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Tuesday, December 10, 2002


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Smashing! Gallagher wants to be the smartest guy ever dumb enough to be a comedian

By Jason Genegabus
jason@starbulletin.com

WHEN WORKERS wrap the seats and cover the walls with plastic at the Blaisdell Concert Hall this week, it's not so they can paint the walls or make repairs. Veteran comic Leo Gallagher will appear tomorrow night wielding his trademark "Sledge-O-Matic" for an evening of laughs and the chance to spray local audience members with apples, oranges, cottage cheese, cakes and watermelons.

"We have the best time you can without hurting anybody," Gallagher said last week by phone from California. "I'm a bawdy guy; I'm rowdy. Any guy that wants to smash watermelons has to be."

At the same time, anyone who successfully smashes watermelons for more than 20 years and continues to draw crowds has to be doing something right. Gallagher first thought of the "Sledge-O-Matic" while watching a commercial for the "Veg-O-Matic" on television during the mid-1970s. "I thought they ought to just smash it," he said.

After coming up with a basic routine, Gallagher sent his ideas off to two top comedians of the day, George Carlin and Albert Brooks. But, "neither of them wrote me back and said anything about it." The University of South Florida graduate was between engineering jobs and working the counter at a local restaurant at the time, and people who witnessed his antics encouraged Gallagher to try his hand onstage. When he got a job as a road manager for comedic singer Jim Stafford, Gallagher was on his way.

That experience, along with performing at comedy clubs in California like the Comedy Store and the Ice House, gave him the experience and contacts needed to get his first television special aired on Showtime. To date, the comedian has done 16 specials and toured relentlessly across the United States, performing over 100 shows per year.



Gallagher

Where: Blaisdell Concert Hall
When: 7:30 p.m. tomorrow
Tickets: $20, $25 and $35
Call: 526-4400

"I want to be the smartest guy who was ever dumb enough to be a comedian," Gallagher said when asked how he made the change from engineering to comedy. "I want (audiences) to think thinking is fun."

But how much thinking goes into smashing a Big Mac on a stool with a sledgehammer? "It's not my fault the audience wants a certain level of comedy," he said. "I've always tried to have the smarter jokes in there, but people are basically hungry, horny and cheap. And lazy is the other one.

"If you can accuse (the audience) of any of those things, you'll get a laugh. Because secretly, they all are," said Gallagher.

WHILE AUDIENCES expect to be pelted with food at a Gallagher show, the comedian is quick to point out that there's more to his performance than splattering things on a crowd. "I do a really funny show up until the point I start to smash stuff," he said. "I've done this my whole life, so I know how to do a comedy show. That's a skill that I've honed over the years, and I think if (people) come to the show they'll see the best comedian that's ever performed.

"I think that over the years I've paid attention to what I'm doing and trying to do it better."

Most of the jokes Gallagher performs now are nothing like what you'll see on his television specials. Over the five years that have passed since his last one, the comic has perfected his improv and audience participation skills. Instead of Gallagher smashing everything onstage himself, audience members are now brought up to do some of the pounding themselves.

"What I've learned over the last five years or so is how to be spontaneous," he explains. "If (a joke) doesn't work, you're stuck with a person up on stage; so it takes a while to learn how to make it flow and how to keep it funny.

"I really can't tell you what's going to occur at the show because it's going to be based on the people that are there and what's happening. I bring things to facilitate it, but it's still up to the people and my cleverness to keep it going -- and it's funnier that way."

THERE HAVE also been a few setbacks for Gallagher as he nears his 60th birthday. Two years ago the 56-year-old comic had to go to court in order to get his brother, Ron Gallagher, to stop impersonating him at shows. "He wanted to fool people into thinking it was me," Gallagher said. "You just don't go around scamming people or biting the hand that feeds you. Now he's out of the business and has to go do something else. I was just trying to make more people happy."

Around the same time, Gallagher suffered a heart attack that damaged 20 percent of his heart muscle. He had been perfectly healthy up until that point in life and didn't even realize he was having a heart attack until the day after symptoms first appeared. "I can be dead tomorrow if something clogs in my arteries," Gallagher said.

"But it doesn't stop me from doing my best shows. I'm just trying to have the most fun and bring the most joy to people before I check out.

"I'll love those that are there. ... It'll be a good show," he said.



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