Leo Anthony Gallagher Jr. (born July 24, 1946), known mononymously as Gallagher, is an American comedian known for smashing watermelons as part of his prop comedy act.
Gallagher was born on Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to a family of Irish and Croatian heritage. Until the age of nine, he lived in Lorain, Ohio, but because of his asthma, the family moved to South Tampa, Florida, where he attended H.B. Plant High School. He went on to graduate from the University of South Florida with a chemical engineering degree in 1970. He minored in English literature, which he uses often in his skits to mock the language.
After college, Gallagher began working as comic/musician Jim Stafford's road manager. Stafford and Gallagher traveled to California in 1969, during which time Gallagher decided to perform himself. He began honing his own comedy act while frequenting both The Comedy Store and The Ice House. He was repeatedly denied appearance on The Tonight Show in the 1970s and 1980s, as Johnny Carson disliked prop comedy. However, he was liked by some of the program's staff, and Gallagher eventually performed several times on the show when guest hosts were filling in for Carson. Gallagher first appeared on The Tonight Show Dec. 5, 1975, when he demonstrated his prop, "The Tonight Show Home Game", and Carson noted it was his first appearance. Gallagher again appeared on The Tonight Show on May 9, 1979, a show hosted by Carson.
Gallagher was one of the most popular and recognizable American comedians during the 1980s. He did fourteen comedy specials for Showtime which have been re-broadcast numerous times, notably on Comedy Central.
Running for Governor (as an independent) in the 2003 California recall election, Gallagher finished 16th out of 135 candidates with 5,466 votes.
Conflict with brother
In the early 1990s, Gallagher's younger brother Ron asked him for permission to perform shows using Gallagher's trademark Sledge-O-Matic routine. Gallagher granted his permission on the condition that Ron, who shared a strong likeness to Leo, and his manager clarified in promotional materials that it was Ron Gallagher, not Leo Gallagher, who was performing. Ron typically performed in venues smaller than those that Leo Gallagher performed in. After several years, Ron began promoting his act as Gallagher Too or Gallagher Two. In some instances, Ron's act was promoted in a way that left unclear the fact that he was not the original Gallagher. This, and also Ron's off-stage troubles, left a stain on Leo's reputation as well.
Gallagher initially responded by requesting only that his brother not use the Sledge-O-Matic routine. Ron nonetheless continued to tour as Gallagher Too using the routine. In August 2000, Gallagher sued his brother for trademark violations and false advertising. The courts ultimately sided with him, and an injunction was granted prohibiting Ron from performing any act that impersonated his brother in small clubs and venues. This injunction also prohibited Ron from intentionally bearing likeness to Leo.
Gallagher's signature sketch is a pitch for the "Sledge-O-Matic," a large wooden mallet that he uses to smash a variety of food items and other objects, culminating with a watermelon. It also features a variety of props, including a large trampoline designed to look like a couch.
While the Sledge-O-Matic act is an example of physical prop comedy, the act itself (and even its name) is a parody of ads for the Ronco Veg-O-Matic, a kitchen appliance that was heavily advertised on American television from the mid-1960s through the 1970s. Gallagher also uses wordplay in his act, pointing out the eccentricities of the English language.
In July 1999 he did a show in Cerritos, California in which he used stereotypes that were considered offensive towards Mexicans. In January 2011, Gallagher walked out of comedian Marc Maron's WTF podcast when Maron continued to ask Gallagher about the jokes after Gallagher had responded that, out of a two-to-three-hour show, they were only five jokes that he had heard in the street. In a subsequent interview which touched on the incident, Gallagher accused Maron of "taking the other side of everything".
In July 2012, Gallagher was featured in a television commercial for GEICO Insurance, repeating his Sledge-O-Matic bit.
Though it varies from performance to performance, Gallagher will usually end each of his shows with his signature sledge-o-matic routine.
It traditionally begins with the following preamble:
"Ladies and gentlemen! I did not come here tonight just to make you laugh. I came here to sell you something and I want you to pay particular attention!
The amazing Master Tool Corporation, a subsidiary of Fly-By-Night Industries, has entrusted who? Me! To show you! The handiest and the dandiest kitchen tool you've ever seen. And don't you wanna know how it works!?
Well first you get out an ordinary apple. You place the apple between the patented pans. Then you reach for the tool that is not a slicer, is not a dicer, is not chopper in a hopper! What in the hell could it possibly be?! The Sledge-O-Matic!"
Gallagher would then produce a large, usually wooden, mallet, roughly the size of a sledgehammer, and smash it down onto the apple(s) hurling chunks of produce into the audience. People in the first several rows are usually prepared with tarps and raincoats and many comedy clubs also have taken great measures to cover up and protect their club with tarps and plastic sheeting.
Given the messy nature of his shows, Gallagher has had a few injuries suffered by fans in attendance.
At a show at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano on September 29, 1990, a woman named Robin Vann was in the audience and struck on the head with a heavy plush penguin that had a fire extinguisher inside it. She later sued the comedian for $13,000 in medical bills, $20,000 in lost wages and punitive damages reportedly in excess of $100,000. The case went to trial in 1993 with the jury ultimately siding with Gallagher after a raucous trial where Gallagher himself took the stand and reportedly had made as many laughs as he would during one of his shows. The presiding judge William Froeberg would later say "... in seven years on the bench, I've seen a lot of characters, but none so theatrical...It was entertaining. It certainly wasn't boring."
At a show at the Washington County Fair in Hillsboro, Oregon on July 8, 2010, a woman rushed the stage and slipped on debris and was taken to the hospital for her injuries.
In 2004, Comedy Central rated Gallagher the 100th best stand-up comedian of all time. Gallagher was displeased with being ranked so low, and he told The Oregonian, "I looked at the other people and I was trying to find anyone I ever heard of. How could I be behind people I never heard of? ... I made 13 one-hour shows for Showtime, which are available on videotape. I invented the one-man show on cable."
Gallagher lost nearly all of his fortune in stock market speculation gone wrong, and jokes that he is currently "broke." However, his longtime manager disputes this as a bit of comedic exaggeration, adding "We all need to be as broke as Leo."
During a performance on March 10, 2011, in Rochester, Minnesota, Gallagher collapsed on stage, gripping his chest. He was rushed to Saint Marys Hospital, where it was determined that he had suffered a minor heart attack.
A year later, on March 14, 2012, just before a performance in Lewisville, Texas, Gallagher began to experience intense chest pains. Gallagher's manager said the comic suffered a "mild to serious" heart attack and was placed in the hospital in a medically-induced coma while doctors tried to determine what was wrong with his heart. After replacing two coronary stents, doctors slowly brought him out of the coma on March 18, 2012. He quickly recovered and started talking to his family. His manager, Christine Sherrer, stated that he was breathing on his own, moving, and telling jokes.
He now resides in the town of Marion, Ohio.