That’s Showbiz (Pizza Place)!

During my youth, I spent many a saturday at a little place I liked to call Showbiz Pizza (it helps that the company that owned it also called it that too). It was kinda tucked away and isolated, just off one of the main roads in my hometown of Lynchburg, VA, but boy was it ever popular.

For those of you who may not be familiar with the place, it was an arcade & pizza restaurant that totally catered to the kiddies. Think Chuck E. Cheese’s, but with actual video arcade games instead of lame ticket games like I’m told they have now (though they had a few of those as well). Chuck E. Cheese’s, by the way, was at one time a competitor to Showbiz Pizza Place, but then Showbiz bought out Chuck E. and eventually all Showbiz restaurants (that weren’t closed) were converted to Chuck E. Cheese restuarants.

Where was I? Oh yeah, the place was popular. Saturdays were absolutely crazy there. The place would look completely calm from the outside, but as soon as you opened that door and walked in, it was utter chaos. You’d hear bells & whistles going off in all directions, you could hear the roll of skeeballs whizzing down their skee… lane? Kids are running around, kids are crying, kids are screaming, Billy Bob is walking around the place shaking hands and giving hugs (we’ll get to him in a bit) and the bleep blip boops of arcade games would whirl around your head. It was nothing short of magic and the first thing you wanted to do was get your freakin’ Showbiz tokens and head off to the video games. Or at least I did. I left all the meal plans to my parents or to whichever unlucky parent(s) got shafted with a group of us kids: “Gimme the money, gimmie the the tokens, I’m going to play my games, call me when the pizza’s ready”.

If you had a birthday, you HAD to have it at Showbiz. Nothing less was acceptable. Birthdays were when you’d get like $10 worth of tokens from whichever parents were hosted it (1 quarter per token) and keep in mind this was BEFORE you had to pay like .75 cents or ONE DOLLAR to play an arcade game. All you needed was one token (okay, two if you wanted to play Hard Drivin’) and you were set.

The games? Nothing short of classic. Of course, there was the traditional skeeball game, which was kinda fun, but I always sucked at it. I never had good aim and either rolled it too soft or too hard. I *think* there may have been a little plastic ball pit to jump in, which as an adult, I find really nasty and I imagine it was full of all kinds of germs and bodily waste. When I have a kid, he’ll never go into one of those pits. There were a couple of other ticket games, but they escape me at the moment. Just use your imagination. Of course, as it with all arcades, the ticket games are a ripoff and any decent prize is incredibly steep in terms of quarters to get your hands. It’d be much easier (and cheaper) to just go to the quarter machine at K-Mart and get the exact same plastic paratrooping figure or sticky hand or glow-in-the-dark sticker or plastic spider ring.

The real games you went there for were the arcade games anyway: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Arcade Game (one of my favorite games of all-time), Double Dragon, Donkey Kong, Hard Drivin’, Pac-Man, Paperboy, Rolling Thunder, Kung Fu Master, Vs. Super Mario Bros., Q*bert and Rampage were all there alongside countless others. How many tokens did I waste trying to beat all the Shredders at the end of TMNT?

Of course, there *was* more than just the games. There was the show. What show?

The Rock-afreakin’fire Explosion, baybee! A more ragtag, creepy & disturbing, yet mesmerizing cast of animatronics you could not find than these guys. They were all in place on the stage, concealed by curtains and situated on three connecting stages. When the curtains opened the SHOW was ON. Many kids would run up to the stage and gawk at this weird experience being laid before them. That’s not to say I didn’t like the Rock-afire Explosion, I loved it and I loved the characters. But you have to admit, there’s just something a bit creepy about a huge mean looking gorilla play keyboards or some giant polar bear in bermuda shorts strumming on the guitar. Maybe it was their soulless eyes that creeped me out.

The picture you see above is exactly how my Showbiz Pizza was set up, other Showbiz restuarants may have featured different characters on a rotating basis on the left hand stage, but I don’t recall any Santa Claus or Uncle Klunk coming to visit. Nope, the only visit we ever received (and it was on definite rare occasion) was from Chuck E. Cheese himself! Showbiz would hype his arrival for weeks like Jesus Christ himself was returning to save us all. To be honest,  I can’t remember if I ever actually saw the Big Cheese at Showbiz though.

In my young mind, Chuck E. Cheese was the actual leader of the Showbiz gang, with Billy Bob filling in while he wasn’t there. I’m sure the real reason was once Showbiz swallowed up the Chuck E. Cheese restaurants, they probably just didn’t want to cross the brands *too* much at that point and figured why mess with two good things and just let’em do their own thing. I *was* aware of Chuck E. Cheese’s restaurants though. There was one over in Roanoke, about an hour from Lynchburg, and I was so mad that we didn’t have one of those too and upset that Chuck E. couldn’t just hang out at my Showbiz on a permanent basis. I think I’ve only been to Chuck E. Cheese’s once in my life and that was on a trip to Fort Walton Beach, FL, to visit my grandparents (that restaurant closed a few years ago). I don’t really remember it.

But let’s get on with the character descriptions (close-ups of these characters can be viewed here).

Starting on the left stage, there’s Rolfe DeWolfe with his hand puppet Earl Schmearle. Rolfe was pretty freaky looking to me as a kid. When he talked, he looked like he was trying to eat me using those sharp fangs they gave him. They were a comedy duo who also joined in with the Rock-afire band on a few songs, and I think Rolfe maybe even sung a few on his own.

Middle stage is the Rock-afire Explosion band. Bangin’ the skins is slow-witted spacedog Dook Larue. Then we have the scariest of all the Showbiz characters– keyboardist Fatz Geronimo, a huge gorilla in a shiny gold tuxedo jacket who looks like he’s about to snap. I think he was pretty much the leader of the band, and was always in a grumpy mood, which also led to me fearing for my life when he hit the stage. Next up is Beach Bear, who was a stoner surfer and the axeman for the group, though he only simply strummed that electric geetar of his during every song. Rounding out the stage was every young boy’s crush– the cheerleading mouse Mitzi Mozzarella who waved around her pompoms and only did vocals. I think pretty much every boy tried to look up her cheerleader skirt (I know I did) and I personally hold her responsible for the american male’s fixation with cheerleaders. In the background are Sun & Moon, who would randomly pop up to add background vocals.


Does this frighten you? He sure frightened me when I was 7.

All of these characters did background vocals and they also took turn on lead vocals, depending on the song. The songs they played were pretty much everything from 60s pop to country to 80s hits (which would’ve been current at the time). During the wait for the shows to begin, there were TVs placed in the eating area which featured current music videos (I distinctly remember a censored version of George Michael’s ‘I Want Your Sex’ called ‘I Want Your Love’ playing), plus a few movie poster parodies such as a Chuck E. Cheese spoof of Crocodile Dundee (“Crocodile Chuckee”?).

Last but not least, on the right stage is Billy Bob Brockali, Showbiz Pizza’s mascot. He played banjo and in my mind, was the absolute star of the show. He sang as well, but I don’t think he joined in with the rest of the band for every song. Sharing the stage with Billy Bob is Looney Bird, who apparently hung out a lot in an oil drum. He wasn’t a member of the band and only poked his head out for comedy bits.

Other background characters were Baby Bear Choo-Choo, who did nothing but poke his out out of a small tree stump, but I always found it to be a fun challenge to keep my eyes open for any of his appearances. Then there was Antioch, the birthday spider, that would drop down from the ceiling near Fatz during songs, usually at birthday parties. 

The Rock-afire Explosion show can still be found at a few pizza places across the country, virtually unchanged, but they are no longer associated with Showbiz Place/Chuck E. Cheese’s because the pizza chain had a falling out with the engineering company that created the animatronics.

Oh… In all this talk about animatronics and video games, I forgot to mention the pizza! Hey, I was just a kid, and I know there’s a lot of bashing in regards to the quality of pizza that the current Chuck E. Cheese’s are offering up, but to me, the pizza was pretty darn good. I remember ordering sausage pizza there alot. I remember them having a huge pepper shaker, the ones with those round shavings of pepper and I always used to pour on the parmesan cheese as well.

I don’t know if that Lynchburg Showbiz Pizza Place is open today as a Chuck E. Cheese’s or not. I would imagine it probably isn’t, but darn if that lot doesn’t hold a load of great memories from my childhood. Maybe experience varies by store, but all I’ve heard in the last few years is nothing but bad things about Chuck E. Cheese’s: from the variety of games, to the the attitude of employees, to the quality of pizza and prizes. It’s a shame. Showbiz Pizza Place was a magical world in the 1980s and the time spent there and the characters are something I’ll always cherish in my heart.

It’s especially sad to know that the Rock-afire Explosion has been reduced to tiny pizza shops where they do little-to-no maintenance on them and have no connection with the company they originated with, but hey, I guess that’s what YouTube is for:

Then check out this… People have the stage and are programming it with newer songs!

A commercial I remember:

A big THANK YOU to the team over at ShowbizPizza.com for the information and use of images and videos. It’s a really fun site and if you remember Showbiz Pizza at all, I think you’ll enjoy it. And I’d also like to thank Google Image search as well. =)

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9 thoughts on “That’s Showbiz (Pizza Place)!

  1. W.C. Haynes says:

    I am glad you posted this. I went into the old Showbiz building in Lynchburg probably around 2002 or so, and an ice cream place had moved in. They were in the process of renovating the building, but the main stage room was still intact at that time. I pulled one of the curtains back and saw the robot mouse with no clothes on. Who knows what happened to the robots, or how long they had been sitting in that building, but they were there as late as 2002. I think the ice cream place closed down as well, so the building is empty again as far as I know.

  2. Man, I thought I was the only person who knew about Showbiz Pizza. I grew up in Amherst, and that particular Showbiz was one of my absolute favorite places to go. We moved away in 1990, and I was surprised that no place else seemed to have one… at first I thought Chuck E Cheese was the rip-off! Sorry to hear it’s shut down, though.

  3. Roger says:

    Glad to see this article as I lived in Lynchburg when I was a kid. It blew me away as a kid just like Hanna Barbara’s version of Kings Dominion. Both of those were highlights growing up. We moved away for a few years and visited the one in Greensboro and that is the only other SBP I have been to. I returned to Lynchburg in the late 80′s and Showbiz pizza was still there in fact I had a B-day there then. Not much had changed other than the play area with the balls you could jump in was gone and a section that use to have all table top games had been taken out. The games were more modern with some old classics mixed in. Sometime during the early 90′s the name was changed to Billy Bob’s Pizza. It still sported all the robots but the bar/sports room had been shut down and they no longer served Beer. The robots now instead of working on a program would sing by selection made on a unit in front of the stage. Rumor has it the guy who owned it or ran it refused to update the machines or put any money back into the place and it slowly went away. My guess is once it got to expensive to run the robots he shut it down. I still remember this being one of the few locations in VA to have the popular Dragons Lair game in the 80′s. It finally shutdown for good in the mid to late 90′s. One day out of curiosity I was there with my GF at the time and we stopped by to check it out. Sure enough Bill Joes Ice Cream Parlor had moved in. There were no arcade games to be seen but as mentioned above the stage area was still in tact in fact people were eating ice cream in there. Not sure what is there as of 2011 if anything. The building still exists though as you can see it off the bypass.

  4. I am for some weird reason obsessed with this place. I just stopped by there the other day to have a look around. It was really exiciting but sad at the same time. The grass was as high as my waist and someone had graffited down the side of the building. But once you got pass it being run down it was still awesome!

  5. joe says:

    i had my brithday frist party i was six year old at chuck e chesse pizza time theater mr munch scared me i had my partys there from 1980-1987 they closed the chuck e chesse pizza time theater in 1988 then i had partys at showbiz pizza place for two years

  6. Ed says:

    I know this is 4 years old, but I was bored and typed “Showbiz” and “Lynchburg” in a google search and your post popped up near the top! Thought I’d fill-in some of the blanks for ya.

    The robots were in fact there when Billy Joe’s moved in. (If you will recall, Billy Joe’s used to be located on Fort Ave back in the 80s and 90s.) During the renovation, the owners, being members of TRBC, donated the robots to the church. I was there the fateful day when the tech team decided the robots were in such disrepair from having sat in a non-climate controlled building for over a decade … and everything… every stinkin’ thing … ended up in a few dumpsters. EVERYTHING! I assume the remnants of the animatronic show exist somewhere in the Lynchburg Landfill… where they will sit for all eternity as I’m pretty sure the robots are not biodegradable. Haha.

    By the time Billy Joe’s finished the renovations, the stages were used (recarpeted of course, but with the same curtains and new headers) for bands. I played keys in a band that performed there once and my rig was set-up right where Rolfe and Earl once stood! I have to say, as an 80s kid and a Showbiz fan, it was pretty cool playing from that stage.

    A strange thing about this store was that it went through the process of Concept Unification, and the mechs were all converted to Chuck E. Cheese in the early 1990s. But, just a few years later, the store ended its franchise with CEC and became “Billy Bob’s Pizza” Yup… the store re-converted the mechs back to the Rock-afire Explosion! To my knowledge, I don’t think any other show went through the process of CU and then transitioned back to RAE.

    The building was donated to Liberty University a few years ago who sold it last year. It was purchased by the Lynchburg Chamber of Commerce who plans to spend $3million converting it to their new headquarters.

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