My first exposure to The Gong Show came during a commercial break from The Bachelorette, when I looked up, saw a man in a strange black hat and Will Arnett banging a gong, and went, huh? The biggest questions I had about the show revolved around its host: Who is Tommy Maitland? And what is his deal? It turns out that Tommy Maitland is most likely Mike Myers — though no one involved with the show is confirming it and ABC's site has a bio for Maitland listed — committing to a bizarre turn of method acting. But how much is the Tommy Maitland act is based on the original host of The Gong Show, Chuck Barris?
Barris was the creator as well as the host of The Gong Show, an absurdist variety show that first premiered on NBC in 1976. He is also notable for his creation of popular game shows The Dating Game and The Newlywed Game. While the dating shows were immensely popular, The Gong Show was the most ridiculous of the bunch, and creation featured weird, often objectively terrible talent who were allowed to perform until a judge couldn't stand it anymore and banged a gong to end the act.
Part of what made the show a cultural sensation were the wacky antics of Barris. Rather than being a staid, sensible host who cracked a few corny jokes and asked about contestants' backstories, Barris fully participated in the fun. The host dressed strangely, stumbled over his words, and often participated in certain acts. In one particularly famous bit, he danced along with fan favorite "Gene Gene the Dancing Machine".
Mike Myers — whoops, I mean, Tommy Maitland is not attempting to step directly into the shoes left by Barris, who recently passed away at the age of 87. Maitland is British, not American, and so far has had a slightly more reserved approach to his hosting duties than Barris' frenetic energy.
But don't be fooled by Maitland's clean-cut figure. It seems as though he's taken quite a few things from the original host. The strange hat that he's wearing in many of the promotional videos seems as though it might be a nod to the fact that Barris had a penchant for wearing ridiculous hats, many often fully covering his eyes. Much like Barris, he also seems unafraid to jump into the ridiculous acts on display if the mood strikes him, like when he joined in a song about shaving cream with Albert Sing-A-Long.
But beyond reviving specific bits Barris was notorious for, Myers seems to have taken most of his inspiration from the free-wheeling host persona introduced by Barris. On the original Gong Show, Barris was never afraid to interact with the audience, make fun of the acts, launch into strings of sexual innuendos, and generally break the mold for what a televised talent show should look like. Myers is taking this precedent in stride, cultivating catch phrases like "who's a cheeky monkey?", making inappropriate (if often corny) jokes, and poking fun at the celebrity judges as much as the acts themselves. The Gong Show thrives on the top-to-bottom absurdity created by Barris, and Tommy Maitland's bizarre persona contributes to this farcical spirit.
Maitland might not be a carbon-copy of Barris, but he has taken up the mantle of his absurdity.