RIP Gallagher, The ’80s Comedic Legend Who Loved Michigan
Gallagher, the comedian known for his watermelon smashing 'Sledge-O-Matic" hammer, passed away at the age of 76.
Gallagher Had Battled Heart Problems, Was An Unappreciated Comedy Legend
The comedian Gallagher, whose wordplay comedy and fruit smashing sledgehammer launched open the world of the one hour comedy specials on cable TV, died peacefully at a hospice in California Friday. He was 76 years old.
Born Leo Gallagher at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, the animated comic began his career in the clubs of Southern California as a prop comic with a quick wit, and a tendency for pun driven one liners.
His big break came in 1975 with an appearance on the Johnny Carson Tonight Show, the Holy Grail for comedians. With his striped shirts, newsboy cap and inventive props, Gallagher was arguably one of the most recognizable faces to emerge from the 1980s comedy boom.
He also laid the foundation for the future of comedy by being the first comedian to develop a one-hour comedy special on the pay cable channels, HBO and Showtime, who were desperate for content in their early days. He did 14 specials for Showtime alone.
Gallagher Was A Michigan Mainstay
Gallagher frequently made Michigan stops on his lengthy tours and admitted to MLive.com back in 2013 that he preferred working the Midwest to any other region of the country.
He performed his final tour with the 'Sledge-O-Matic' sledgehammer in 2013, with a stop of what he called his 'Last Smash' tour at Ceglarek Arts Center at GVSU. The sledgehammer routine ended most shows, with tickets in the 'Smash Zone' selling for ten dollars more.
People in the 'Smash Zone' were given plastic sheeting to cover themselves from the onslaught of fruit, which started with apples and ended with giant watermelons. The crowd would also augment the sheeting with umbrellas, raincoats and other apparel designed to protect them form the chunks of fruit.
By that point, it was the audience doing the smashing.
"I let people in the crowd come on stage and swing away at most of my shows now."
He returned without the hammer as just a standup comic to DeVos Performance Hall in downtown Grand Rapids as part of the Joy Comedy Tour with Bob Nelson and Artie Fletcher.
His final Michigan show was at the end of that tour in early 2019 at Soaring Eagle Casino in Mount Pleasant.
Gallagher Became Bitter And Disenchanted With The Entertainment Industry
I've had the privilege of interviewing Gallagher many times throughout his career, the first as part of his tour stop at the Frauenthal Theater in Muskegon back in 1991.
While always a prickly interview, the comic became more and more cantankerous over the years, and the last time I interviewed him in Baltimore in 2009, he was so negative, I cut the interview short.
He had just been called out for some racist material in his act, and was in no mood to talk about it. Two years later, he walked out of an interview on the Marc Maron WTF podcast, as that interview also got real testy.
He seemed to feel unappreciated by the comedy world at large, and didn't feel like he had been given his due for the some of the groundwork that he had laid. I happen to agree with him, but at some point, you have to set down your beef, and understand that you're never going to force people to admire you, it has to come organically.
RIP, Gallagher, I did appreciate you, and so did many other comics, who took to Twitter to mourn your loss.
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