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We Competed in the Gong Show

May 31, 2014

The whole school was abuzz for the upcoming Gong Show, a new twist on the old talent show contests of times past.  This was back in the 70s, and many of my older readers remember the hit television show “Gong Show” which featured acts of all sorts, competing for prize money but with one new angle: the judges could strike a loud gong, and that would stop the act immediately.  The judges then would proceed to explain why they thought the act was terrible.  It was a fresh approach to the traditional school programs, and the tickets soon sold out.

I was seventeen at the time.  I gathered two of my buddies to join me in a skit and vie for the prize.  “It’s fifty dollars, man,” I told them at lunch.  “We could win this thing.”image

Jimmy and Murph looked at me and considered the possibility.  Murph Stasny was a loud and gangly fellow who would jump at the chance to goof around.  “I’m in,” he said, brushing the hair out of his eyes.  “What skit are you talking about?”

“I saw an old Boy Scout skit that was hilarious,” I replied.  “The name of it is ‘The King and I’, and it’s a take-off on the movie, but it’s really slapstick – lots of falling and pushing each other off chairs.”

“Okay, now, I’m really in,” said Murph, nodding toward Jimmy Steck.  “What about you, Chumly?  You in?”

Jimmy was a soft, gentle boy whose middle name should have been Sedentary.  I rarely saw him exert himself.  He was nervous around girls and seemed to be perpetually confused about life in general.  Plus, he had an odd habit of sweating exactly one drop down the left side of his forehead.  Exactly one.  I considered this awesome.

Jimmy was nervous, shy and I thought he’d make the perfect part for the announcer of the skit.  The announcer gets chased across stage as the punch line.  Jimmy was sort of a lovable plush bear to all the girls in the school, and I thought he’d win us the sympathy vote.

“Uh, I don’t know, I’m not good at memorizing,” Jimmy started that one sweat drop.  “What do I do?”

“Just announce us before each new section of the skit,” I said.  “You only have about ten total words for the whole skit.  I’ll even give you a card to read.  But when you say ‘Act Four,’ run like crazy.  We’re going to pretend we’re trying to tackle you.  Jump off stage and that will be the punch line.” Jimmy wiped his forehead and agreed.

The main reason I’m writing of this affair is because of the hosts of the Gong Show, the Junior Class officers.  I found their talk quite odd, mainly because of the attitude in which it was given.  Their arrogance was amazing. “For years this high school has put on cruddy presentations, ” boasted Joe, their president.  “We’re going to show you all how it’s done.  Just wait.  You Seniors were pitiful in your school assemblies.  About time someone showed you the ropes.” He preached it loud and long to anyone who would listen.

The Junior Class Vice President was just as bad.  “You other classes stunk up the school with your so-called programs on stage,” said Heidi in study hall and at lunch.  “We’ll set the standard.”  Their officers ran their mouths the whole week before the event.  On and on and on.

We Seniors weren’t so much offended as we were curious.  What is it that they could bring to Delmar High School that would be so unique?  Our school was almost identical  to the movie Napolean Dynamite – a low-budget, low-energy educational system that puttered along.  They acted awful cocky.  What could they bring that was so incredibly stunning?

The night finally arrived.  The actors were nervous.  The auditorium was filled.  The Junior Class officers kept up their superior attitude.  “Now watch and see how this is supposed to be done,” bragged Heidi.

They were confident.  They were proud.

And their emcee was stoned.

Seems that Joe got a bit too nervous as he saw the parking lot filling up and decided to smoke a joint behind the school auditorium.  One joint led to another, and by the time the spotlight hit the stage, he was in another world.

“Uh…” he started, shuffling and blinking his eyes.  “Man, that light is bright.  Could you turn it somewhere else, dude?”

The crowd roared.  Heidi was mortified.

And this was just the beginning.

The first act was Lenny, dressed up and lip-synching as a member of Kiss.  He was off-key and confused, but made his way through just ahead of the gong.  In a final flourish he kicked out his leg but in doing so he connected with the stage electronic speaker, knocking it over.  We heard a small explosion and saw a wisp of smoke.  It was ruined.

The next act was Miss Willowby, a wide-eyed first-year teacher leading her French students in a Greek dance.  She had no ideas of the rules, so when the gong sounded, she refused to leave the stage.  What ensued was an open shouting match with Miss Willowby, Joe and the judges about how stupid this whole contest was.  She stormed off and took her minions with her, right down the main aisle and out the front lobby.  The crowd hooted.  Heidi shook her head.

Then while Chris Townsend sang – er, lip-synched – a Captain and Tennille number, we heard a snap – something broke.  The stage hand shrugged as he pulled the rope.  They couldn’t shut the curtains, so for the rest of the evening someone had to walk across the stage and drag the massive drapery to close out the acts.

Joe was still stoned, stumbling across the stage and forgetting the next acts.  People were calling out from the audience. One of the stage hands goofed off and knocked out all the lights.  Tanya and Her Trained Snakes got upset.  Tanya knocked over the crate of snakes.  In the dark.  Everyone was screaming and running backstage.

Heidi screamed for order into the P.A. system and shorted it out.  They had to use a megaphone for the next ten minutes. Then Tanya came out with her snakes and got stage fright.  She was gonged.  The snakes were confused.

Barry Bilford came out with a tutu and leaped around to Swan Lake.  He was gonged in eight seconds.

Then it was our turn.

We took to the stage and lined up three chairs. Jimmy went to the front of the stage and sweated that one bead.

“Uh, this is, uh…” He had one sentence and he completely forgot it.  The crowd cheered for lovable Jimmy; they thought it was part of the act.  Murph and I flew into the skit, knocking each other over and screaming faux-Shakespeare lines.  Then we died dramatically.

Jimmy stepped forward and twisted his cue card.  “Uh, Act Two.” We did exactly the same thing but doubled the speed.  The crowd was cheering.

“Mmmm…uh, Act Three,” sputtered Jimmy. Murph and I went even faster.  We even died quickly.

“Uhhhh, Act Four,” said Jimmy.

That was our cue.

We leaped up and roared, intending for Jimmy to leap offstage before we “tackled” him. Except Jimmy didn’t move fast enough.  He tripped over his own feet.

We actually, truly and brutally tackled him, right there on the stage. The three of us slid towards the side wall and in full view of the cheering crowd, Jimmy smashed his head into the bricks, sustaining a concussion.  The applause was huge – they thought it was part of the act.  We received the biggest score of the night.

We carried Jimmy off as we laughed and hollered. “We did it!  We did it!” screamed Murph.

“My head.  Ooooh, my head,” moaned Jimmy.  “Say, where are we?  Why is it so dark in this room?”

We viewed the rest of the events from offstage.  The Junior Class officers were frantic.  The lights went out again.  Another act started shouting a disagreement.  The crowd was hooting and hissing. And, you know, I never did see the special twist that the offices claimed to be bringing to make this show the stellar offering that they so loudly  bragged about.

“Everybody onstage!” screamed a stage manager above the crowd noise.  “They’re going to award the winners!”  The participants all bunched onstage – even the snake girl. Murph, Jimmy and I won first place.  Murph jumped everywhere.  Jimmy held his head and waved weakly.

Heidi screamed offstage.  “The big surprise!  The balloons!  Pull the cord!” So that was the big twist.

The stage hand reached up, ready to pull the string and rip open the bag, raining balloons on the contestants onstage.  This was the moment that would wash away all of the goofball miscues of before…

….except it wasn’t a string he was pulling.  It was a full rope.

It wasn’t a bag of balloons.  It was a refrigerator box.  Held to the ceiling by masking tape someone had pilfered from the art room.

No, I didn’t say duct tape.  I said low-adhesive masking tape.

Guess what happened.

You’re right.

When the stage hand yanked on the rope, the entire refrigerator box ripped from its moorings, falling to the stage and bashing contestants, including Jimmy.  He dropped to both knees, clutching his head.

The box was on the stage, intact.

“Joe, release the balloons!” screamed Heidi.  “Kick the box open!” Joe took a running start, launched a kick at the box, and it resulted in his foot plunging through the cardboard and lodging him mid-thigh in the box.  Joe looked like a Transformer reject, flailing away and trying to unstick himself from the box.  The crowd screamed their delight.  Murph pulled the curtain closed.

As I watched all of this nuttiness occur around me I noticed Heidi humbly packing up the remains of the paperwork and quietly exit through the back door.

A real-life lesson?  Yes, for me it was.

I would become a Christian within the year, and one of the practical things God showed me was living a life that was practical and prudent, not showy or pretentious.  The words of the Proverbs writer came to me when I recalled this night.  Ten simple words:

“Let someone else praise you, and not your own mouth…”

Simply put, earn your accolades, not demand them.

This rings especially true in this world of social media frenzy, where everyone calls for the stage lights to be shined on them for trivial achievements.  Wearing a new suit. Mowing the lawn.  Riding a roller coaster. Eating an omelette, for goodness’ sake.

We Christians aren’t any different.  We boast loudly, looking for the accolades of men, rather than doing a simple service and waiting for the day when we hear the precious words:  “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

The Gong Show memory was comical, but the lesson has stayed with me all these years.


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