Well, the CIA lost their greatest assassin today. Gong Show host Chuck Barris has died, aged 87. Dumb but beautiful and entirely emblematic of the decade in which it flourished, The Gong Show was quintessential 1970s junk TV, a swirling, whirling dimestore cocktail of low-watt celebrity worship, vaudeville schmaltz, and punk ferocity. Half game-show, half freakshow, it allowed ordinary knuckleheads a chance to shine on national television while D-grade stars like Jamie Farr, Jaye P. Morgan, and Rip Taylor mocked them. It was like American Idol, except for that everyone was in on the joke. Lording over the whole chaotic enterprise was game-show impresario Barris, a bucket hat wearing goofball who could not care less if anybody won or if anybody died. It was so, so good, a riot of polyester, bubbles, desperation and abject failure. It made legitimate stars out of unlikely characters like Gene Gene the Dancing Machine and The Unknown Comic.
It was everything the 1970s promised and more.
‘Gong Show’ greatness: Gene Gene the Dancing Machine
Barris also created The Newlywed Game and The Dating Game and, according to his kooky autobiography Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (!), he ran his media empire while working as a spy-slash-assassin for the CIA. The CIA denied it, but of course they would.
Anyway, let us not mourn the man’s tragic passing, but celebrate his most towering achievement: the 1977 Gong Show appearance of “Have You Got A Nickel” AKA the Popsicle Twins. We could analyze it, but that’s not what Chuck would’ve wanted. All you really need to know is that sometime in 1977, The Gong Show featured 17-year-old twins eating orange popsicles on stage—that’s it—and the whole country almost had a heart attack.
Rest in peace, Chuck. You truly were a Dangerous Mind. Gong, but not forgotten…
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
‘Future Shock’: James Brown’s *very 70s* TV dance party