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Jason Gunn’s life in TV (Image: Archi Banal)
Jason Gunn’s life in TV (Image: Archi Banal)

Pop CultureDecember 16, 2023

‘A terrifying day’: The cream pie that nearly killed Jason Gunn

Jason Gunn’s life in TV (Image: Archi Banal)
Jason Gunn’s life in TV (Image: Archi Banal)

The kids’ TV legend on his penchant for fail videos, the unforgettable live TV moment the whole country remembers wrong and more.

If we had a Mount Rushmore for New Zealand television, Jason Gunn would surely be up there. Best known as the face of children’s television in the 1990s, Gunn hosted The Son of a Gunn Show, What Now, After 2 and Jase the Ace, often flanked by his bulbous-eyed puppet sidekick Thingee. From there, he fronted New Zealand’s Funniest Home Videos, before shepherding the Super Troopers in McDonald’s Young Entertainers. Then came Bumble, Dancing With the Stars, Wheel of Fortune and Celebrity Treasure Island. 

All those contributions across decades of New Zealand television, and yet there is one onscreen moment that still pops up (or, in this case, out) on a weekly basis for Gunn. “People will always say to me ‘Oh my god Jason, that was traumatising, I remember being at home after school and seeing Thingee’s eye pop out’,” he says. “At that point I’ve always got to decide: do I mention that it never actually happened live, that your memory is lying to you, or do I just sit on it and say ‘Sorry, that must have been really hard for you’.” 

Although we have already corrected the record on this, it bears repeating: the vision of children screaming across the country as an alien eyeball exited its socket on live television is a wholly imagined one. The Son of a Gunn show was pre-recorded, Gunn says, so when the fateful moment happened, they simply reshot it. “We thought, we’ll do that again,” he laughs. “Because that would have sent children to therapy in the thousands.” But they did keep the clip, and when a producer came looking for any funny outtakes for a blooper show, they had just the thing. 

“We couldn’t use any clips of us swearing because we were a kids show, so we just threw the eye pop into the mix,” he says. That blooper show, which aired at night, would have been audiences’ first introduction to the moment, but it was its inclusion in the Eating Media Lunch opening credits years later which Gunn believes sent it stratospheric. “Soon after that, YouTube turned up and someone uploaded it. Next minute, they did a survey of the top 10 New Zealand TV moments and, somehow, Thingee’s eye pop was in there.” 

A scene from Jason and Thingee’s big adventure

Although the story of Thingee’s eye follows Gunn everywhere from fancy boardroom meetings to casual strolls down the street, he says he remains humbled that people still remember it and want to talk about it. “It says to me that people really treasured that time in their lives and obviously have some kind of connection to what we were making,” he says. “So when people bring it up I always just say thank you. Thank you for remembering it – or thank you for at least thinking that you remember it.” 

After setting the facts straight on his most enduring television moment, Gunn then delved into the rest of his life in TV – including twinning with Phil Keoghan, his love of watching fail videos and why he remains haunted by his 2003 stint on Celebrity Treasure Island. 

My earliest TV memory is… I’m watching Sesame Street and they are breaking out to do little bits in Spanish, and I don’t understand the Spanish bits. That’s actually incredible because my beautiful wife, Janine, one of her early jobs in television was to replace the Spanish bits with te reo Māori bits. But yes, I vividly remember watching Sesame Street and thinking it was such an incredible thing to have these friends on television who would tell us stories and teach us stuff. 

The TV show that I used to rush home from school to watch was… There was Here’s Andy, which was Andrew Shaw, who went on to become quite a television icon in New Zealand and the person to impress at TVNZ. Then there was also Nice One. They were both this friend in the afternoon that, no matter how good or bad your day was, were always there. And that’s what I eventually tried to be when I made children’s television, so those guys certainly inspired me. 

The TV moment that haunts me to this day… In my own TV career, my big moment of ‘What the hell were you thinking?’ was when I appeared on Celebrity Treasure Island in 2003. Now here’s the thing I’d like to make quite clear – that word “celebrity” should be banned in New Zealand because we don’t have any. It’s the same with Dancing With the Stars – it should be called Dancing With Some People You May or May Not Have Heard Of. Anyway, I went on Celebrity Treasure Island and I just remember being there, looking around at all these people and thinking ‘Wow, Jasey, come on now. How bad have things got, seriously?’ Whenever that stuff comes up again I just always think: remember that day and say ‘Thanks, but no thanks’. 

Jason Gunn hosting Dancing With Some People You May or May Not Have Heard Of

The TV ad that I can’t stop thinking about is… I always love the Crunchie bar ad when they’re on the train [Gunn breaks out into song]: “Have a Crunchie, have a Crunchie bar”. There’s a robbery on a train and the camera just follows everybody and it was just a great story. It’s a masterpiece, the best ads are ones like that where you’ve gone on a bit of a journey. 

My television guilty pleasure is… I love watching fails. Sometimes I’ll watch Ridiculousness on Netflix, which is just people having terrible fails. So I’ll watch that, but I’ll also go down a YouTube rabbithole of fails. That’s where I can get really lost. 

My favourite TV moment of all time is… When we were making the Son of a Gunn show, we always used to say ‘Who are we making this for?’ We realised it was for that one kid who would come home from school, and mum or dad wouldn’t be there. They’d let themselves in, maybe make something to eat, and Jase and Thingee would be there to ask how their day was. Before we wrapped on the final episode, I went over to the couch and I looked down the camera, and thanked that one kid for letting me be in their home. What a powerful moment that was, and how lucky was I was to have had this moment with the tamariki of our country. I distinctly remember thinking in that moment: of all the jobs I will ever do, it will never get as good as this. 

My favourite TV character of all time is… Thingee would be obviously very tough to beat. I mean, there’s not many that can come back from an eye falling out, that could have been career-ending for a lot of characters. It could be someone like Kermit the Frog, who could be hilariously funny, but also very heartfelt. I’m going to throw Fozzie Bear into the mix as well. And Grover. There’s a lot of puppets going on here… I just want to make clear that I don’t have a thing for puppets. But possibly if you take your Grover, your Kermit, your Fozzie Bear and roll them into one, you would still get Thingee. How could I not say Thingee? He changed my life. 

Jason and Thingee have been through a lot together. Image: Youtube

The most stylish person on television is… When we were making the Son of a Gunn show, Phil Keoghan was just across the corridor making Spot On. I was only about 18 when we started and Phil Keoghan was a much, much better dresser than me. I started closely watching what he was wearing and then one day I went out and bought his exact shirt, pants and shoes and wore it to work. I remember I got into the lift at TVNZ in Christchurch and there was Phil Keoghan in the exact same attire. He just looked at me like “Well, Jason, this is sad” and I was like “Yes, Phil, it is” and went home and got changed. 

My favourite gunge memory is… One day on The Son of a Gunn show, we didn’t have any cream for the cream pies, so we just used shaving foam. And this beautiful young kid, without knowing, put the cream pie in my face. I didn’t see it coming, so I breathed in at the same time and all the shaving foam got into my lungs. It started burning and I couldn’t actually breathe, and I just remember racing into the makeup room going “OK, this is not good, this can’t be how I go.” A terrifying day – I’m no firefighter, but being a children’s presenter can be scary stuff. 

The one TV show I wish I was involved in is… I’d love to be in Ted Lasso. I know it’s cheesy, but it’s got that heart and the humour, and British football. I’d love to be a part of a show like Fargo that is so grim but so brilliant. I love the comedic timing and performances in Modern Family, that’d be great too.

Jason Gunn on The Project in 2020. Image: Youtube

My most controversial TV opinion is… I have a big gripe with TV news, because I wish we had a better balance between bad news and good news. There’s so much good news out there, but we don’t hear about it. I don’t understand why these people are just dropping off all these parcels of bad news at my door every night at six o’clock. The news could be such a powerful vehicle to show us the good and the bad in each day, instead of just singing you off to sleep at night thinking “God, this world is a terrible place.” There are so many good reasons to be grateful for being alive, so let’s spread some of the good news. 

A TV show I will never watch, no matter how many people say I should is… Years ago I would have said The Kardashians but these days, when it’s on in our house, I’ll admit I might walk past and watch a couple of seconds of it. It reminds me of watching car racing as a kid and thinking “Surely the only reason we are watching this is because we want someone to crash” – we’re only watching The Kardashians because we want to see a fight.

The last thing I watched on TV is… I’ve just got into Lupin on Netflix. He’s this unbelievable escape artist thief, and I’m totally hooked. It’s in French which means I have to read the subtitles, so I’ve really got to focus even more. If I’m watching Lupin, nobody talk to me. 

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