Putting the Prop in Proper
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Gallagher has had a rough few years: professed insolvency, multiple heart attacks and bad press for some of his jokes.
He has vowed to quit touring several times but he has always returned to the road.
What fuels the current tour, which pays a visit to the Embassy Theatre on October 19, is a higher purpose, Gallagher said in a phone interview.
He is trying to draw attention to his “bucket list.”
You can find it on his website, www.gallaghersmash.com.
“I am really doing this to gain publicity for my ideas for making the world a better place,” he said.
The bucket list is a collection of some “big picture” ideas that Gallagher (birth name: Leo Anthony Gallagher, Jr.) has had, a few of them more capitalistic than altruistic.
They include a nationwide chain of family reunion centers to facilitate familial harmony, slot machine software, an amusement park for dogs, living room furniture designed for ease of fort building by children, an Old West theme park in downtown Manhattan and a movie idea for Beyonc? about an Iraqi princess.
He said he has pitched these ideas to various high-profile folks, including Rosie O’Donnell, but he hasn’t heard back from any of them.
“I got nothing back from her,” Gallagher said of O’Donnell. “I feel so rejected and neglected. It balances out the good luck I had at the beginning of my life.”
The good luck to which Gallagher, 70, refers is the enormous success and stardom he enjoyed as a comedian in the 1980s.
Capitalizing on a short-lived mania for prop comedy, Gallagher introduced the Sledge-O-Matic, a watermelon smashing device (essentially a big mallet) that was a spoof of the Ronco products that were ubiquitously advertised on television at the time.
Some comics who came up during that era, like Jay Leno and Jerry Seinfeld, were able to parlay their early success into enduring fame and fortune. Many, like Gallagher, were not.
Gallagher eschews the term prop comic.
“I am just a proper comic,” he said. “I have always tried to be a complete showman.”
Gallagher believes comedians who perform on a bare stage in drab clothing with nothing in the way of embellishment beyond a stool and a microphone are doing a disservice to the people who pay to see them.
He also believes that some comedians spend too much time flogging old material.
“I made 14 one-hour shows in 10 years, and I just wonder why the other comics couldn’t just write another show,” he said. “It just amazes me. Even musical people who had a hit and enjoyed the attention and the money – how can they sit around retired instead of searching for another hit? – notice how the world has changed and try to fit in?”
Gallagher said the only aspect of his current tour that will seem familiar to people who have seen him before is the Sledge-O-Matic. All the other material is new.
“I have to entertain myself,” he said, “so I am not going to do my old jokes. Because, as a comedian, I need a surprise. There is enough funny stuff happening all the time in this world.”
One of the ways Gallagher said he is trying to stretch his creative wings is by writing more comic songs, story songs and poems that may or may not end up as songs.
But everything he does these days is a form of marketing for the things he wants to do and wants to see done, aka the bucket list.
“I had hoped that my performance and my name would give me a forum for my ideas,” he said. “And instead I don’t get any. It’s amazing to me that I can’t get anybody’s attention. It might be that they dismiss me because I’m just that guy that smashed watermelons. The world loves to make an appositive out of you: ‘Gallagher COMMA a watermelon-smashing comedian COMMA.'”
Before his comedy career took off, Gallagher said he worked as a chemist.
“I was the youngest chief chemist Kaiser Aluminum had when I when I was the head of the nitric acid plant,” he said. “I have a really good scientific mind. I’m an inventor. Anybody can see that from my shows.”
A few things that some people have claimed to see in Gallagher’s more recent shows are strains of sexism, racism and homophobia.
Gallagher said the offending jokes constituted a very small percentage of the overall material. He also believes that the subject matter would be hard to ignore.
“I am doing two-and-half hours,” he said. “Do you really think you could take for two-and-a-half hours about modern society and not mention homosexuality or race?”
Black and Hispanic comedians often talk about race in such a way that negative stereotypes are reinforced and, yet, those comics are never criticized, Gallagher believes.
“I’m not running for office and I’m not instigating legislation that would change America,” he said. “I’m just telling a joke.”
Gallagher believes he has never told a joke that is more offensive that what Bill Maher says weekly on his HBO show, Real Time.
“He says some horrible things about gays and religious people,” he said, “which I would never do. I can’t figure out why he gets to have the television show and he gets to be a millionaire and I’m the big, bad guy?
“It’s not fair,” Gallagher said. “It’s not uniform. It doesn’t make a bit of sense.”
Gallagher sees himself as a straw man and scapegoat who was unfairly targeted by progressive organizations that used him to advance their agendas. And he believes this has hurt his career.
“Well I just have to suffer this situation with never having a talk show or a sitcom because the LGBT or whatever organization called all of the networks and told them that if they gave me any deal that they would demonstrate and boycott,” he said. “The agencies told me, ‘You can’t have a deal. It’s impossible for you to have a deal in show business.'”
Organizations that fight exclusion fought to exclude him, Gallagher said.
“It’s mean spirited,” he said. “Why not let me sail on my own? Why not let me have a chance?”