Fatz Geronimo was the larger than life gorilla at the center of the Rock-afire Explosion. Despite his immense size, outspoken nature, and commanding presence, Fatz has always been a fan-favorite and central focus of Rock-afire Explosion showtapes.
In the very beginning, Fatz was a member of an earlier animatronic group - The Wolf Pack 5. He was present at the first ShowBiz Pizza Place restaurant that opened in 1980, and at the time was called Fats Gorilla1. Sometime shortly after he gained the last name "Geronimo", which was a nod to the famous Fats Domino which he was parodied after (Fatz sang a parody of Domino's "Blueberry Hill" entitled "Banana Hill"). In late March of 1981, the spelling of his name was officially changed to include the "z" (most likely for trademark purposes) and it was noted that his last name Geronimo would probably eventually be dropped2.
The voice of Fatz, Burt "Sal" Wilson, was a multi-talented artist, writer, and musician who was arguably the primary talent behind the Rock-afire Explosion. Many of Fatz's personality traits were not just a character invention - they were simply Wilson being himself. It's often hard to distinguish where Wilson the artist ended, and the character of Fatz began. Since Wilson was writing much of the Rock-afire's original music and wrote nearly all of the showtape scripts3, many of his own personal quirks were integrated into the shows, such as Wilson's obsession with Lawrence Welk4, as well as into Fatz the character, who inherited Wilson's passion for Cajun culture - Louisiana and New Orleans (where Wilson and thus Fatz was from) were featured in the majority of showtapes.
Being the leader of the Rock-afire Explosion, Fatz occupied center stage - positioned dead center in the middle of all the action. Fatz's presence was accentuated by his custom Rock-afire keyboard (aka the Tune Machine), and the Rock-afire Explosion sign which lit up the stage from behind him. Even in the earliest showtapes, before Fatz was able to showcase his roughly charming personality, his popularity was quite apparent. In a consumer study done in August 1982, Fatz was clearly the most popular character among all age groups - except for pre-teens, where he essentially broke even with Billy Bob5.
From that point on Fatz became, in essence, the voice of the entire show. He made most of the announcements and was very active in the opening skits. Antioch the birthday spider became his personal pet. Fatz was also the Grand Poo-bah of the Colander Head Movement - another zany brainchild of Wilson's that became a major event in the history of ShowBiz6. Fatz was boisterous, often telling the audience to "shut up" and occasionally threatening bodily harm to the other characters such as Rolfe. But underneath the brooding attitude was a softer side, recognizable by his relationship with his girlfriend, Esmeralda Jones, which he was always trying to downplay.
Near the end of the ShowBiz-era, Fatz's place in the spotlight dwindled, as focus was placed heavier on Billy Bob & Looney Bird. In the 1990s after the demise of ShowBiz, Fatz was included as a member of the prototype Mijjins show7, and also present in the New Rock-afire Explosion show and the smaller Billy Bob's Adventure Shows8 as a smaller redesigned version. Through the 1990s, he as also featured in several Show Selector announcements that were used in post-ShowBiz restaurants that utilized the Show Selector panel.
In 2007, Fatz was re-designed by artist and fan Jenn Waitt for use in a new restaurant that was slated to open in the country of Jordan. This new version was altered at the customer's request, as they wanted a friendlier, less threatening version, so he was re-designed with pale skin and brown fur - making him a monkey instead of a gorilla. He was given the name "J-Fatz" (short for "Jordan Fatz"). The show was never delivered to the customer and the restaurant, J-Fatz's Pizza, never materialized, however J-Fatz did receive a short cameo of the 2011 film Just Go With It.
1 - ShowBiz Pizza Place, Inc. - 1980 Franchise Brochure (Wolf Pack 5 Version)
2 - 1981 ShowBiz Pizza Place, Inc. Company Memos
3 - ShowBizPizza.com Correspondence with Burt Wilson
4 - Archival Home Video - "Monique Danielle Audition"
5 - Customer Evaluation of Shows & Music Report
6 - Showtape Review - Crazy Colander Head Night
7 - The Mijjins Promotional Brochure
8 - CEI 20th Anniversary Promo Kit