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Comedy Central fires up a putrid new Gong Show, then saves face with Reality Bites Back

New Comedy Central jobs for Dave Attell and Michael Ian Black

All involved with Comedy Central's reinvention of The Gong Show could find themselves knockin' on heaven's door someday.

St. Peter, if you believe in either him or a hereafter, won't bother with any formalities: "You were part of The Gong Show? Go to hell."

On the other hand, Comedy Central at least has a shot at purgatory with Reality Bites Back, which also premieres on Thursday (July 17). Who can hate a show that savagely and often sagely spoofs broadcast TV's most successful reality series?

Gong Show, hosted by Comedy Central veteran Dave Attell, is a sewer-dwelling, stomach-turning freak show that makes even the 1970s Chuck Barris original seem like Star Search. The forerunner at least had a certain coarse charm and even a sense of style. Now we get the equivalent of a moose turd served on moldy rye.

The thing premieres at 9 p.m. (central), with Attell and judges Steve Schirripa, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog and Brian Posehn (wow, what star power) kicking things off with an aging female impersonator who sings about her "cute, hot pussy" while cradling a short-haired cat on a leash.

This actually is one of the top-shelf acts. Following in no particular order are a super-fatso with man boobs the size of half-inflated beach balls; a "mystic" who shoves a giant needle through his arm; and a young performer from "the great state of Texas" whose gimmick is kicking himself in the forehead. He instead bloodies the bridge of his nose before getting gonged.

The grand finale is supplied by a woman who appears to be loudly passing gas while a dwarf in a tuxedo "conducts" the movements. Her below-the-belt privates also are part of the act. Judge Schirripa, in the night's only funny line, says he gonged her because "she sounded a little pitchy."

The winning act gets $600 and a Gong Show championship belt. The losers, which constitutes the rest of us, get a half-hour of industrial strength debasement and depravity. Sometimes garbage is just garbage.

Reality Bites Back, following at 9:30 p.m., is snappily and snarkily hosted by Michael Ian Black, formerly of NBC's Ed and not much since.

Ten very unknown comedians vie for a $50,000 prize and the right to be crowned "Lord of All Reality." They're also being given the "opportunity to humiliate and degrade themselves on basic cable television," Black notes.

It's done with a certain style, though, beginning with all 10 contestants playing "Extreme Manipulation: House Edition" as a means of spoofing Big Brother.

For their first challenge, house guests must woo a member of the opposite sex in a pitch dark room while "night vision" cameras record the action. There's a twist, of course.

"That's right," Black says. "They'll be seducing their parents."

A "Dirty Laundry" competition follows, with the two lowest-scorers then ripe for the "Cutting Board." Next week the survivors will sabotage The Bachelor in a mockup dubbed "Shock of Love."

Black has a crack-up demeanor that's nicely paired with an air of condescension. This suits him very well on a show that nabs some laughs without completely fouling its nest. That makes Reality Bites Back a parody worth watching after Gong Show finishes pooping.

The Gong Show -- F
Reality Bites Back -- C+