Gallagher discusses his comedy career from past to present
Published: Monday, January 30, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, February 1, 2012 00:02
Once best known as the comedian with the watermelon-smashing Sledge-O-Matic routine and 14 comedy specials, Gallagher now tours with a controversial nightclub act and opinions on President Barack Obama and tattoos.
The comedian will come to the Tampa Bay area for a show Saturday at 8 p.m. at Pasco-Hernando Community College. Yet Gallagher hails from a different local alma mater — USF during the 1960s.
"The wind blew the sand around," he said. "There wasn't any grass. There wasn't enough grass and there was five buildings. So I saw them build a lot of buildings while I was there."
While there, Gallagher studied to be a chemist and participated in one of the University's most publicized protests of the '60s — a demonstration against Morrison's Cafeteria, which provided on-campus food at the time. He said a Morrison's Cafeteria executive also served on the Board of Regents, which provided him with enough justification to protest.
"So I bought three pigs, put them in a trailer and put them down by the resident halls," Gallagher said. "The kids were supposed to get everything on their food cart and bring it out, what they didn't eat, and give it to the pigs. Then they said, ‘You can't feed pigs food without boiling it.' And so I said, ‘You mean to tell me that the food from the cafeteria isn't good enough for pigs? Then I guess I proved my point.'"
Despite his background in chemistry, Gallagher ended up with an English degree and worked various jobs as a chemist, writer and restaurant worker. Meanwhile, he created the Sledge-O-Matic — the watermelon-smashing parody of the Veg-O-Matic that became his trademark — and sent it off to George Carlin and Albert Brooks.
"That's when I wrote Sledge-O-Matic and sent it off," Gallagher said. "I was working in Lum's Restaurant on Hillsborough near my dad's (skating) rink at Armenia and Hillsborough (avenues) and people said, ‘You're funny, you ought to be a comedian.' So I thought, ‘Well, I've got that routine, I'll give it a try.'"
Gallagher said he would perform at spots like bowling alleys and hotels before starting in show business as Jim Stafford's road manager. This would eventually lead to a comedy career that would span 14 original comedy specials — eight in the 1980s.
However, Gallagher said he has had to change his current show to a nightclub act from his more inoffensive, family-friendly specials. Though the comedian has received criticism from outlets like The Stranger, a Seattle newspaper, for having racist and homophobic jokes in his act, Gallagher said "people are used to more radical things and so you've got to match the time."
"I think they're OK for families to watch, but if you're going to show up to see me today, I have to talk about Obama, I have to talk about the Arabs, I have to talk about tattoos and pulling your pants up," he said.
Asked why he necessarily has to talk about those topics, Gallagher said "because they're nuts" and deal with what he calls the lack of definition in this country.
"Girls shouldn't be getting tattoos and guys shouldn't be getting them all over their neck and down their arms," he said. "You see, first it starts and then they don't draw the line, and so they go over the line and over the line and over the line."
Gallagher said he also believes most nightclub comics are bad performers, turning their back to the audience and asking them questions. Though he said some comedians' acts work in nightclubs, they can't adjust to different types of audiences.
"I watch Louis C.K. sometimes, I just don't see him doing a state fair," Gallagher said. "I don't see people with children at a state fair finding his act — he's got a nightclub type of thing and the stories are long. When you work with a big crowd, you've got to work quick and general."
Asked what comedians he does think are funny, Gallagher said he likes "Sinbad and Mark Curry."
"I've seen them perform and they are just head and shoulders above the nightclub comics that I see," he said. "They're just excellent in what they do and they understand the audience and have command over the audience and they just kill. I also like Kevin James, I liked his HBO special."
Beyond touring with his comedy, Gallagher said he also keeps himself busy by devising new patents and even a cartoon he's creating.
"I'm working on a cartoon series about a rat and a cat that fall in love and have babies called ‘crats,'" he said. "I'm using that story to talk about diversity, and once again, my topic of what's the meaning of something. If we want to get rid of the rats in New York, what about crats? What if there's an animal that's half a rat and half a cat? Like our president is only really half a black guy."