Showbiz Pizza And The Rock-Afire Explosion


I believe Showbiz Pizza for me as a child was much like an opium tent for Ralph Dunning. When I was there time flew by so fast because it was like a system overload. It was just too much for a 7 year old to digest when placed in an environment that had pizza, video games (they were new back then), a pool of plastic balls, skee-ball, and tickets to trade for things like this. There was, however, an animatronic band that I was less than enthused about. The Rock-Afire Explosion.

I can remember a specific birthday party and sitting at the table closest to the stage. While all the kids were busy drinking cups of suicide soda and shoving pizza in their face I was keeping a suspicious eye on the animatronic rock band. Perhaps I was too close to the stage because I heard less music and more of hydraulic hissings and the metallic hurks and jerks. The smell of the electronic heat from the cyborg-like apes and bears over powered the smell of pizza and sweaty kid. After the ten minute show was over and the curtain closed, curiosity over powered me and I crept to the stage to peer behind the curtain to make sure they weren’t taking a five minute smoke break. But what I saw was just eerie.

Behind the curtain the band stood silent with their eyes open, staring straight a head at the closed curtain. The dim lighting and the motionlessness of the characters gave me an uneasy feeling much like sleeping in a room with a three foot doll. In the background the sounds of screaming kids and the bells and whistles of the games were heard but I was fixed on the duality of life and death represented between what happens when the curtain opens and closes. Then it happened.

Before the curtain opens the band starts to move. While I was deep in thought about the eeriness of the lifeless band the hydraulics kicked in with the “pfffftts, screeeeee, weeeng” and they began to move. I can’t recall how it happened but before I knew it I found myself in the ball-pit with my shoes on. This terrified me to no extent and I didn’t even mind getting yelled at for wearing my Keds a “no shoe zone”. For the rest of the day I stayed close to the front, skipping the birthday cake and present opening. At the end I grabbed my parting gift bag and was all too happy to leave.

That night I had a terrible nightmare that Fatz Geronimo, the ape keyboardist, jumped over his keyboard and chased me around Showbiz.

23 Comments

  1. This is a very timely read for me, as I just took the imp to her first party at Chuck E Cheese…which used to be Showbiz Pizza (where a kid can be a kid). It definitely wasn’t the same as I recalled…gone were the ball pits and the “live” animal band. My favorite games were the skee-ball and the game where you pound gophers on the head with a mallet. I played some kind of video game with a cartoon knight. It was really popular back then, but I can’t remember what it was called. Maybe it had the word Quest in it.

    A kid skipping cake? That’s trauma.

  2. I remember that game! It was a fully animated game and if you lose the guy turns into a skeleton. Hrm…..I think it was Dungeon’s Lair that was animated by the same company that made The Secret of Nihm and An American Tail.

  3. Ahhh….it was Dragon’s Lair.
    Good memory Allison!

  4. THAT’S IT!!! Thank you 🙂

  5. Ahh yes, The Rock-A-Fire Explosion.

    Since I was born in 1987, Showbiz Pizzas were long gone and replaced by Chuck E. Cheese’s (I didn’t even go to one of THOSE until I was around 11 or so for some little kid’s birthday).

    But there is a place by me called the Fun Zone where I went several times as a kid. It wasn’t until 2 or 3 years ago that I put 2 & 2 together that the “band” that played there was the Rock-A-Fire Explosion! I still don’t know if they’re still there, but I’m pretty sure they are. For some reason, I never got to see Rolf & Earl in action once, I had to find a vid of them on youtube. Maybe he looked too creepy or something.

    Speaking of youtube, have you seen the vids of some guy having the band in his basement and he programmed songs like “Ms. New Booty” for them to play. Definitely one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen.

  6. Ohh- I loved the animatronic bands! There was a Chuck.E. Cheez near our home, and we would just “GO” for dinner. While the main area had the famous band, there was a side area my parents always chose cause it was quieter. THAT area had a band called the Beagles- a Beatles band that played Beatles music, but was played completely by animatronic dogs. They wore the same khaki suits and played all the right instruments and they even had the imitation voices nailed. I loved watching the beagles. Fortunately- they had no cutrain so were programmed to “sleep” when they were done. No scary blank eyes, just closed lids.
    whew.

  7. Don’t forget Space Ace

  8. Space Ace! I frickin’ forgot Space Ace! Where would I be without you guys?

  9. I will always and forever be indebted to you for revealing the secret of the Showbiz Animatrons. I will sacrifice Gracie Law to appease my emperor and live out my earthly pleasures with Miao Yin. And when I marry both green eyed girls, Blueberry HIll will be our wedding song(s).

    p.s.: of course i’ve seen BTILC.

  10. Dude, I got a little creeped out reading this. Great post.

    When I was little, I always wanted to go to Showbiz Pizza, but I never got a chance to. Perhaps it’s better that I didn’t. I did go to Chuck E Cheese’s once, but I was like 11 and it was for my little nephew’s first birthday. It was actually really boring.

  11. I don’t think we had Showbiz. We had Circus Circus. And of course Chuck E Cheese. i wonder if they still have the balls?

  12. I’ve never heard of Showbiz Pizza but there are/were no Chuck e. Cheeses in Canada so I guess that’s not really my fault. Looks like I missed out!

  13. Missed out on the nightmares!

  14. Yeah…it was Chuck E. Cheese for me, and I really, REALLY liked the place. I never paid much attention to the robot/giant puppet band; that was just the pizza/opening presents room. Then it was back to games and the ball-pit.

  15. Yeah, I definitely remember the days when it was Showbiz. I loved the skee-ball, wack-a-mole, and other games, but was TERRIFIED of the frigging band! I refused to sit in the front row of the show because I was convinced that ape was going to hop off the stage and violently tear my head off. However, I recently went to a Chuck E Cheese for my little cousin’s birthday party and it was woefully lame. The band was all gone and was repalced by Chuck, the animatronic “DJ.” He stood in one place and sang songs and stuff, but it was pretty pitiful compared to the terrifying spectacle it used to be. Then, a guy in a Chuck suit came out, flanked by two chicks that worked there, and they all three did a little choreographed danced, while the two girls had vacant looks on their faces that seemed to say, “Please, save me from this humiliating hell.”

  16. Showbiz Pizza was the best. place. ever. Although, instead of being afraid, I actually wanted to live with Billy Bob in his gas station setting. I know, lofty aspirations…

  17. […] Jeep to the store for my Mom or picking up my pal Toby and cruising to Showbiz Pizza and catching a Rock-A-Fire Explosion animatronic show. But it was not in the stars. But the next year I did car jack the neighbors daughter and take her […]

  18. […] Jeep to the store for my Mom or picking up my pal Toby and cruising to Showbiz Pizza and catching a Rock-A-Fire Explosion animatronic show. But it was not in the stars. But the next year I did car jack the neighbors daughter and take her […]

  19. My first job was waitressing at a Showbiz. I didn’t mind the fake vest that tied behind my neck or the screaming kids, but I wonder if anyone knew that the waitresses had to go into a tiny closet and change into the Billy Bob costume to bring out the birthday cake. The costume was cumbersome and sadly, pretty smelly inside. The enormous head had a fan it it with an on off switch behind the right ear. I remember one party where the kids were especially aggressive and one little boy kicked at me and pulled my tail so hard I fell down backward on my butt. We were not allowed to talk while being Billy Bob so I wasn’t able to say anything to him about being ‘nice’. After changing back out of the costume, once again a regular waitress, I went out and found that kid at the gaming tables. I remember the look on his face when I said…”Billy Bob told me what you did. He’s very angry with you. I hope he doesn’t know where you live”… lol Mean I know, but I was young and my butt hurt.

    • That is really one of the funniest things I have read in a long time. Bravo to you!

  20. I will be fair: no one like when things like this materialize to them. So, I must explain this rather safe experience

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