The recent death of Eugene Patton more famously known as Gene Gene the Dancing Machine one of the most surreal and beloved denizens that existed on the Gong Show reminded me of how truly insane this show was even by today’s standards.
Watching the host, game show pioneer Chuck Barris, creator of the Dating Game and the Newlywed Game, mock the very genre he was part of through his put-on persona, enthusiastic and sarcastic at the same time, always ridiculous, was monumentally satisfying.
You see The Gong Show’s contestants may been mostly talentless but they were never boring and occasionally you’d see someone with talent – albeit an unpolished living room sort of talent, unglamorous and real. The sense of humor which Barris and the three celebrity panellists/judges wielded never seemed excessively cruel (although I did love it when Barris would say “I liked you but then again I liked” and then would mention something bad like paper cuts or mold or jockitch). Rather, it was part of the show’s unrelenting tone of crazed hilarity.
In addition to contestants such as two girls who sucked popsicles suggestively and a group called The Worms who wriggled on the ground as if having a seizure, The Gong Show also had regulars such as Gene and the Unknown Comic whose shtick wasn’t just wearing a paper bag but also insulting Barris (“Chuck, do you have any nude pictures of your wife? “No” “Would you like to see some?”).
One interesting thing is that David Letterman was a panellist early on in his career. Reflecting on the how The Gong Show viewed itself, it’s deliberate skewering of showbiz it was part of and its lack of restraint and totally nutty surreal humor must have influenced David Letterman at some level....Would we have Late Night with David Letterman and The Late Show with David Letterman without The Gong Show?