Watching the Gong Show with my dad was one of the silliest things we shared when I was young. It wasn’t something we did often, since it aired during the day when he had to work. This was back before VCR’s let us watch programs whenever it was convenient for us, something we take for granted these days. Sorry, I fell into “lecturing old man” mode for a second there.
I spent a treasured bit of childhood in the care of two priceless individuals, Francis and Arvilla. They started as childcare providers to me while my parents both worked, but the relationship grew past my need for babysitters. Francis and Lala were family to me, an extra set of doting and beloved grandparents. Occasionally my dad would drop by to eat during his lunch break. What better way to have some lunchtime laughs than with the Gong Show?
My memories are a little fuzzy, as I have to reach back to the 1970’s, back before remote controls eliminated the last bit of exercise a lot of us regularly undertook. I didn’t know the panel of guest judges, but the bell-bottoms, sideburns, and wide collars have stuck in my memory. Most of the acts are a blur. I remember the Unknown Comic. I recall the manic energy of the host, Chuck Barris. Most vividly, I recollect the music and unflappable resolve of one frequent performer, Gene Gene the Dancing Machine.
Maybe it wasn’t the show’s sketchy acts and hilarity that earned it a permanent place in my aging memory. Instead I think sharing unbridled silliness with my dad at that age acted like glue to hold it there when other memories fade and depart.
Chuck Barris would attempt to appear relaxed, low-key, even bored in his introduction. His ceaseless fidgeting gave him away, and some outlandish hat made it impossible to take him seriously. Slowly his speech accelerated until the telling music began, and he screamed his welcome to Gene Gene the Dancing Machine.
By this time, my dad had eaten his last crumbs and eased his TV tray to the side of his chair. We would share a look that said: “Tighten the laces on your dancing shoes.” Then we were on our feet. Chuck Barris pumped his fists, the hat abandoned, his eyes squeezed shut in the throes of a fit of funk. Gene shuffled, chugged, and dodged props thrown at him from offstage. I gyrated and stomped, while Dad strolled and twisted. His smile shone to match mine. His tie flapped like a sheet in a gale. The guest judges wrestled to control the mallet for the gong. We laughed until the show ended and let us catch our breaths.
I tried watching the re-made Gong Show with my son. Maybe he’s too much older than I was back then. Maybe the show’s format isn’t as amusing to a kid used to constant stimulation from his modern entertainment. The magic wasn’t there, though I caught him smiling from time to time at the absurd musicians, nervous ventriloquist, and variety of variety acts.
I’ll always have those memories, and my appreciation for silliness, in its many forms, remains. Thanks, Chuck and Gene. Thanks, Dad.