. The score an act received on The Gong Show was virtually meaningless. Top prize was $516.32 (yes, that’s right), and the winners were pretty much guaranteed continued obscurity, so nobody was taking this seriously. A guest panelist with an absurdist, wicked sense of humor might score a dreadful act a 10, while the celebrity sitting in the next chair might score it a 0 or a 2. Some real talents did appear on the show, Steve Martin, for instance. It was one big unrehearsed spontaneous party, quite unlike the slick and super-controlled production of American Idol. The infamous moment we feature here, highlighting an “act” from 1978, now simply known as “The Popsicle Twins,” allegedly led to the show’s cancellation (though in fact, the show lasted until 1980; what happened was that the western time zones didn’t see this part of the show after outraged callers on the east coast caused NBC to panic and pull the bit). Two young girls, looking way too young (they were too young, 15 and 17), fellate upon some sweet icy goodness as audience and panel members shout, “Yeah, do it! Do it!” and “all right! all right! allright!”- all contributing nicely to the delinquency of minors. Barris allegedly threw this act into the mix as a way to trick the censors, figuring if he put something this blatantly sexual onstage that the censors would cut it out and ignore some of the other presumably less offensive performances. It didn’t work—this baby went out gloriously over the national airwaves, and the rest, including The Gong Show, is history. Incredibly still, this act was not gonged, Jaye P. Morgan and Jamie Farr having absented themselves from the vicinity. One is perplexed, though, at the gall of Phyllis Diller, who at the time was hawking big girthy cucumbers on TV commercials for the now-defunct Paramount Pickle Co., of Louisville, Ky., finding no hypocrisy in scoring these phallic Lolitas with a zed. Morgan, once a ’50s torch singer who earned a somewhat lascivious reputation as the show’s humorous muse (she was the original “Girl Gone Wild,” fond of baring her breasts to the audience during commercial breaks or writing obscene notes on cards that the censors would blot out with a white bar), caps it all off with an honest observation: “Do you know that that’s the way I started?” Anyway, like her, this is something you ladies might learn from. Enjoy.

The Popsicle Twins @ YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XUkzIx382mM

(NOTE: I originally posted the direct, embedded Youtube link to this video, but knowing how hamhanded WordPress is about censorship and how skittish it is about Youtube material, I’ve decided to post a link to Youtube instead where you can watch the video. This state of affairs sucks, but WordPress really seems to have no sense of humor, etc.)

Wikipedia’s entry the Gong Show does a pretty good job of separating the myth from the reality.

AS a bonus enjoy this interlude from series regular Gene Gene the Dancing Machine, whose visits occasioned unrestrained festiveness for all. Tell me what other TV show has allowed this kind of sheer joyousness to erupt?

P.S.: I understand that this show has been revived a couple of times, most recently by Comedy Central and hosted by Dave Attell. From what I’ve read, it sounds as bad as all attempts to bring back comedy intensive games shows, eg., Whoopie Goldberg’s arid revisitation of The Hollywood Squares. No thanks.

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