Interviews by Marla Santos
GALLAGHER - UNHOOKED
"I don't like ignorant people!"
“I was going to be a scientist, when I realized that I would have more fun studying the world from the standpoint of comedy, rather than science.”
Not many people would guess that Gallagher, the comedian, possesses a degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of South Florida. He is best known for his signature skit, Sledge-O-Matic, where he used a sledgehammer to smash over 15,000 watermelons (and various other squishy foods) splattering into willing audiences faces and laps across America (that’s about 4 per show). Leo Gallagher was the star of 14 comedy specials that were broadcast on Showtime in the ‘80s and ‘90s, which continue to this day to be shown on Comedy Central. Recently, he was featured in a GEICO insurance television advertisement, where he was able to once again smash watermelons. Gallagher has brought a unique comedic entertainment to the public and one that will be missed when he stops performing. That may be soon, or not, since Gallagher is anything but predictable and “The Farewell Tour” could go on indefinitely.
I see a similarity in the outlook on life between Gallagher and the Archie Bunker character played by Carroll O’Connor in the television show “All In The Family”. Norman Lear, the creator of the show, is said to have thought that Bunker’s ignorant, bigoted persona and opinions on race, sex, marriage and religion would be laughed at because it was so outrageous, but to his surprise, it turned out that the people laughed with Archie. Gallagher spews much of the same outrageous homophobic, racist, and political language that Archie did. The difference is that Gallagher’s intelligence and frustrations have made him angry, and he has developed a hatred and distrust of humankind. Interestingly, his analysis of what is wrong with society and our government is hardly off track, and despite his sarcastic delivery, he maintains his stage presence and skill as a performer. He literally is the opening act for himself as he wanders through the crowd, exuding a charm that has successfully assisted him all these years. He tells me that he was probably the only entertainer to have been both a busboy and a headliner at the same casino here in Las Vegas: The Dunes.
Gallagher’s younger brother, Ron, started performing as “Gallagher Two” doing the Sledge-O-Matic routine and people thought they were seeing the original Leo Gallagher. Finally Gallagher sued Ron and won, preventing “Gallagher Two” from ever performing again under that name and using Leo Gallagher’s unique watermelon smashing routine.
Watching his humorous show at the Tropicana ignited my interest, and I wondered if there was just a bit of a warm, fuzzy character underneath his persona on stage. He has suffered four heart attacks and sometimes that mellows you… but not Gallagher!
STRIPLV: Has your mind always worked this fast?
STRIPLV: Your analytical nature is pretty unique.
GALLAGHER: I’m a scientist first. I was the youngest chief chemist that Kaiser Aluminum had in any of their nitric acid plants.
STRIPLV: This was all before the Sledge-O-Matic?
GALLAGHER: Yes. It’s silly and I’m a very intelligent person and I didn’t want to be in this silly business. I worked with Jim Stafford, wrote for him and did comedy songs and jokes, and we ended up with a summer show on ABC. I end up about 30 years old and I had to decide whether I would go back to science or do comedy. I’m working now with NASA and Dark Horse Comics, to come up with a comic book about subatomic particles (particles smaller than an atom). I have a number of patents and I’m trying to sell my patent idea to the gaming industry. I have a patent for new software for slot machines and you can see it on USPTO.gov and search: Gallagher slot machine. It’s entertaining and more like what the kids are used to on their cell phones. They’re being ignored and it’s ridiculous. I have everybody’s kids. They bring me their kids and I have to entertain kids every night. They bring me birthdays... they’ll say we didn’t know what to get him, so they bring him here and now I’ve got to be their birthday party. I smash a birthday cake at my show. They get the cake in their face, they get to smack a watermelon, they take pictures and put it on YouTube and their Facebook.
STRIPLV: What turns you on?
GALLAGHER: I write poems and songs. My iPad over there is full of songs and poems. I enjoy the language. I have many romantic poems that I’m trying to interest women in, ‘cause I wrote from a woman’s point of view. I write from any point of view. I’m a writer!
STRIPLV: What turns you off?
GALLAGHER: Ignorance! I hate people! I hate people that tell me they don’t have a smart phone ‘cause they don’t understand those things. I just don’t want to talk to them. If you don’t want to be in touch with all the information in the world, you’re not curious enough for me to talk to. I don’t like ignorant people!
STRIPLV: During your show, you discuss how America has “dumbed” down.
GALLAGHER: Yeah. We don’t win from dumb.
STRIPLV: What do you believe is the cause – lack of education, lack of common sense, laziness, or apathy?
GALLAGHER: I think the family not having dinner together is really the problem with America (when everybody started to eat on their own, going through the drive-thru, and didn’t come and have a time from 6 to 7 where they hear what everybody did that day and share it). But that doesn’t have anything to do with intelligence, and there are really smart kids, so it’s probably laziness and lack of self-discipline. People don’t know how to make themselves do something they don’t want to do.
STRIPLV: Were your parents very strict, and did they stress the importance of your intelligence?
GALLAGHER: My mom wanted to go to work, so she left me with the kids.
STRIPLV: You learned self-discipline through that?
GALLAGHER: I was 9 and she had 4 kids! I had to sue the one, so it’s my fault. I raised them. My mom realized I was intelligent and that’s why she left me with the kids and went and got a job at the hospital!
STRIPLV: Obviously, she was very proud of you.
GALLAGHER: No! She didn’t want to have kids. Who in the hell wants to watch kids? She wanted to go and have her life. She knew I was smart enough to take care of them, so she left me! My brother was 8, my sister 7, and my other brother, who was 3. I had a 3, a 7, an 8 and I was 9!
STRIPLV: That was a huge responsibility.
GALLAGHER: Yes, that’s right. Do I sound like I’m happy about it?!
STRIPLV: But it didn’t turn you off to having a family yourself...
GALLAGHER: One at a time, with different women.
STRIPLV: Then I guess you had a good time.
GALLAGHER: Yes, that’s the way to do it.
STRIPLV: What’s your favorite thing to do in your free time?
GALLAGHER: I write poems and songs, and read about science. I try to find people that would put music to my songs and they always flake out on me. All of them – every one of them.
STRIPLV: What would you call an autobiography of your life?
GALLAGHER: “The Reluctant Celebrity.” I didn’t want to be one. I didn’t start until I was 30.
STRIPLV: But didn’t you like it?
GALLAGHER: No, I don’t like it! It’s a lot of babysitting. The kids are all drunk; they’re all stupid, and everyone that you said that has a problem with self-discipline is at the bar to see the guy that smashes food. Only about one out of three shows is worth being in show business, and the other two are either embarrassing or too much work. It’s not fun!
STRIPLV: But is it fun being a celebrity and being recognized?
GALLAGHER: Only if it helps you do something that you want to do.
STRIPLV: You must have liked part of it, because you didn’t go back to being a full time scientist. You chose this life, right?
GALLAGHER: You just want show business to be a wonderful decision, filled with warm-hearted people who are doing it because they want to make people happy and laugh. That’s not the nursery rhyme that’s going on! Most of the time on stage is embarrassing and stupid! Horrid moments, in which there’s silence, nothing’s working, you’re in the wrong place, you’ve said the wrong thing, the environment isn’t conducive to theater, they didn’t have a good sound system, they didn’t have lights, they don’t have a stage that’s up so people can see, and they don’t control the crowd that are knocking beer bottles over. Most of the time, it’s stupid!
STRIPLV: What excites you?
GALLAGHER: I trade stocks, and I have for 30 years. I like to read about companies and P & L’s. I’ve got other patents, too. I’ve got one for furniture that turns into a fort, so the kids can have fun in the living room. I have a floor plan for a family reunion facility, so families can bond and have great times together, because hotels are not conducive to letting the kids run free. I have an idea for a fashion show where the girls sing while they model the clothes. I’ve written a song about what clothes mean to a woman. I think it’s the next thing that is going to happen in fashion shows, because it’s so much entertainment. I have so many pots on the stove that I need another stove.
STRIPLV: That sounds very exciting.
GALLAGHER: It’s very discouraging, because I can’t get to the right people or they’re not open to it.
STRIPLV: With all these ideas, is it the idea that excites you or the money at the end when it becomes successful?
GALLAGHER: It’s never about the money. I just want the world to be a better place. I’ve never been money motivated. I’ve disrespected money my whole life. I don’t want it to run me. It’s just so stupid.
STRIPLV: Do you go see other comedians, or Broadway shows, or movies?
GALLAGHER: I just want to kibitz in the Green Room. I really don’t want to go in the showroom and watch the show. I’m a terrible audience. I usually only can last the first act of a Broadway show. During intermission, I end up talking to the people that work there and everybody goes back in for the show and I’m still out there in the lobby talking to the workers, and then I go to a different show and they give me a ticket, because it’s the second act. So I’ll usually see two shows a night, but different acts. I get it, I’m not interested, and it doesn’t move fast enough for me.
STRIPLV: People in show business – are they similiar or different than you?
GALLAGHER: I don’t like them! Otherwise I would have had a TV show. I really don’t care for the Hollywood scene. I don’t feel creative in those vast studios. They are cold and the audiences are brought in by bus, no matter whether they speak English or have ever heard of you. I’ve had my worst experiences making television shows, and so I really don’t want to be there. I like everything between L.A. and N.Y., but not either of those two cities.
STRIPLV: Do you have a manager?
STRIPLV: Is it hard to deal with a manager, because you want to do what you want to do?
GALLAGHER: No. A manager works for you. I wasn’t looking for someone to give me orders!
STRIPLV: But most of them do.
GALLAGHER: Yeah, but they’re not dealing with a self-generating person with experience.
STRIPLV: If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?
GALLAGHER: Ahh, that’s one of those James Lipton questions. “This is the wrong show. You have a ticket for hell.” I don’t want to be in heaven with all those fake people.
For a limited time only. Gallagher appears at The Laugh Factory, inside the Tropicana