The Gong Show has found its host.
Sony's reboot, which is being produced for ABC by Will Arnett’s Electric Avenue, has tapped an unconventional emcee befitting the nostalgic talent show. And while no party involved will confirm it, that host is believed to be Mike Myers. In a twist without much precedent, the comedian behind Wayne's World and Austin Powers seems to be going full method for the gig. His name is unlikely to be found on any literature, promotions or even credits tied to The Gong Show. No, the host is technically "Tommy Maitland," an elaborate character created for the sole purpose of stepping into the Gong Show role once famously filled by the late Chuck Barris.
The variety show, which will premiere with much fanfare June 22, is being filled out by an impressive rotation of celebrity guest judges, who will appear as themselves. In addition to Arnett, who will turn up in multiple episodes, Zach Galifianakis, Alison Brie, Andy Samberg, Elizabeth Banks, Joel McHale, Dana Carvey, Will Forte, Jack Black and Anthony Anderson are among the others. Each is expected to praise, critique and “gong” the contestants, as those on the original did some four decades earlier. The series, which also counts Den of Thieves and Principato Young's Peter Principato as producers, is the latest retro game show reboot for ABC. Of late, the network has found success with Celebrity Family Feud, Match Game and $100,000 Pyramid.
“I’ve been a huge fan of Tommy since I first saw his stand-up in the U.K. while traveling as a teenager. He was so funny and original. I had the good fortune to cross paths with Tommy a few years ago and ever since we've talked about working together,” said Arnett, playing into the gag. “I tried for years to come up with a vehicle that was suitable to expose his immense talent on a bigger stage, and The Gong Show is the perfect fit.”
Maitland not only has an extensive backstory but also a wide-ranging social media footprint via @MrTommyMaitland. Highlights of his biography include a teenage stint in the British Army, a cult following in Italy thanks to a collection of spaghetti Westerns and a few James Bond knock-offs and numerous past credits hosting other game shows — including the unfortunately-titled Australian project Dingos Got the Baby.
The Gong Show seems to be a return from retirement for the 72-year-old U.K. native, who is the first to admit he's doing the variety show for the money. With a sing-song British accent, "Maitland" spoke by phone about his aspirations, his catchphrases and what he can’t wait to do here in Los Angeles.
U.S. audiences aren’t familiar with you yet. What should they know?
Well, I love to entertain, but I can be a bit of a cheeky monkey. Nothing terribly dirty, just a little naughty at times. And I really enjoy America — they’re very good, Americans, for the most part. I’m excited to see the underbelly of American talent, and what you have to offer here. Of course, I’ve been to America before. Been to Philly, Frisco, Bean Town, the Big Apple….
Why is this, The Gong Show, your first U.S. foray? What was the appeal?
Well, I did have some money problems back in England. Some terrible investments, I overspent and taxation during the '70s was a killer. And they waved a tremendous amount of cash under my nose, which for me, at this time in my life, is welcome indeed. I will retire to Malta. Do you know how to make a Maltese cross?
I do not.
Punch him in the face. Punch a person from Malta in the face. I’m happy to explain all of my jokes.
What else would you like to do while you’re here in Los Angeles?
I’d love to have a fish taco, I think. That would be nice. There’s a place called The Pink Taco, which if Freud was alive today would make him sweat profusely.
With The Gong Show, you’ll be filling some big shoes. In what ways will you model yourself after Chuck Barris?
Well, first, I’d like for the acts to speak for themselves. While it’s true many of them have willingly crossed the line of dignity to come onto the stage, you do have to salute their bravery. I’m hoping this will be a place for people who don’t normally have a venue to do things like play the bagpipes with their nose or do anything with a unicycle. But Mr. Barris’ are very big shoes indeed. We didn’t really get The Gong Show in England, but when I would come [to the U.S.] now and then on different tours I’d watch.
You can expect to see a lot of wacky talent come through. What would be the dream skill?
Well, there are standards and practices that intervene in terms of what I’d really like to see.
So, if there were no standards?
Ping pong balls being shot out of places that they shouldn’t. But there is a strident team of people who are there to make sure nothing gets shot out of anything or into something else, and that’s as specific as I can get, contractually.
How about the format? Any tweaks you’re making to spotlight your talents?
The big thing I wanted to stress was that people are there by choice. If they should unfortunately get gonged, you know that they chose to be there. On the other hand, I do not want them to feel bad about what they do. Who, ultimately, are we to judge?
If you look around the landscape here, is there a host who inspires you? Perhaps even a role model as you approach this?
I like Jimmy Kimmel a great deal. He has old-school sensibilities. Jimmy Fallon is a natural entertainer, and I love that about him. And Colbert is very smart. Scary smart. But my inspirations come from England: Bob Monkhouse, Terry Wogan ... Bruce Forsyth is a huge, huge influence on me. A man who had both catchphrases and catchposes, which is a huge achievement in the hosting annals.
Have you given any thought to your Gong Show catchphrase?
Oh, I’ve had one for years, darling.
Apologies. What is it?
I say, “Who’s a cheeky monkey?” Then the audience goes, “You are.” And I go, “No, you’re a cheeky monkey, and that’s why I love you.” The other catchphrase of mine is, “You’ve got no proof.” So, when I say something slightly cheeky, I’ll say, “Well, you’ve got no proof.” My second memoir was titled You’ve Still Got No Proof.
And your first?
You’ve Got No Proof. The third one is in the works, Still No Proof. The fourth one will be You Might Have Proof, But Not All of It’s Correct.
Anything else I should be asking you?
I don’t think so. Personally, I’m spent.