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Wednesday, April 29, 2009 11:41 am

Hide the watermelons, honey, here comes Gallagher!


If I say, “Gallagher,” what picture springs to mind? If everyone just said, “Smashing watermelons with a big mallet-thing,” I think we’re thinking of the same guy. He’s the one-name comedian who, regardless of his insightful and hilarious standup routines, is best known for his Sledge-O-Matic antics and outrageous props. Who thinks of anything else after hearing Gallagher’s name than the striped shirt maniac with the flying long hair and kooky gadgets, whacking away at everyday items such as Big Macs, computer keyboards, tubes of toothpaste and most famously, watermelons?

Born Leo Anthony Gallagher in Fort Bragg, N.C., on July 26, 1946, the budding joker spent his youth in Tampa, Fla., graduating in 1969 from the University of South Florida with a degree in chemical engineering. After purportedly inventing a prototype of a shark-proof cage, Gallagher began his show business career as a road manager for Jim Stafford, the writer and performer of such early 70s novelty radio hits as “Wildwood Weed” and “Spiders and Snakes.” Apparently Gallagher decided he, too, could make a go of making a living making people laugh and proceeded to do so. A run of successful comedy specials on cable TV made Gallagher and his Sledge-O-Matic one of the most recognizable names and popular acts in comedy during the 1980s. Does anyone remember attending his performance at Sangamon Auditorium?

After solidly establishing the Gallagher public persona, the comedian developed Sold Out Shows as a self-contained company to promote his professional ventures. He writes his own material, produces his own shows and does all his business through in-house dealings. Aside from his contentious and raucous stage show, the melon mauler weathered a bit of controversy over the last several years outside the actual entertainment arena that I hate to mention, but it’s part of his legacy.

After first allowing his younger brother, Ron, to perform a stage show quite similar to his own, by 2000 the original Gallagher sued the younger for acting too much like the elder. In 2003 Gallagher felt as capable as the next guy to run for governor of California in the runoff that elected Arnold Schwarzenegger, ending up at number 16 out of 135 candidates. In 2005 The Oregonian printed an interview where Gallagher spoke not-so-kindly about more successful comedic contemporaries who started around the same time as the still-touring comedian, including such Hollywood luminaries as Tom Hanks, David Letterman, Robin Williams, Jim Carrey and Michael Keaton. He also had a few choice words for Comedy Central after they listed him at number 100 (dead last) in their listing of the 100 greatest standup of comedians of all time.

Regardless of all that business, Gallagher continues to tour successfully, established as a household name ingrained in the public mind as an entertaining guy. His lengthy and productive career allows him to happily smash whatever pleases him (especially computers and watermelons), trash whatever strikes him (most likely the foibles of contemporary society), and overall, live life as he chooses, being a 60-something, funny fellow performing sold-out shows across the country at his pleasure.

Gallagher, along with his trusty Sledge-O-Matic, performs inside a tent outside at Donnie B’s Funny Bone on Friday and Saturday, May 1 and 2, at 8 p.m. sharp. Tickets for the two-and-a-half-hour show are $28 (regular) and $30 (VIP).

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