The Post Gong Show Life of Murray Langston
BY: Andy Earles
The Unknown Comic (aka Murray Langston)
I'm writing this to make you aware of a particular career path that, while notably odd, also embodies the every essence powering a Neil Hamburger bit or the common "struggling actor" parody.
Murray Langston is better known if known at all, as The Unknown Comic - his one creative endeavor that might cause a resounding "Oh yeah" amongst the pop-culturally literate. Murray (inset left) enjoyed both success (regular writer and performer on The Sonny and Cher Show) and failure (selling women's shoes at JC Penney) throughout much of the 70's before the bankruptcy of his nightclub, Showbiz, left him with, as rumor has it, no choice but to appear on The Gong Show out of financial desperation1. Dreadfully ashamed of this, he armed himself with anonymity via a grocery sack with eyeholes, and some of the worst stand-up comedy that side of Bob Zany. As The Unknown Comic, he would prance about telling non-jokes and verbally insulting Chuck Barris, instantly winning approval from everyone including Barris, who subsequently made Langston a regular performer on both The Gong Show and The $1.98 Beauty Contest - the latter a peripheral example of Barris' genius that aired in 1978. The bit enjoyed a fair amount of popularity, and The Unknown Comic began performing the Sahara Hotels Vegas/Reno/Lake Tahoe circuit as starring in the notorious and still heavily sought-after Gong Show Movie2 (1980).
After running into the open arms of the detrimentally insular Playboy Channel, where he produced, wrote, and starred in a handful of comedy specials, Langston began working on the free-association malarkey-festival of elementary shit jokes and editor-had-the-day-off pratfalls that would eventually be Night Patrol (1984). Co-written by and starring Murray, Night Patrol, much like Wacko and Slapstick of Another Kind before it, tries and fails at emulating the Abrams/Zucker/Zucker (Airplane!, Police Squad) formula of filling every available second with a gag. Murray plays "Melvin" - a bumbling cop moonlighting as a popular comedian who-uh-yeah you guessed it. A shameless Police Academy rip-off that lowers the brow even further, some of Night Patrol's comedic guns include a perpetually flatulent Billy Barty, a rape victim played by Pat Morita (shelved and released AFTER The Karate Kid!!!!!) with a poorly overdubbed child's voice, and the enigmatic Pat Paulsen (Kent) as Melvin's oversexed shift partner. Linda Blair (a Langston collaborator for years to some) and Jaye P. Morgan are thrown in as love interests, and there's plenty of post-comedy when The Unknown Comic starts chewing up the scenery with his also horribly dubbed voice. Look for the Chuck Barris reference when a criminal runs up and asks Melvin if he can get him on The Dating Game. A man holding a bunch of mannequin parts is charged with 'armed robbery' and a 'cat burglar' walks by carrying-yep-okay, we're on the same food-stained page here when it comes to the children's humor. The adult humor consists of little more than characters saying "bitch," "nice tits," and "let's fuck," people touching and stepping in doo-doo, "straights" getting high for the first time, and a load of lesbian bashing/stereotypes. The approach is literally the most pedestrian that I have ever witnessed in an R-rated comedy made after 1980, and I will stand by that statement.
Night Patrol should have made a gaping void of the flimsy career Murray Langston had established prior to its release, but he miraculously continued to (and still does) get sparse work. He had a small part in the Alan Smithee helmed Stitches (1985)-.you know, Stitches, with Eddie Albert and Parker Stevenson, come on-Stitches!!! Oh, I know you dug Lightning: The White Stallion (1986) starring a 438 year-old Mickey Rooney and a spent Susan George, well, Murray was in that, playing a blacksmith or something. Perhaps longing for the control and spotlight enjoyed with Night Patrol, Langston co-wrote and starred in Up Your Alley (1988) - a sensitive reporter (Linda Blair)-falls-for-street-transient (Langston) dramedy that swerved around the hearts of hundreds and went straight to video. Bob Logan, whom I'm sure you know as the man behind Meatballs IV, directed it. Wishful Thinking (1990) gets the same Langston treatment, as he co-wrote and starred as a guy who discovers a magic gnome (Billy Barty) and then has to deal with whatever character Ruth Buzzi plays in this pile of garbage.
A couple of bit parts later should put us up to date with the career of Murray Langston-but no! He still performs live as The Unknown Comic in the L.A. area, he wrote Night Patrol Too (unreleased, no really, it is), and wrote monologues for Dom Deluise to perform on The New Candid Camera. Not only that, he executed what could be the most credible move of his entire career by hosting The Gong Show 25th Anniversary Tribute and 24-Hour Marathon on the Game Show network this past summer. If Murray Langston was the product of someone's imagination, you know, had the man never existed outside of a Hollywood hack's head, then The Murray Langston Story would be another screenplay blurring the line between brilliant and god awful.
1 It has been said many times that a Gong Show winner was paid considerably more than the infamous $516.23, and that all of the performers, gonged or not, were sent home with some money.
2 Shortly after this movie was released to an almost universal critical flogging, Chuck Barris pulled the plug on Chuck Barris' Productions and moved to the south of France. The Gong Show Movie made it to videocassette in very limited quantities, and Barris' is reportedly not in favor of the movie enjoying a re-release. Copies of the original cassette fetch close to $100 on eBay, but good dubs can be found on certain personal websites for as low as ten dollars.
editors note: In the ensuing job of finding images and information for this article, Mr. Langston's website was discovered. It is, not surprisingly, theunknowncomic.com