Memories of ShowBiz Pizza
Someone from the office told me they were going to Chuck E. Cheese's for a 1st Birthday lunch with their grandson. This got me to thinking: for all the times you hear about the Chuckster, and the jokes about the terrible terrible pizza, I don't know that I've ever been there. Strange, eh?
Thing was, when I would have been of the age to enjoy Chuck E., there wasn't one in Des Moines, the closest "big city" to where we grew up. There was a ShowBiz Pizza, however, which I think is basically the same thing. Might even be the same company, because I do recall the ShowBiz Pizza in Des Moines turning into a Chuck E. in the early 90s.
ShowBiz Pizza! Man, I can honestly say that name, or the images of that place, has not re-entered my mind in at least 20 years. Seriously, I had completely forgotten anything I ever knew about the ShowBiz Pizza. Until yesterday when I was trying to remember if I'd ever been to Chuck E. Cheese, that is. No reason to remember it, I guess. But now that its unleashed...
I seem to recall there were animatronic mascots that played music and performed skits for entertained young lads and lassies. Or boys and girls. I think they were called Rock Explosion, or something similar -- now that my memory is re-jiggering to remember some long-lost recollections of this place, I seem to remember having a set of vinyl records as a kid with songs by the band.
Ah, the band! The lead vocalist was a giant lovable bear who wore bib overalls and played bass guitar. Good stuff. The keyboard player was an enormous gorilla who I don't mind telling you scared the beejeezus out of me. He had this certain look of menacing anger in his eyes, which probably had something to do with the mean keyboard playing skills he possessed; even though describing musical talent as "mean" is a more-recent phenomenon, I'm sticking to that story. I seem to recall the drummer was a goofy bear with a beanie cap. And there was a cheerleader-Valley-Girl-type bear who provided backing vocals. And of course, a menagerie of forest animals that would pop up out of holes and hiding places in the stage environment to provide well-timed lines. Quite a production for a franchised restaurant, no?
We went there once, maybe twice, because my brother was scared to death of the singing robots. Much like his irrational fear of Ted Huston's Singin' Cowboys at Wall Drug in South Dakota, he was absolutely scared to tears of those singing robots. I was always pissed because we could never go there.
Fort Dodge didn't have a ShowBiz Pizza, but we did have a Picadilly Circus, which was basically the K-Mart to SBP's Macy's. Which is to say it was a low-budget craphole. Robots on tricycles delivered your pizza right to your table, and would converse with you much like a waiter/waitress would do. But even as kids we could see the track that the robots rode on, and if you looked hard enough, the "Man Behind The Curtain" who provided the voices for the robots was visible. Horrifying place, that.
So I'm going to Wikipedia to see if I can't fill in the blanks on ShowBiz Pizza, and here's the cliffs notes version. Chuck E. Cheese's Pizza Time Theater was started in 1977 by the founder of Atari, strangely enough, as a video arcade/pizza place. Seven years later they filed for Chapter 11, and were bought out by their competitor, ShowBiz Pizza. For ten years they carried on as two separate restaurants; in 1992 all properties were converted to the (admittedly) better name, Chuck E. Cheese. ShowBiz Pizza seemed to infer there was something glamorous, something Hollywood about it, when in reality it was just singing robots and bad pizza. When you're five, that's enough, though, honestly.
According to Wikipedia, ShowBiz Pizza featured the Rock-afire Explosion (I was pretty close!), whose members were indeed robots. Check out these names (clockwise from upper left in the photo montage):
Billy Bob Brockali: Lead Vocals/Bass Guitar
Fatz Geronimo: Tune Machine/Vocals
Mitzi Mozzerela: Vocals
Dook LaRue: Drums/Vocals
Beach Bear: Guitar/Vocals
Rolfe DeWolfe & Earl Schmerle: Comedy/Cymbal
Nice. You bet.
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