The Gong Show Movie (1980) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • A week in the life of "The Gong Show" host and creator Chuck Barris who lives through a series of outrageous competitors, stressful situations, a nervous breakdown and other comical characters involved in his life and work on the TV show.

  • The Gong Show Movie is a 1980 film that shows a fictional week in the life of Chuck Barris as the host and creator of The Gong Show, through a series of outrageous competitors, stressful situations, a nervous breakdown (which compels him to run away and hide in the desert) and other comic hijinks in his life and work on the TV show. Among the highlights included a group of men dressed as a Roman Catholic priest and three nuns lip-synching Tom Lehrer's song "The Vatican Rag", the uncensored version of Jaye P. Morgan's infamous breast-baring incident and a man blowing out a candle with flatulence.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • A homeless man (Brian O'Mullin) performs a spontaneous song and dance routine for Chuck Barris, host and star of the television talent contest "The Gong Show," who is stopping at local Winchell's Donuts on his way to work. Barris dismisses the man's showmanship and spills coffee on his own shirt.

    At the television studio, Barris ignores an elderly violin player (Jack Bernardi), the singing group Satisfaction, a trumpet-playing comedian (Harvey Alpert), and dozens of other acts that accost him. When Barris arrives at his office, Buddy Didlo (James B. Douglas), network vice president of programs, says that the show's ratings have dropped slightly, making Barris ineligible for a raise. However, Barris carries on, auditioning 68 acts, which include strippers, folk singers, comedians, body-part playing musicians, street poets and human spiders. Later in the steam room, Barris' friend, Bernie (Harvey Lembeck), says that Barris looks tired and should pay more attention to his health.

    The next day, Barris tapes five "Gong Show" episodes. One act, Melvin Presar, a chicken-clucking singer, has a heart attack after being called on stage for several encores. At the hospital, Barris tells his girlfriend, Red (Robin Altman), that he feels guilty about making Melvin sick. However, Melvin is so happy to see Barris, he pulls off his oxygen mask and auditions his new act as a budding gingko tree. Barris leaves before Melvin finishes, but Dr. Jerry Queasley (David Sheiner), Melvin's doctor, auditions his "singing chef" act, which ends with Barris drenched in a bowlful of batter. As Barris and Red leave the hospital, Melvin performs until he is dragged back to his room.

    Red warns Barris to quit the show while he still has his sanity. She suggests he hire a substitute host, but Barris tells her the job beats working in a bank. To unwind, Barris plays guitar and sings with a group of friends called The Hollywood Cowboys. One night, the disgruntled sons of a failed contestant with plans for revenge approach Barris as he returns home. He persuades them to create an act instead of killing him. They later appear on the show and are eliminated by the same judge, who gonged their mother.

    Later, Didlo announces that ratings have improved, but too many television stations are canceling the show because of its offensive content. At a meeting at Matteo's restaurant to discuss the situation, Barris and Red are seated at a special table in the kitchen, as a cook auditions his singing act. When Didlo arrives, he complains that "The Gong Show" has turned into "The Goon Show." As Barris leaves for the men's room, Didlo follows, citing Barris' various offenses. Barris promises to behave, but then he pees on a man in the adjacent urinal after he is recognized.

    The next morning, Red fixes Barris breakfast in bed. However, Didlo barges in and insists that Barris sign a statement, agreeing to produce a tasteful show. Afterward, Barris meets with "Gong Show" judge, Jaye P. Morgan, who pledges to put an end to her double entendres. When Barris arrives late to work, multiple acts are waiting to audition and his secretary, Mabel, is worried that he looks tired. Nevertheless, Barris sits through auditions, reminding contestants to stay upbeat even if they are "gonged."

    Later, Red worries that Barris is on the verge of a nervous breakdown and sends him to a psychiatrist, Dr. Betsy Nolan (Cloyce Morrow), but the doctor determines that Barris is only suffering from exhaustion. He admits he is tired of the show and being known as a buffoon. He wants to do something meaningful. Dr. Betsy urges him to take time off and Red agrees. However, Barris cannot bring himself to stop, and suggests that he and Red end their relationship instead. As she walks out, he stares at photographs on the wall, documenting their love. Barris phones Mabel to announce that he is taking a hiatus and does not know when he will return.

    The next day, after buying a one-way ticket to Morocco, Barris walks aimlessly through the Moroccan desert until a helicopter appears and lands. A cloaked figure disembarks from the helicopter and approaches. It is Didlo with good news: the affiliate stations want Barris back, and so does Red. The whole entourage of the Gong Show appears to sing Barris "Don't Get Up".

    In the final scene, Barris returns to "The Gong Show" and receives a standing ovation. The audience is treated to acts like The Vatican Four, The Siamese Connection, Count Banjola, the Unknown Comic doing his impression of an Eskimo urinating, and the show goes on.

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