Freaks Come Out at Night
The First-Ever Stranger Gong Show Was a Psychotic Dream Come True
My first experience trafficking in human talent came six years ago with Pizzazz!, the citywide talent show I curated and hosted for The Stranger from 2001 to 2004. Pizzazz! was goofy, family friendly (if your family isn't spooked by drag queens or burlesque dancers), and structured: The shows involved auditions, technical rehearsals, and a professional running crew. Extravagant glamour was the point, and Pizzazz! showcased the standard-bearers of the amateur talent show (dance squads, banjo players, 8-year-olds singing torch songs) in a dazzlingly professional setting (the Seattle Rep's stage at Bumbershoot). When the time is right, Pizzazz! will return.
In the meantime, The Stranger wanted to do something else talent related—but grittier, and with booze. Thus, the Stranger Gong Show, which lit up the stage of the Crocodile last week. The Gong Show is the anti-Pizzazz!: No auditions. No rehearsals. Just a stage, a gong, a bar, and a dream that Seattle's talented freaks would magically appear to fill it. Lucky for us, dreams came true that night—especially dreams involving a pretty young woman regurgitating chewed-up Twinkies into the mouth of a rubber chicken.
Taking a cue from the original Gong Show (look it up, kids), the night's celebrity judges—Kerri "DJ Cherry Canoe" Harrop, On the Boards' artistic director Lane Czaplinski, certified performance genius Sarah Rudinoff, and Stranger music editor Jonathan Zwickel—got appropriately liquored up to lord over the gong, whose shimmery crash aborted a good half of the night's 30 acts. (Among the gonged were the unfunny, the underrehearsed, and the too-slow-to-reveal-their-goodies, along with one or two acts whose gongings should be appealed in court; like drunk drivers, drunk Gong Show judges sometimes kill the innocent.)
Taking a cue from Showtime at the Apollo, the packed house of gawkers met every act with howls: Acts that were lacking earned howls of pain; acts that delivered earned prolonged lusty screams. Seattle's typical points-for-trying politeness was obliterated by full-contact engagement. It was thrilling.
How does one summarize a show that spanned from a rapping cow (who responded to his gonging with violent fury) to a deadly serious political poet (who responded to his gonging with a full-on freak-out)? One doesn't. So I'll just report some of the highlights.
Musical highlight: the Beaver Deceivers, an Amish-flavored jug band that used its Arcade Fire, Where Art Thou? shtick in the service of Kelis's "Milkshake." Runner-up: Brennan, the a cappella Celtic singer who responded to his gonging by flipping up his manskirt to reveal his beefy white ass and pair of hairy, dangling apricots.
Comedy highlight: the Easter Bunny, as conceived by Kevin Hyder (of the People's Republic of Komedy), unrecognizable in his bunny suit as he delivered filthy comedy about being a rabbit. Runner-up: No clear choice, though Daniel Carroll's anecdotal rapist skit deserves points for not trying.
Performance-art freak highlight: Queen Schmooquan, the aforementioned Twinkie regurgitator, whose premature gonging was the night's biggest controversy. (Confidential to the Queen: Please return for Gong Show II—the citizens of Seattle demand it.) Runners-up: Ursula, a normal-looking young woman who had a weird conversation with a tiny man trapped in her mouth (did I mention there's video on the website?), and Fnarf, the legendary Slog citizen who shoved 14 Washington State quarters up his nose.
And finally, the night's winners: Earning third place and the eternal worship of the crowd was Patricia Douglas, a young woman who channeled the spirit of the original Gong Show's Gene Gene the Dancing Machine to deliver a full-on, this-is-how-I-dance-in-my-bedroom blowout to Sheila E.'s "The Glamorous Life." Taking second was Alooishus Von Bootcrack, who rode a unicycle on a tightrope while tying balloon animals. And seizing first place were the Lizard Queens, three dudes who combined leather pants, bad drag, and a spoken-word version of the Doors' "The End" into the judges' unanimous choice for best act of the night.
See you next time.