When you’re a kid in the 80s everything is hyped up, exciting, and you want to picture yourself in commercials being the kids playing with awesome toys. But there was a game show that took it to the next level.
Fun House was a U.S. game show that came out in 1988 and hosted by J.D. Roth. It involved two teams of kids competing against each other by answering questions and competing in various games. The winning team would get to run through the Fun House which was a massive obstacle course to collect money and prizes.
I loved game shows. I was a huge fan of the Price is Right which was total chaos and I would get so overly excited watching it. You felt like you were right there playing with them and it was amazing. The 80s were also a golden time for TV game shows like Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy.
But for a kid growing up in the 80s, Fun House was a game show on steroids. It captured everything a kid would like including messy games, an overstimulating environment, prizes, money, and adventure. The actual Fun House itself was the dream of every kid and I remember always thinking if I won the lottery I would build the exact Fun House in my yard.
Here’s the story of the greatest game show of the 80s; Fun House
Was Fun House An Original Idea?
Two years before Fun House a show called Double Dare existed on Nickelodeon. It was a very similar concept that involved two teams answering trivia questions and then competing in messy challenges and stunts. The winning team would go through an obstacle course, also like you would on Fun House.
Double Dare was a huge hit for Nickelodeon and it lasted for years even though it would go through various format changes. The concept of the show was seen as a combination of trivia, truth or dare, and the game Mousetrap.
You could call Fun House a total rip off but I think it was more capitalizing on what was hot because Double Dare tripled viewership for Nickelodeon and was the most watched afternoon show on cable. It only makes sense to come up with a competing version.
Creating Fun House
Fun House was created by game show producer Bob Synes and he would be executive producer of the series along with his partner, Mark Stone. It was co-produced and distributed by Lorimar-Telepictures for the first season but it was then co-produced with Warner Bro. Television Distributors in the second season and they would distribute the show.
The Hosts of Fun House
The main host was J.D. Roth whose actual name is James David Weinroth, though he said that J.D. stood for “Jammin dude” – eye roll… He had been an actor appearing on shows like Star Search, Charles in Charge, and some soap operas. He got the Fun House gig when he was only 19 making him the youngest host ever of a game show.
Roth has gone on to do a ton of work in television most notably as a producer for shows like the Biggest Loser, Beauty and the Geek, and Breaking Bonaduce. He has his own production company called 3Ball Productions.
He was “assisted” by twin cheerleaders named Jacki and Sammi which are the most appropriate cheerleader names ever but they were actually called Jacqueline and Samantha Forrest. John “Tiny” Hurley was the announcer for the show (who I always thought sounded a bit like Frosty the Snowman) and they sometimes used breakdancer Michael “Boogaloo Shrimp” Chambers that they called “MC Mike”.
How The Game Play Worked
So you have two teams, one red and one gold and each team had a boy and a girl on it. As the show got more popular, they would sometimes pair a kid with a teen celebrity and a young Leonardo DiCaprio made an appearance before he became King of the World and ruined his career…
The stunt rounds on Fun House would be done three different times; one involved the boys going head to head, one would be the girls, and the last one would involve everyone. Some games included “Pinhead” and “Dump–O” and involved racing to answer a certain number of questions before the other team. The losing team would get a bunch of crap dumped on them like slime and garbage.
If you won the stunt/race, you would get 25 points and the odd race would actually end up in a tie and they would give both teams the 25 points because the Fun House Producers are good sports. There was also A LOT of high-fiving going on on Fun House
The Grand Prix
Now things were getting serious. In the Grand Prix race, you were playing what was technically the fourth, and final, round of the show. Both teams would race around a track that went around the studio and they would trade lanes after the first lap.
There would be two different formats for the Grand Prix race and the first would involve one teammate pushing the other around in some sort of contraption and then they would trade positions for the second lap. Sometimes you would run the trace on foot but either way, you had to stop at various points on the track to complete a challenge. Some challenges would include:
- Carrying a crap load of items
- Running through tires
- Squirting targets
The race would be started and finished with the iconic green checkered race flags.
There were also the tokens around the track. There were white and blue tokens that could be picked up for additional points The white was worth ten and the blue ones worth 25. If you remember the second season, they would have a “token bank” placed alongside each lane.
But to count towards the teams core the tokens had to either be in the bank or in the vehicle OR in the bag that they could carry during the race. Those dropped tokens were heartbreaking, and you were probably screaming at the contestants who had dropped them. Just me?
The winners of the race scored another bonus of 25 points and J.D. would add up all the points from each teams tokens which was always epic. The winning team would go on to the Fun House and the losing team would receive fabulous parting gifts. I don’t remember this happening more than maybe twice but in the event of a tie they would go down to a final question with winner take all and this remains the most stressful moment of my life.
The Fun House Cometh
Now onto the main event. The Fun House was iconic and magical all rolled into one. It was a giant structure that had different rooms and obstacles throughout it that not only looked fun but was challenging. I always enjoyed the water feature.
There were giant tags through the Fun House 6 red and 6 green. The red tags were for various prizes while the green tags were for different sweet sweet cash values. When you’re young and broke you needed that cheddar.
The cash tags were out in plain sight but the prize tags would be more hidden, especially in the rooms because the Fun House producers were sadists.
The team only had two minutes to get through the Fun House and get as many of these precious tags as possible. You could only have one consistent inside at a time and you could only take a maximum of three tags per run before tagging in your teammate. If you were still carrying the tags when the time ended it still counted which is pretty sporting and both kids would get the prizes and the cash so no one got screwed over.
There was also one secret tag called THE POWER PRIZE and would usually be a vacation of some sort. I’m assuming to a 2-star resort in Florida somewhere.
You could actually walk away some good stuff from Fun House as they had a really high prize total compared to other kids shows. For example on Double Dare kids could end up with $2000-3000 in cash in prizes, but not on Fun House. Kids would often walk away with at least $5000 worth of good stuff. Here is a sample of some prizes over the seasons:
- A limo ride to school for a week (take THAT other kids)
- Guitar lessons
- Some weird home computers
So let’s sit back and watch the final Grand prix and the Fun House itself!
British Knights Shoes
This is one of the things that stood out to me the most on Fun House. We were dumb kids so had no idea we were basically watching a 22-minute commercial but we didn’t care, it looked epic. One thing that was flagrant advertising was the inclusion of an upstart new shoe company called British Knights.
British Knights shoes were like my Rosebud or my Holy Grail. I would never have them but wanted them more than anything. And man did they make you want them. Every contestant, including J.D. Roth, would be wearing them during the show and they damn well made sure you know about them,
British Knights started in 1983 as a casual shoe but they introduced their first sneakers in 1985 and the brand exploded. British Knights is an interesting story because they were really the first sneaker company to always change their designs compared to other companies who always kept the same makes and models in their line.
British Knights realized they were all about fashion over performance and weren’t afraid to say so. They would put out new collections 3-4 times a year which was unheard of and it made a splash in the youth and urban communities – AKA the most coveted demographic as they were loved by 15-24-year-olds. They stood out with their diamond-shaped BK logo and they were one of the first brands – of any type – that embraced the new hip hop culture and worked with artists like Kool Moe Dee and Public Enemy.
They also had the iconic Dymacel technology that was a diamond-shaped green silicone cushioning embedded within the sole THAT ALSO HAD A WINDOW. Was I the only one blown away by this? I remember a kid at school who had them and stabbing through the Dymacel trying to get it to leak. And it actually did.
Final Thoughts On Fun House
I assume now you can see how much I loved Fun House and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this. It was the perfect combination of fun, hype, prizes, and picturing yourself in the contestant sweet BK shoes. You could almost imagine you were competing on the show and you felt all the highs and lows of the contestants.
There were be other iterations of the show after it moved to Fox including College Fun House which sums up pretty much every frat ever. There was also the U.K. version which in a rare turnaround actually copied a U.S. show and not the other way around.
But Fun House was an amazing part of the 80s and even if you didn’t get the prizes, I would give a large portion of my liver just to run through that Fun House. And if Jacki or Sammi is reading this, call me…