Barris was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He attended Drexel University where he was a columnist at the student newspaper The Triangle. He graduated in 1953.
Barris got his start in television as a page and later staffer at NBC in New York, and eventually worked backstage at the TV music show American Bandstand on ABC. Barris soon became a music industry figure. He also wrote or co-wrote some of the music that appeared on his game shows.
Barris was promoted to the daytime programming division at ABC in Los Angeles and was put in charge of deciding which game shows ABC would air. His ABC bosses suggested that he quit his programming job and become a producer himself.
Barris first became successful during 1965 with his first game show creation The Dating Game on ABC.
The next year Barris produced The Newlywed Game for the same network. The combination of the newlywed couples' humorous candor and host Bob Eubanks' exuberant sly questioning made the show another hit for Barris - and to date the longest lasting of any developed by his company, running for 19 full years on 'first run' TV, network and syndicated.
The engaging but somewhat shy Barris rarely appeared on camera. But Barris became a public figure in a big way in 1976, when he produced and hosted the talent contest spoof The Gong Show. The show's cult stature far outstripped the two years it spent on NBC (1976-78) and the four years it ran in syndication (1976–1980).
Barris' jokey, bumbling personality, his accentuated hand-clapping between sentences , and his catch-phrases made him the antithesis of the smooth TV host. Dubbed "Chuckie Baby" by his fans, Barris was a perfect fit with the show's goofy, sometimes wild amateur performers.
Barris married Lyn Levy, niece of one of the founders of CBS. His 1974 novel, You and Me, Babe, is loosely based on this marriage. Their daughter Della Barris, who often appeared on The Gong Show, died of a drug overdose in 1998 at age 35. He married twice more, to "Red" Robin Altman, and later to Mary Barris. His uncle was singer/songwriter/actor Harry Barris. He now lives outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in the United States.