Fun House Fitness
Text by: Aaron Levinger
Warner Home Video: (September 1990, rereleased in 2005 on DVD)
Matt Ottinger’s Game Show Home Game Home Page (which is sorely out of date, but still a great resource for any collector of game show memorabilia) contains a list titled “The Oddest Game Show Collectables”. It’s a pretty good list – The Gong Show trading cards, The Newlywed Game cookbook, Double Dare Green Slime Shampoo – but Matt makes two major errors in this list. One is that, while the Green Slime Shampoo was promoted on Double Dare, the bottles actually read You Can’t Do That On Television Green Slime Shampoo – and You Can’t Do That On Television was a sketch comedy, not a game show. The other mistake is that, both on the list and on the site’s listing for Fun House, Mr. Ottinger completely neglected to mention what has to be the most horrific product ever released with a game show’s name on it: the Fun House Fitness line of exercise videos, hosted by JD Roth and Jane Fonda. I really wish I could say I had made that up.
Let me start with a few disclaimers. Disclaimer number one: there are many kids game shows I grew up watching. Fun House is not one of them. I was born in 1989 and that means the show was canceled when I was two. I’ve seen a couple episodes on YouTube, but that’s about the extent of it. Disclaimer number two: I don’t own the original Fun House Fitness VHS tapes from 1990 and I don’t plan to track them down. Warner Home Video has taken care of that.
Yes, in 2005 (that’s fourteen years after Fun House was canceled) Warner released a DVD of both (yeah, both – and that’s two too many) forty-five minute episodes. I can only assume they thought Jane Fonda fans would buy it – I mean, look at the case. The phrases “Jane Fonda Collection” and “Hosted by Jane Fonda” are clearly visible…and if you squint you can make out “Fun House Fitness” and “Starring JD Roth”. Being the game show loser that I am, I bought a copy. I would say I bought it so you don’t have to, but then I’d be accused of ripping off The Nostalgia Critic.
So I put in the disc and select episode one, titled The Swamp Stomp and aimed at “younger” kids (ages three through seven). I then find myself facing disclaimer number three:
This continues for several more slides.
After that’s out of the way, Jane Fonda comes on to deliver a special message (which lasts under one minute) to parents. We are told that by watching this video “children can experience an exciting journey through a giant jungle, meet new and exciting characters, and exercise all along the way.” Parents are also instructed to “make sure your children are wearing comfortable clothes and good athletic shoes, that there’s an uncluttered area in front of your television set, and have some water handy for our water breaks.” I’d recommend breaks featuring a different kind of beverage, but maybe that’s just me.
OK, now time for the actual episode. It starts well enough, with some great Fun House clips accompanied by the classic theme music. We then cut to…
…right. This, my friends, is a giant jungle. Honestly, the first thing that popped into my head was the set of the British kids game show Jungle Run, but that wouldn’t premiere for another nine years.
Also, while the British version of Fun House was on the same network as Jungle Run, I don’t think you could clearly see the two sets overlapping.
Anyway, JD Roth tells Jane that he wants to take these kids into the Fun House “so when they’re old enough to be on the show, they’d be ready.” Wow JD, way to make kids watching feel included. JD then goes on to explain that they can’t go in because this jungle appeared, to which Jane replies that, to get through the jungle, they’ll have to learn the Swamp Stomp, and that somewhere in the jungle is someone who will teach it to them. Jane also says that she can’t go with them because…
Jane: “Well listen JD, I may be a kid at heart, but only real kids are allowed to go in there, right?”
JD: “Oh yeah yeah, I almost forgot.”
JD…you were twenty-two at the time, right? Granted, that’s how old I am typing this, but I wouldn’t think of that as a kid.
JD thanks Jane, and she leaves. We are now about two minutes into this forty-five minute presentation, and that is the last we will see of Jane Fonda. Take that, Warner Home Video.
After Jane’s exit (she is smart not to stick around for this), JD leads the kids into the jungle. Throughout this whole thing, JD Roth puts a lot of effort into acting as overly enthusiastic as we’re used to him being, despite the fact that he clearly knows how dumb this is and is not having that great a time. As for the kids, I think they say maybe three words through the whole episode. The producers dub in a lot of shouts of “YEAH!” and “WOW!” during the exercises, despite the fact that it’s pretty clear the kids aren’t saying anything.
You might be asking at this point “If we don’t see Jane again for the entire time, it must be JD who leads the exercises, right?” You are horribly, horribly wrong. After JD leads the initial warm up session…actually, let’s take a look at that warm up session…
Again, way to make us feel like we’re in a jungle. Throughout this show, the kids are supposedly getting further into the jungle and closer to the Fun House, but they never actually leave this same gym floor.
Anyway, after JD leads the initial warm up session, we meet the exercise leader for the video…
…the “Jungle Princess.” No, that’s not Jane – according to the credits, the Jungle Princess is played by Monica Walsh. I guess she’s supposed to be some kind of Tarzan-type character – she claims to know all the animals in the jungle and such. She will teach us the Swamp Stomp necessary to get to the Fun House. She will do so by introducing us to her animal friends…
…yeah, that’s Penelope the penguin, who looks more like a mime than anything else. Each animal that comes out demonstrates a new section of the Swamp Stomp, all while having the usual animal names like Zoe the zebra and Prissy the flamingo. The animal’s entrances also allow time for JD and the Jungle Princess to engage in some of the most insultingly “little-kid” forced banter you can imagine. For example, while Frieda the frog is making her entrance:
JD: “Just think of the huge warts you would get if you caught a frog just like Frieda.”
Jungle Princess: “JD! We don’t get warts from frogs.”
Jungle Princess: “Besides, you never know, there may be a princess hidden inside that green-skinned monster.”
JD: “Were you ever a frog, Jungle Princess?”
Princess: “I’ll never tell.”
By this point anybody watching over the age of five has gotten the message, but this is an exercise video for four-year-olds, and that means we get, by my count, eight of these animals before, twenty-six minutes in, everyone is able to perform the whole Swamp Stomp and reach the Fun House. JD says since this is just a practice run, he’s going to give the kids three minutes instead of the usual two minutes to grab all the prize tags, but other than that it will be just like a regular Fun House run. This part of the show, they can’t possibly mess up, right? Come on, it’s the Fun House! Every kid who grew up watching this show wanted to run through the Fun House – heck, I didn’t grow up watching this show, and I so want a shot at the Fun House. How can you possibly make the Fun House not exciting…
…well for starters, all five kids are crammed in at once, plus the Jungle Princess and JD (who, being the host and all, rarely entered the Fun House on the actual game show). Second, they’re not going all that fast – the three-minute time limit was likely added as some sort of post-production afterthought. Third, JD tells us before starting the clock that he wants the viewers to mimic the movements everyone is making as they run the obstacles. The end result is a “Fun House run” that is pretty sad to watch, and given that it’s been built up for about thirty minutes by this point, we are seriously letting the kids down.
After all the tags have been grabbed (this is an exercise video, there’s no way they’ll lose) the Jungle Princess leads a final cool down session, followed by JD “rewarding” everyone with a highlight reel of classic Fun House clips. Before said reel, JD reminds everyone not to try these stunts at home (this after spending over half an hour telling viewers to mimic everything they’re seeing on their TV screen, even during the Fun House run). JD then finally signs off with his usual “hoping your house is a Fun House” routine…
…and the credits roll with the classic Fun House theme music playing. You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned any of the other music used – you don’t want me to. Plain old exercise video music would have been bad enough, but the attempts to add jungle motifs such as chimpanzee coos just make it sound dumb. You’ll also notice that those eight animals were played by three people, including Julie LaFond, who also happens to be one of the executive producers. Let us all be happy Scott A. Stone, who was an executive producer of Fun House as well as countless other game shows, didn’t roam out as Robert the rhino.
That’s The Swamp Stomp, and truth be told, I have less to say about the second episode, which is titled The Fun House Funk. As it is supposedly aimed at “older” kids (ages seven and up), it dispenses with the jungle “plot” and most of the lame attempts at humor. Wait a second – wouldn’t that leave us with an ordinary exercise video that just happens to take place on the set of Fun House?
That’s pretty much what we get, and again, that’s not Jane leading the exercises – that’s Laurel Sparks. Jane, in her token appearance at the beginning, attempts to introduce JD with the spiel he is always introduced with on the actual show, only rather than saying “Here’s the man who puts the Fun in Fun House…” she says “Here’s the kid who puts the Fun in Fun House…” Look, I realize that Jane Fonda is thirty-one years older than JD Roth, but JD was not a kid when he did this, OK?
The Fun House Funk builds up to a Fun House run that is just as lethargic as the Fun House run in The Swamp Stomp, as well as featuring a idiotic sequence in which “while you’re working out, we’re gonna show you some clips from the Fun House stunts. Now, the muscles you’re working are gonna be the muscles you’ll need to do those stunts.”
Translation: we’ll do the workout in the corner of the screen while clips play of stunts featuring vaguely similar movements. As dumb as that is, it pales in comparison to the moment when, just before introducing Laurel, JD…
…rips his pants off to reveal his workout shorts. Now I need a drink.
Thank you Jungle Princess. Yes, that’s a “water break.”
Let’s sum this up: if this DVD is anything to go by, the Fun House Fitness VHS tapes from Warner Home Video are the single dumbest product ever released to tie in with a kids game show. Take it from me; I’ve seen both the Going Live computer game from Alternative Software (in which the stunts were represented by mathematical problems) and the Finders Keepers home game from Cardinal Industries (“With your parents’ supervision, collect safe, non-messy household items such as those suggested on the list.” – Actual line from this game’s instructions. Have they seen the show?) Fun House Fitness is worse than both of them. It is rather sad that anybody thinks kids are OK with being talked down to in this manner. After this experience, you’d think JD Roth would never go anywhere near fitness again.
You are horribly, horribly wrong.
(Seidelman Note: Although the Biggest Loser is a great show, Game Show Garbage does recommend before starting any major fitness regiment, consult with your doctor first.)
Also, you can check out Mr. Levinger's fine blog at http://gameshowweekly.blogspot.com. It's a great read, plus he has a bonus induction that he has written for his site that didn't make it into the contest.
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