Gallagher is primarily known for his work with a sledgehammer, which tends to get in the way of his ideas for solving the world’s problems. Before becoming a prop comic, Gallagher earned a degree in chemical engineering from the University of South Florida, and he regularly attends the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas to pitch his ideas.
On the phone recently from a tour stop in Tacoma, he talked about one of them, a design for a Subatomic Action Figure that would help explain the innards of iPods and cell phones to youngsters. “I try to get the companies to back me on this,” he said. “If Lucent or Sony were behind it, that would have a lot more validity than a guy who smashes watermelons.”
The Tampa resident also wonders why no one’s drafted James Cameron to tackle the Gulf oil spill. “He did a lot of research on underwater vehicles. If you can find the Titanic, you should be able to go down a mile and cap off this leak.”
He has a plan to build family reunion resorts, but the producers of Extreme Home Makeover rebuffed it. He’d like to mount a Wild West Show, starring injured NBA star Yao Ming, and tour China.
Then there are his questions of the ages, many of which are detailed in the World’s Smartest Man section of his web site (www.gallaghersmash.com). “I talk about gray areas,” he says. “How we can’t decide whether something is up or down, left or right, black or white an adult or a child, a citizen or an alien, a tax or a fee, a black person or white person, boy or girl, truck or car. There’s no meaning anymore in life and our society, and I talk about this.”
Most of his musings are more fanciful than serious. He is, after all, a stand up comic – one of the most successful of all time. “I wonder why old people don’t have gangs,” he says. “Because they have nothing to lose; they’re already old, so putting them in jail is no big thing. They don’t mind if you kill ’em. They could be a gang and they’d already have vehicles – instead of motorcycles, those little scooters.”
This offbeat wit forms most of Gallagher’s act, but more than a few people can be counted on to arrive with plastic sheets in tow, waiting for his signature prop, the Sledge-O-Matic. However, some shows, like the one happening this Saturday, July 3 at Jonathan’s in Ogunquit, are pre-advertised as “smash-free.”
Isn’t that a bit like Lynyrd Skynyrd refusing to play “Free Bird”? Gallagher doesn’t think so.
“My audience is old enough now that they can see from my videos that I have a lot more than just smashing,” he says. “They don’t mind. I still have a fairly crazy show.”
During his early 80’s heyday, Gallagher routinely sold out theatres. These days, after a heart attack forced him to take a break that his brother Ron tried to capitalize on with a Gallagher II show (which a lawsuit later shut down), the comic must out of necessity play a wider range of venues.
He views this adaptability as an asset. “I have to have a lot of different skills and material,” he says, “because I’ve been doing this for 30 years and I think I’m about the best guy you can hire to do a show anywhere in America. There are plenty of comics that can work in L.A. or New York, but can’t work in the middle.
But it’s also created some problems. “I don’t like stupid people who won’t shut up and can’t handle their alcohol,” says Gallagher. “Whether or not there’s alcohol changes the show.” He’s not afraid to berate audience members who cross the line. At a recent New York City comedy club performance (captured by several cell phones and uploaded to YouTube), his dressing down of an inebriated couple in the front row seemed to last longer as his act.
In an era where reality television has fans asserting equal footing with the person onstage, Gallagher maintains control, even if it alienates the audience. “I don’t want them to be quiet, I’m there live and it is a live experience – but up to a point,” he says. “When it becomes their show and not my show, they have to back off. I just tell the truth. I say the world doesn’t revolve around you, other people paid to see a Gallagher show, and you haven’t been funny yet.”
Warming up to the idea, he continues. “I think that’s why I’m not on television. People find the truth too dangerous. They really don’t want phone calls, emails and problems. I like it. I am a troublemaker. Anybody who will smash fruit on people is also going to smash their revered concepts. I think that’s what it’s all about. Comedians give you a fresh point of view – especially about things that you thought were important.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean Gallagher takes himself too seriously. “I’m still just a joke writer, commenting on the passing American scene,” he says. “People are always going to be goofy.”