By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
CREATEDTHE GONG SHOW,THE DATING GAME ANDTHE NEWLYWED GAME. Marched, or did not march, from Selma to Montgomery in '65, as, or not as, a young CIA informant (working his way up to assassin). Wrote autobiographyConfessions of a Dangerous Mind, first published in 1982, recently adapted for the screen by Charlie Kaufman, directed by George Clooney, released by Miramax Films, check local listings. Whether or not your life has been affected by Chuck Barris, whether or not you believe his confessions or care to, there's no denying that Barris was once a 73-year-old man who stood at the extreme south end of the Book Soup Annex last week and talked to almost 100 people at the same time.
He spoke well, Barris. Punctual, too — 8 p.m., exactly. Seemed like a nice ex-game-show host/assassin.
I could hear but wanted to see; even after scooting a ladder into the corner and rearranging a stack of coffee-table hardbacks into a temporary stool, I still had to peek through someone's nose ring. To the rescue: A woman nearby held a camcorder way up high, and I found that if I stood back and sort of half-climbed onto a table and wedged one foot between the ladder and the bookcase, I could watch the proceedings on the camcorder's 2.5-inch LCD viewfinder. Until the woman's shoulders got tired and began to shake. But her friend reached up to offer support, and, with one working the focus and zoom and the other being a human monopod, the viewfinder became the primary monitor not only for me but for about a half-dozen of us at the back.
One was named Dan. At 8:07, with the audience fully engaged in Barris' monologue, a tall white woman squeezed in the side entrance and shouted — shouted — "DAN!" to this Dan standing three feet in front of me. Everyone turned to glare, first at Dan's friend, with what the fuckglares, then at Dan, with you poor fucker, you glares. Dan wasn't very happy.
Fortunately, some craggy white guy in some ancient military cap came in, waddled six feet into the crowd and then let loose with a loud and raspy "HEY! WHEN YOU GONNA BRING BACK THE GONG SHOW?"
Which brings us to 8:10, when Barris segued out of the monologue and into the questions from the audience. We liked The Gong Show. We liked The Gong Show Movie. Are there plans to syndicate The Gong Show? Are there plans to re-release The Gong Show Movie? Did you really kill people for the CIA? What about home video? Are there plans to release episodes of The Gong Showon home video? Are there plans to release The Gong Show Movieon home video? What do you say to people who say bad things about you? Are you going to write more books? Did you really kill people for the CIA? If you write another book, what will it be about? Were you stoned?
When I was a young lad watching The Gong Show, I'd always assumed that when Barris appeared to be all coked up and maybe slightly stoned or drunk, it was because he was all coked up and stoned or drunk. So when, at 8:16, he said, "I never touched drugs in my life," I was disappointed. It's always sad when an otherwise bright and promising elderly man makes such an admission. It did remind me, though, that my back, which had been killing me all day, was killing me in a new way, owing to my half-on-table-with-wedged-foot posture.
"Shall I quit now?" Barris asked at 8:25, "and start signing your books?" Yes. The audience made the hand-slapping sounds again and fell into queue.
Thirty minutes later, I'd almost reached the front of the line. I could see. Barris had removed his black jacket and, in a pale, rumpled T-shirt, become a machine. Standing to take a picture, sitting to sign a book. Stand, flash; sit, sign.
Apart from the Popsicle Twins — two teenage girls who gave inspired blowjobs to Popsicles — my favorite part of The Gong Show was Gene Gene the Dancing Machine. Barris would reel back, funkay cap pulled down over his eyes, and spit-shout, "GENE! GENE! THE DANCING MACHINE!!" and out came his friend Gene Patton, who'd dance around to Count Basie's "Jumpin' at the Woodside." And Barris would dance, and anyone else who felt like it would dance, and it all seemed to make sense. So, being uncomfortable with book-signing banter — I didn't even know this guy; why did I want him to sign my book? I didn't even pay for the book, it's a promo copy . . . — when I got to the front of the line, I decided I'd try to manipulate a little performance memento. As Barris signed, I said, as if it had just occurred to me, "Oh, hey. What was that guy's name, the guy on your old show who used to come out and dance to 'Jumpin' at the Woodside'? What was his name again?"
And, yes, Barris reeled back, just a little bit, and . . . shot me.
IN THESE DAYS OF EXTENDED COPYrights and increasingly demented litigation, it's easy to imagine that Esquire critic Tom Carson might have had the odd qualm about his new novel, Gilligan's Wake, which uses the backstories of the seven famous sitcom castaways to paint a portrait of 20th-century America. It's so easy to imagine a lawsuit, in fact, that at Carson's reading at Skylight Books last Friday night, someone raised precisely that issue. As the novelist explained why he hadn't really been worried (the rules permitting parody, etc.), a small, graying man in the second row suddenly raised his hand.
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