Two decades after its initial publication, TV legend Chuck Barris's wild autobiography, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, is now a major motion picture. Was Barris, the outlandish host of The Gong Show, also a CIA assassin, as he claims in his book? PW lunched with Barris at the Friar's Club in New York, while occasionally looking over both shoulders.
PW: So you've got George Clooney's directorial debut, screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich), Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts. Are you excited about the movie?
Chuck Barris: Oh, yeah. The whole thing is like a dream come true. Charlie Kaufman is really out there, and he put his imprint on the book. And George Clooney was absolutely terrific.
PW: How did you end up in TV rather than in book writing?
CB: TV was what I knew best. It's interesting, the first creative thing I did was write a hit song, called "Palisades Park." And the first book I wrote was a bestseller called You and Me Babe, published in 1970. But I always wanted to be a writer. So when I got fed up with TV, I came to New York and holed up in the Wyndham Hotel and wrote Confessions.
PW: Of all your shows, which was your favorite?
CB: Well, The Dating Game was my first, and you always have love for your first-born. I had the most fun with The Gong Show, though. But I made a critical mistake with The Gong Show. I ratcheted the energy so high that it could never last. My behavior on that show was ludicrous. A program like that has got to burn itself out. But I don't have any complaints. The way I did it, it became a legendary show that lasted five years. God forbid I would become Bob Barker.
PW: The critics at the time assailed your TV shows. Did that criticism make it hard for you as an author?
CB: No question. If I didn't have a reputation, it'd be bad enough, but I came with a reputation of schlock. And you can't transfer that over to writing books without a certain amount of problems to overcome. Back then, I'd sit down to talk about the book and the interviewer would say, "So how do you find those contestants for The Newlywed Game?" One time I was in a bookstore, and this lady tapped her husband on the shoulder and said, "Look, he reads!"
PW: Was writing Confessions therapeutic for you?
CB: You bet your life. The premise of Confessions is a simple one. Here I was being crucified for trying to entertain an audience, and at the same time I was being given medals for killing people.
PW: Chuck Barris, assassin for the CIA, hunted by the KGB? I'm not sure how to handle that.
CB: Well, you don't have to worry about it, because I'm not going to talk about it. The one thing I don't want to do is get into the CIA and killing people. You can believe it or not believe it. It's just not anything I want to talk about.
PW: Okay, but what's tougher: killing for the CIA, eluding the Russians or working in television?
CB: That's an interesting approach. But sorry, I can't answer that.
PW: Well, am I at least safe here with you?
CB: Are you worried?
PW: A little bit.
CB: Well, I can't answer that, either.