'Gong Show' Host Tommy Maitland: 'The American People Are the Real Star of This Show'

John Russell
Q&A ABC/Eddy Chen


Forget what you’ve heard about Tommy Maitland—which probably isn’t much. If you are familiar with the British TV personality, it’s probably because of the persistent rumor that he’s actor Mike Myers in disguise. But here’s what he would like you to know: After decades in the entertainment biz abroad, the 72-year-old comedian is aiming to make a name for himself in the U.S. as host of ABC’s revival of The Gong Show. It’s a major gamble for which Maitland came out of retirement. So of course, we had some questions.

How did you and the show’s executive producer, Will Arnett, meet?
Oh, I’ve known Will Arnett for many years. We met back in 2000 at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I was there hosting a benefit for Asthmatic Sea Scouts. There I was, standing in the men’s room, and I heard someone say, “I am a huge fan!” Well, I turned around and I saw Will talking to his reflection in the mirror. Once he was done complimenting himself, he turned to me and said, “Hiya. I’m Will Arnett.” And I said, “Who?” It was kismet.

How did he persuade you to come out of retirement for this show?
Money, if I’m being honest. And timing. Will has come to me so many times over the years, trying to get me to do this and that, and the timing was never right. But recently I’ve made some poor choices, financially. I invested in a pyramid scheme, only to find out the scheme was to build pyramids. There’s not much call for pyramids. Or oblique spheroids. Or any of the non-right-angle shapes, really. But you live and learn!

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So, when Will Arnett came to me and asked me to host The Gong Show, I said, “I’m honored at the request, but I’m retired.” Then he told me how much money I was being paid, in U.S. dollars, and I said, “I’m still honored, but no longer retired.” I do love America, and I love the American razzmatazz.

Were you a fan of the original Gong Show?
Oh, yes. Now, the first time I saw The Gong Show, it was on a coin-operated television, during a layover in American Samoa. As you do. Now you have to understand, up until I saw The Gong Show, I thought the four worst words in the English language were, “Hello, I’m a magician.” But as I sat there, pumping quarter after quarter, these novelty acts grew on me. And it became one of my favorite shows.

What’s the key to being a good game show host?
Listening, being in the moment, seeing people for who they really are, being very thorough, checking that there are no typos, making sure there are no duplicates. Also important, being very thorough.

Who is the real star of the show, you or the gong?
The American people are the real star of this show. The Gong Show is the last sanctuary of the eccentric. It’s a home for those who are touched with greatness, and sadly, those who are just touched.

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Steve Harvey hosts, like, 12 shows. Why is it that you are only capable of hosting one?
Oh, good for him; he’s gorgeous. I can only host one show because at the end of the day, I am 72, and I am just now rabies-free—37 shots in the abdomen later, I might add!

You’re well-known in many countries. Why do you think you’ve never had similar success in the U.S.?
Because America is the home of showbiz razzmatazz. You have so many fantastic hosts already. I think the best and clearest way to explain it is that it’s like bringing coals to Newcastle. (Note: Newcastle has a lot of coal, so you do not need to bring coal there.)

How do you deal with internet gossip about your personal life?
I don’t really go on what my niece calls “the youtubes,” but my life is an open book. In my first memoir, You’ve Got No Proof, and in my upcoming memoir, You Might Have Proof, But Not All of It’s Correct, I dispel many of the rumors. The first rumor is that I have a love child with Sophia Loren. This is not true. Although I was romantically involved with SoLo. I’ll never forget the time we spent together, and the day she finally showed me her beloved Naples. Just beautiful. The only rumor that’s true is that I love America, and I love The Gong Show.

The Gong Show, Thursdays, 10/9c, ABC