Gallagher discusses his comedy career from past to present
Once best known as thecomedian with thewatermelon-smashingSledge-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 Iwas there.”
While there, Gallagher studied to be a chemist andparticipated in one of the University’s mostpublicized protests of the ’60s – a demonstration againstMorrison’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 enoughjustification 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 withoutboiling 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 achemist, writer andrestaurant 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 wroteSledge-O-Matic and sent it off,” Gallagher said. “I wasworking in Lum’s Restaurant onHillsborough near my dad’s (skating) rink at Armenia and Hillsborough (avenues) andpeople said, ‘You’re funny, you ought to be a comedian.’ So I thought, ‘Well, I’ve got thatroutine, I’ll give it a try.'”
Gallagher said he wouldperform at spots like bowlingalleys and hotels beforestarting in show business as Jim Stafford’s road manager. This would eventually lead to acomedy career that would span 14 original comedyspecials – 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 hasreceived criticism fromoutlets like The Stranger, aSeattle newspaper, forhaving racist and homophobic jokes in his act, Gallagher said”people are used to moreradical things and so you’ve got to match the time.”
“I think they’re OK forfamilies to watch, but if you’re going to show up to see metoday, I have to talk about Obama, I have to talk about the Arabs, I have to talk abouttattoos and pulling your pants up,” he said.
Asked why henecessarily has to talk about those topics, Gallagher said “because they’re nuts” and deal with what he calls the lack of definition in thiscountry.
“Girls shouldn’t be gettingtattoos 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 alsobelieves most nightclubcomics are badperformers, 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 ofaudiences.
“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 andshoulders above thenightclub comics that I see,” he said. “They’re justexcellent 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 hiscomedy, Gallagher said he also keeps himself busy bydevising new patents and evena cartoon he’s creating.
“I’m working on a cartoonseries about a rat and a cat that fall in love and havebabies called ‘crats,'” he said. “I’m using that story to talk about diversity, and once again, my topic of what’s themeaning 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.”
Ultimately, Gallagher said what has guided himthroughout his career, from his earlier years to hiscurrent nightclub act, is that”the audience tells me what I can talk about.”
“I’m trying to be in theservice industry,” Gallagher said. “I ended up a busboy, if you think about it – I’m just serving jokes instead of food.”