Remembering Chuck Barris and his tribute to Le Petomane in 'The Gong Show Movie'
While I can't deny that I never learned to respect the product Chuck Barris offered, I learned to respect the man. He was an intelligent, kind gentleman. And, what the hell, he did write the song "Palisades Park."
Barry Cutler is an actor and Off-Ramp commentator who lives and writes from a desert hideaway. Chuck Barris died Tuesday at the age of 87.
In the late 70s, I was working with Paul Reubens (soon to be much better known as Pee-wee Herman) and a group of other wonderfully talented people in a traveling children's theater company. Paul and I enjoyed improvising together and he was always offering up wonderful suggestions which I was too lazy to take him up on.
When he became a member of The Groundlings' workshops (his launching pad for Pee-wee), I didn't want to waste $35 a month on it. When he invented any number of ridiculous characters and acts to perform on Chuck Barris' "The Gong Show," pitching it as a way to earn an AFTRA day-player's rate, I was too lazy to invent a single act. And, besides, I was too talented for that crap.
Later, when I was given an opportunity to audition for "The Gong Show Movie," I was either less talented or thought the movie would be less crappy. I was not especially looking forward to meeting Chuck Barris. He seemed to me a silly ass who fed his audience garbage. So I was I surprised to meet a very sweet, gentle man.
Barris told me he'd always wanted to do a biopic about the great French farter, Le Petomane - a real-life performer who could take air in, and expel it out, to great effect. He's why Mel Brooks' Governor in "Blazing Saddles" is Governor William J. Le Petomane.
Barris had read a lovely and loving book written by the great flatulist's son and had attempted to get the rights to do the movie. The family, learning of Barris' rather tawdry reputation, refused to allow it, fearing he'd make a mockery of a man (real name, really: Joseph Pujol) who once presented private entertainments to the royalty of Europe.
So, not using Le Petomane's name, Barris was going to put the act in his upcoming "The Gong Show Movie" and he cast me as the French farter. It was a small role with me performing -- miming really, since my bowels had no such talent -- several of Le Petomane's tricks. Blowing out a candle at 20 paces. Impersonating a dialogue between a grandmother and her grandchild. All the usual anal tricks.
Once the movie was shot, Barris arranged for a world premiere at the Chinese Theatre. And he went all out. The stands in front of the theater were filled with fans. Everyone in the cast was lined up around the block, each with their own limo. Army Archerd stood on a platform, microphone in hand, prepared to interview each of us for our adoring fans.
When I arrived, I was accompanied by my lovely, blonde, French farter assistant, Sena. When we stepped up to be interviewed by Army, he had no idea who the hell we were and made a point of that. However, he was very politic, asked us a few forgettable questions, and moved on to -- I think -- Steve Garvey.
After the screening, we were all limo'd over to a disco place on Sunset for a big cast party. It may have been the worst movie I was ever in, and I've been in some real, how do you say?, stinkers. But it may have been the most fun.
And, while I can't deny that I never learned to respect the product Chuck Barris offered the public, I learned to respect the man. He was an intelligent, kind gentleman. And, what the hell, he did write
. And that was fun.