Everyone has a favorite hangout after rehearsals and performances
(when asked what was the best thing about theatre, Olivier said,
“the drink after.”) Mine has always been Balaban's (as I still often
call it) or Herbie's (as it is called now.)
I've been going there for a long time, after theatre or not. I've always
considered it one of the most unique dining/drinking establishments
anywhere – with a chic, windowed sidewalk café, an elegant dining
room (both serving excellent food), and in between, one of the sleaziest
bars you can find, an incredible combination.
In its heyday, the bar was a place with a gang of sophisticated regulars
(just as the dining room was often populated with the biggest visiting
celebrities), a place where you could borrow a one-hitter from the
bartender, or, at a certain time of night, the wait staff would get up
on the bar to dance.
An old buddy and former roommate, Steve McIntyre, bought the place
in the 80's, and under his ownership, I produced and performed a couple
of shows in their private, basement room – ThomPain and ST. NICHOLAS.
Both were hits, and both drew a crowd happy to see a smart, short show
and see it with drinks in hand, within a place they could hang out or eat
at before or after the show.
McIntyre sold it to a group which changed a few things (like cutting
smoking before they had to), a lot of regulars stopped coming and the
core nature of the place started to change.
Predictably, Balaban's closed and McIntytre opened his own Balaban's
in West County, a wine-focused restaurant.
But it was too cool a place to die, and new owners brought it back
(but after a bit, due to this insane economy) stopped the lunch business
(Herbie's was as cool during the day as during the evening hours.)
But a staff eager to restore more life to the place had an idea to spice
up Tuesday nights – a Gong Show, in the spirit of the Chuck Barris-
produced daytime tv guilty pleasure of our youth.
Knowing my bent, they asked me to participate in the first show. Always
eager to do something fun, I pulled a piece of an Eric Bogosian piece
from POUNDING NAILS IN THE FLOOR WITH MY FOREHEAD,
a solo called “Red,” a very funny piece about a drug dealer selling to
a Wall Street type. I planned to just do the beginning, about 3 minutes
of it, which build and led to a hilarious conclusion.
The night of Herbie's Gong Show was a bit chaotic, but I happily went
on to do my piece, and was just as quickly Gonged! The Bogosian
piece did build, so it started with a bit of a set-up before it got rolling.
I was heckled from my first words, and barely got through 30 seconds
before being Gonged. (Herbie's folks had known what I was doing and
promised I wouldn't be Gonged, but drunk judges were running the
I was miffed, but realized I had approached this thing the wrong way
entirely. The Gong Show is no place for a theatre piece of any kind.
The acts on that show were inevitably loud, frenetic and weird.
There was no harm done, as I related to Herbie's folks, and as time
went on, and plans for another Gong Show were underfoot, and they
asked me to try again, I said “I don't do a Gong Show act of any
kind, but I will be Chuck Barris for you.”
And that's what happened. One of Herbie's kitchen staff was a kind
of a large guy who was an enthusiastic dancer. He was going to be
Gene Gene The Dancing Machine, and, as Chuck, I would introduce
him and dance along.
I did my research on Chuck, watched him on YouTube, and got a
hat that would be my Friday Chuck hat. (If you ever watched The
Gong Show, you had to watch Friday. They would produce all
five daily shows in one day, and by Friday, Chuck was so coked
up that his hat would be down around his eyes, shirt out, and crazy
as hell. (He'd wear a variety of hats, and occasionally a gangbanger
bandanna. He was a ball.) I also re-checked Barris' nutso
CONFESSONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND, where he confessed
To being a CIA hit man while a network producer and host. George
Clooney directed the movie based on it, with Sam Rockwell as Barris.
The new Herbie's Gong Show went so well, and it was so much fun.
The house band was great, as was the female MC, I did a short bit as
Chuck, introduced Gene Gene, who danced like a madman, as I did,
and the place erupted.
It was a big hit, and I got some of my best reviews ever for my
Portrayal of Chuck.
The Gong Show is scheduled to return at Herbie's, and Chuck Barris
Will once more be in the house.