The Gong Show is one of television history's most delightful oddities — here are 10 clips to celebrate Chuck Barris' finest moment

By Alex Heigl
March 23, 2017 02:08 PM
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Chuck Barris, one of the most influential figures in American television history, died Tuesday at the age of 87.

Harris, whose career involved songwriting, working in ABC’s standards and practices department and — according to him — working for the CIA, was the creator of The Dating Game and The Newlywed Game, both hugely important watersheds in the annals of television history.

Barris would then go on to create and host The Gong Show, which is best remembered for being one of the first barrels of unadulterated insanity to air on network television. Basically a variety competition “talent” show, Gong Show was populated with as many oddities as Barris could find — along with the odd genuinely talented person — and paraded them in front of the panel of judges, who could end any act’s run with the show’s titular gong. That was it. The true genius of the show was in the personalities on display, from Barris to the judges themselves, many of whom outshone the competitors. Here are 10 clips that demonstrate The Gong Show — and Barris’ — unique form of madness.

The Unknown Comic (Canadian comic Murray Langston) was a recurring fixture on The Gong Show. He still performs occasionally in Las Vegas sporadically.

Gene Gene the Dancing Machine’s signature music usually sent the already-unhinged Barris into further paroxysms of laughter, even as Gene was pelted by debris from offstage. It was one of the not-really-a-bit bits that came to define The Gong Show‘s surreal approach to television.

Horrifically sexist at worst and just asinine at best in retrospect, this was the clip that more or less sealed The Gong Show‘s fate with censors.

It’s important to note that Oingo Boingo was now-renowned Hollywood soundtrack composer Danny Elfman’s first musical vehicle.

Steve Martin was among The Gong Show‘s panelists (and wannabe-contestants) at one point, demonstrating his virtuoso-level banjo playing, with his characteristic arrow. “I’m just trying to be somebody, Chuck.”

Just a weird and wonderful example of the kind of madness that was standard on The Gong Show.

Check out this pre-Police Academy clip of impressionist Michael Winslow doing his inimitable schtick.

And then there’s Alan Katz, a “professional burper.” This one’s kind of hard to watch, and the judges thought so too, gonging him midway through. “That was delightfully sporadic,” Barris said.

This being the ’70s, Ronda Shear’s contortionist act is of course just fodder for a barrage of terrible sexist jokes from the judges.

In another “before they were famous” moment, here’s pre-Pee Wee Herman Paul Reubens performing as part of the duo “Suave and Debonair” with future voice of Jambi Jon Paragon.