On Friday morning, his family announced the death of Leo Gallagher, the comedian best known by his last name. He gained fame for smashing watermelons on stage with a mallet.
It was reported by Gallagher’s son-in-law to NBC News that Gallagher passed away in his Palm Springs, California home while receiving hospice care due to organ failure. A number of heart attacks had contributed to his health problems.
Gallagher, who entered the business in the year 1946 and was born in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, is said to have started out as the road manager for musical comic Jim Stafford. According to the source, his first television appearance was on the 1975 episode of “The Jim Stafford Show” on ABC.
According to Craig Marquardt, Gallagher’s longtime manager, Gallagher’s comedy stand-up special “An Uncensored Evening” was the first to air on cable television in 1980.
His most famous routine, “Sledge-O-Matic,” involved him smashing various foods with a large, handcrafted wooden mallet before moving on to the main act, a watermelon.
According to a report from 1979, when Gallagher was a guest on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson,” he poked fun at fellow comedian Chevy Chase, who had previously said that his routine was “pretty much set up by machines.”
To Gallagher’s claim that “Chevy doesn’t like it if somebody else gets a laugh,” Chase replied, “Just for the record I think he’s a fine young comedian and I think he’s going a long way.”
Gallagher retorted, “For the record, you don’t matter.”
Showtime and MTV both aired Gallagher’s comedy specials during his 15 years as America’s top comic. According to his website, Gallagher has hosted around 3,500 live comedy shows and 14 Showtime specials over the course of his decades-long career.
Gallagher Spent More Than Four Decades Performing Stand-Up Comedy
Gallagher began his career in stand-up comedy in the late 1960s, making appearances at the Comedy Store and Ice House.
A lot of comedians consider making their first appearance on The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson to be a big deal, and he did just that in 1975.
Over the years, he made multiple appearances on the show to perform. Gallagher, a comedian, was hailed as a pioneer of prop comedy and given the moniker “The Wizard of Odd” by The New York Times.
In spite of his extensive use of visual aids, his most famous routine was the “Sledge-O-Matic,” in which he smashed various fruits with a sledgehammer, the watermelons being the most vividly recalled.
In an interview for Marc Maron’s WTF podcast in 2011, he revealed that this was the first routine he had ever written.
His first stand-up special, An Uncensored Evening, was released in 1980, and his most recent performance was in 2014 for Gotham Comedy Live at New York’s Gotham Comedy Club.
His Academic Background Was In Chemistry, And He Earned A Degree
While Gallagher’s prop comedy act is deceptively simple, his non-acting background may come as a pleasant surprise.
He attended the University of South Florida, where he earned a degree in chemical engineering and a minor in English. After finishing school, he had a short stint as a chemist and then took over management duties for musician Jim Stafford.
In the same WTF interview, he said that he had no idea what he would have done with his degree, but that he had considered cancer research. In addition, he claimed that he kept in touch with physicists all throughout his career.
His Act Was Later Criticized For Perpetuating Harmful Stereotypes
While many enjoyed Gallagher’s silly prop comedy, it was not immune to criticism in his later years. An evaluation published in The Stranger in 2010 claimed he had made homophobic and racist jokes during his performance.
In the 2011 episode of WTF, Gallagher walked off the set after podcast host Marc Maron confronted him about appropriating racist stereotypes in his work. Gallagher said as he was leaving, “Why are you taking the other side of everything I say?”
In addition to being sued over his offensive humor, Gallagher also faced claims of injury from his performances. According to The Los Angeles Times, a woman tried to sue a props master in 1990 on the grounds that she had been hit by one of his props.
In an interview with The AV Club in 2009, he also claimed that audience members had sued him after being injured by his prop comedy.
Someone filed a lawsuit against me, claiming they suffered severe injuries from a candy bar on the balcony and that’s when my insurance was canceled.
I used my tennis racket to smash a candy bar so that the people on the balcony could have sweets. Claimed she had an eye injury and the insurer had settled the claim out of court, at which point they had “canceled” him. The comedians who were hired to open for Gallagher were sometimes the targets of his heckling.
Ron Gallagher, Gallagher’s younger brother, started performing the act on the road in the 1990s with the approval of the original. For his performances, Ron used the alias “Gallager Too” or “Two.
” The Baltimore Sun reported that in his act, he used many of the same props and jokes as his brother had previously used. Later, Gallagher filed a lawsuit against Ron, claiming that he used the “Sledge-o-Matic” routine without his permission and that advertisements for Ron’s shows were deceptive.
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