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Published: Friday, 4/8/2005

Gallagher's show is always a smash

BY MIKE KELLY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
While running for governor of California during the 2003 recall election, comedian Gallagher
tries his hand at raising funds for the state outside the Treasury Department in Washington. While running for governor of California during the 2003 recall election, comedian Gallagher tries his hand at raising funds for the state outside the Treasury Department in Washington.
NICOLE N. MARTIN / AP Enlarge

They'll be busy tomorrow wrapping the front rows in plastic and covering the walls and curtains in the Ritz Theatre in Tiffin in preparation for the 8 p.m. appearance of Gallagher, the veteran prop comic who's best known for smashing and splattering all manner of produce during his high-energy act.

The 57-year-old comedian - full name, Leo Anthony Gallagher - has been playing with words and pulverizing items on stage with a sledgehammer, which he calls his "Sledge-O-matic," for more than 20 years.

After graduating from the University of South Florida with an engineering degree in 1970, Gallagher found his way into show business as a road manager for comedic singer Jim Stafford ("Spiders and Snakes"). The two wound up in California, where Gallagher eventually started performing at clubs such as the Comedy Store and the Ice House.

While shaping his act, Gallagher became known for his antics with the Sledge-O-matic, which he named after the ubiquitous Veg-O-Matic, sold via endless TV commercials at the time.

During his performances, Gallagher would shower his audiences with the pulverized remains of apples, oranges, lettuce, cottage cheese, pound cakes, Big Macs, and, for his big finale, a watermelon. Audience members who were in the know began turning up at his shows in full "Gallagher gear" - wearing plastic raincoats, goggles, and sunglasses, and carrying umbrellas.

They would refer to the front portion of any theater where Gallagher was performing as "death row."

So inseparable have the comedian and his free-flying food become that he won't even perform if he can't bring his fruits and veggies along. He canceled a scheduled show in Illinois in 2003 after learning that the venue would not allow food to be brought in.

No watermelon, no show. "We can't do a Gallagher show without Sledge-O-Matic," said his manager, Ruth Ann Hoffman.

In addition to appearances on various television shows over the years, Gallagher also has starred in more than a dozen cable TV specials, with titles such as Melon Crazy, The Messiest Of, and Smashing Cheeseheads. Several of the specials are available on video and can be purchased on Gallagher's Web site, www.gallaghersmash.com.

In recent years, Gallagher has been almost as active off the stage as on it. In 2000, he sued his younger brother, Ron, who had been touring the country for five years as "Gallagher II," offering audiences in clubs and smaller venues a watered-down version of the original Gallagher show, complete with a food-smashing sledgehammer.

At first, the younger performer had his brother's permission to imitate his act, but when Ron started suggesting to his audiences that they were seeing "the real Gallagher," big brother Leo decided to pull the plug on him. In August of 2000, a federal judge granted an injunction prohibiting Ron from performing any act that impersonates his brother.

More recently, Gallagher captured headlines as a candidate for governor in the freewheeling 2003 California recall election. During his campaign, he told voters that their state's freeways were overcrowded "because there are too many off-road vehicles on them."

In one of his campaign appearances, he lamented the state of the nation's collective IQ. "Don't you wish there were a knob on the TV to turn up the intelligence?" he asked. "There's one marked 'brightness,' but it doesn't work."

When the votes were tallied, Gallagher managed to finish 16th in the field of 135 candidates. He garnered 5,466 votes, which must have given ultimate winner Arnold Schwarzenegger cause for concern, at least until the governor-elect noticed that his own vote total was about 4.2 million.

Gallagher's stage show has evolved over the years, and he now interacts more with his audiences. People from the crowd are often invited up on stage to share in the fun of squashing containers full of Spaghetti-Os, creamed corn, Jell-O, and more.

One thing that hasn't changed, though, is Gallagher's reputation as an audience-friendly performer. He still signs autographs and poses for pictures with fans in theater lobbies before performing, and flash photography is allowed during his shows. He even sometimes sells cameras if people forget to bring their own.

Comedian Gallagher appears at 8 p.m. tomorrow in the Ritz Theatre, 30 South Washington St., Tiffin. Tickets, $15 to $40, are available at the box office, by phone at 419-448-8544, or online at www.ritztheatre.org.

Contact Mike Kelly at: mkelly@theblade.com

or 419-724-6131.



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