This Banana Trick I Saw On The Gong Show

In The Golden Age of television, not every second of TV-viewing has to be a prestige moment. Sometimes you just want to flip through the channels and tune out a little. That’s why shows like Shark Tank and The Real Housewives of New York are such a relief for me: my brain transforms from a tightly-wound ball of rubberbands to something that resembles Jello. It’s nice to let your brain wobble now and again.

In such a state, I’ll sometimes just click through the channels, land on whatever, and watch for a few minutes. Such was the case, a few weeks ago, when I stumbled upon ABC’s The Gong Show. Now as a former employee of ABC, I probably shouldn’t offer too critical an appraisal of this strange enterprise. Mike Meyers plays a character that’s like a deranged cousin of his Austin Powers. The world of the show is slightly unsettling: where are we? What year is this? What is happening?

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We’ve Got Magic To Do: Penn & Teller’s Fool Us

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There’s a certain kind of person–I’m one of them–who’s born eager to please. When you’re born a people-pleaser, the world can be a cruel place. Which is why people-pleasers tend to seek out communities of other people-pleasers. For me, that community has always been the world of musical theater. The first time I walked into Marie’s Crisis in New York, a piano bar filled with over-eager gay men and the women who love them, all singing show tunes in unison, I felt like I’d come home. That sense of belonging, of encountering other freaks who also knew every word to “Little Shop of Horrors,” was one of the great discoveries of my youth.

On Monday night, I found myself watching a show I hadn’t paid much attention to before: Penn & Teller’s Fool Us. The premise is simple: a bunch of Las Vegas magicians appear on stage before the real Penn & Teller and try to show them something they’ve never seen before. If Penn and Teller can’t figure out the trick, the magician “wins.” I put “wins” in quotes, because even though that seems like the point of the show, it’s not really the point of the show. The point of the show, I quickly discovered, is for fringe people-pleasers (aka: magicians) to engage in the ultimate form of people-pleasing—to try to impress their heroes in front of a live studio audience.

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Copyright Hey, Adam Roberts 2017
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