Barris may well be living purely in his extravagant head, but this sequel to Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (1984) has enough off-balance humor and burnished bravado to keep readers tuned in.
As in that earlier “memoir,” the man who brought us The Gong Show, The Newlywed Game, and The Dating Game claims to also be a professional gunny for the US government, taking out bad guys and gals globally, intimately, and with what appears to be his tongue so firmly in his cheek, it’s a wonder it doesn’t rupture a vessel. The action proceeds from the mid-’70s through today, taking Barris from the top of the TV heap (where he was bored and disenchanted) through a pink slip from TV bigwigs to a spell in New York–Presbyterian’s ICU to marriage to the woman of his dreams. Along the way, during breaks from his game-hosting duties, Barris works as a CIA operative, a hit man ridding the planet of nefarious terrorist creatures. As a writer, Barris goes for the bluntly vivid: “Miguel Agular . . . was one despicable son of a bitch . . . a relentless, vicious little animal”; in Mexico City, “the streets were jammed packed with steaming people, the sidewalks with steaming dog shit.” As a Company man, he’s reluctant, because he’s getting old, but he takes assignments nevertheless, because if he doesn’t the CIA will whack him with the same insouciance it displays when killing terrorists. Barris is surprisingly good at painting character portraits of his CIA overseers and his quarries, but the story plays out over such tenuous, dreamy, comic terrain, it all feels like celluloid from the start. Not so his relationships with women, each depicted as a genuine person rather than a trophy, nor his visit with lung cancer.
From the dental work and the tan to the madness in his humor as a TV personality and his gunslinging, Barris has always been touched by the surreal, and it fits foursquare into this piece of work.