R.I.P. Gallagher

Well, I have little doubt that there will be no “too soon” grace period for jokes about the fact that Gallagher (Leon Anthony Gallagher Jr, 1946-2022) has gone to that Great Watermelon Patch in the Sky.

I had occasion to mention Gallagher here only two days ago in my review of the Weird Al movie. For, over the decades, Gallagher managed to gain a reputation for being the epitome of the “One Joke Comic”, whose entire career was reduced by all and sundry to the smashing of watermelons. My friends, Gallagher did more than just smash watermelons! He also smashed apples, cantaloupes — a wide variety of fruits and other items! His instrument of destruction, a sledgehammer, was hawked from the stage as the “Sledge-O-Matic”, a parody of TV ads for kitchen implements of the day. The bit was markedly similar to Dan Aykroyd’s Bass-o-Matic sketch on SNL, although much more in the vein of an old fashioned sidewalk medicine show pitch.

Gallagher had a whole stand-up act on top of this. He did 13 full-length televised specials on Showtime. The photo above was selected to communicate two facts about him: 1) He was on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson (or guest hosts) 18 times; and 2) he was one of the generation of outre, clowny New Vaudeville performers who came up in the ’70s and ’80s (hence the reference to him in the Weird Al movie.) He also did Merv, Mike Douglas, Hollywood Squares, the usual circuit, over the decades. He had originally been Jim Stafford’s road manager; a couple of his first TV appearances were on Stafford’s TV variety show in 1975. Gallagher was born in North Carolina, and spent his tweens, teens and college years in Florida. In recent years, he faced increasing criticism for racism, homophobia, and other issues in his material.

I was heartily amused to read that about 20 years ago, he had a conflict with his brother Ron Gallagher, who had essentially pirated his act. That it SO vaudeville. Reminds me of the long lasting feud between Al Jolson and his brother Harry.

Gallagher suffered an onstage heart attack in 2011, and had another one just before going on in 2012. The cause of his death was given as multiple organ failure.

And you thought those red and green lights on the Empire State Building were for Christmas! Nope! Watermelons!