Epic. When I got the email the other day asking if I wanted to see Gallagher on Friday night at the Blender Theatre in NYC, I had to think about it for all of the two seconds it took to hit the reply button. Yes. Yes, I did want to see Gallagher. I needed to see Gallagher. I needed to know why this man, at 61, was still touring the nation and smashing food, if, in fact, he was still smashing food, and who in the world would want to see him still smash food. Twenty-five years ago, I’d seen him on the TV as many millions of Americans had. Years later, I saw the E! True Hollywood Story about Gallagher and learned of his brother who toured as his double and the double trouble that had caused. So what would Gallagher be like today?
Before we get to that, let’s have a happy image. This is Carla Rhodes, talented ventriloquist and the only member of our party with the courage enough to join Gallagher onstage to grab the Sledge-O-Matic.
But we had to wait quite a while for this shot. How long? Take your guesses now.
When he emerged onstage just after 9 p.m., the crowd roared. But the microphone wouldn’t work. Gallagher gagged: "How long does it take the sound guy to do cocaine?" For those who could hear him, laughter. When they fixed the problem (an unplugged wire), the show would begin. Or not. Turns out, Gallagher informed us all, that he had only sold 200 tickets by the day prior to arriving at New York City. So an opening act, the "Aspiring Tyrants," entered the fray and sold an additional 100 tickets for the show at the Blender Theatre. Gallagher, doing the math, then told it to us: "For every two people here to see me, there’s one person to see them." So see them we must. All four of them. All four of them unknown to even us who follow the NYC comedy scene. This had become…a bringer show!? Indeed it had. The oddest, largest bringer show I’ve seen. I have the names of these comedians (the strongest of whom told me and my friends afterward that they know someone at Live Nation who hooked them up with the show), but I shall not name them here. Not in this post, anyhow. And you shall see why in the next sentence.
When I tell you how Gallagher proceeded to first "coach" and then outright "heckle" each of his four opening acts. It started off benignly, the first opener shuffling and mumbling, so Gallagher ran up and said to get right into the jokes. "How do you make pickled whorebread?" Gallagher asked. "Dill dough!" And he ran off. It derailed and went far, far off the tracks from there. After the fourth or fifth interruption, the crowd began to feel bad for this first unknown comic. Remember, there were 100 ticketholders who wanted to see these openers. During Gallagher’s heckling of the second opener, someone from the crowd shouted, "I want a watermelon!" Gallagher’s retort: "That’s the climax. You get yours early, I guess." Show salvaged? Not quite. The third opener bombed about as big as an unknown comedian can bomb. He even acknowledged it onstage, while drinking a can of beer. I turned to my friends and said I’d much rather watch this at home on my TV under heavy medication, instead of how I was watching this unfold, completely sober. Gallagher even had two of these openers, plus a kid from the front row, act out a joke about a bear and rabbit crapping in the woods. The fourth opener had some material and stage presence going for him, and even held his own when Gallagher hopped onstage again and this time took off his shirt and put on a silly hat. Marianne Ways, sitting behind me, took a bunch of photos and at this point, said she had seen Gallagher live when she was 13. "All the old feelings are coming back to me," she said. After Gallagher interrupted the fourth opener by questioning his transition from one topic to another, the opener said, "It was a funny joke, until you came onstage." Now the crowd was on the opener’s side and Gallagher eventually trudged off and disappeared. We even wondered if he’d had enough himself and gone back to his hotel. But no. After an hour of this — yes, this opening sequence sucked an entire hour out of our lives — and after the four openers stopped the show entirely to have their pictures taken. Seriously. No joke. And by that, I mean, no joke.
After all of that, Gallagher emerged to start his show.
Gallagher had 25 minutes of material to deliver before you even saw the first prop, a banana peel covering a hot dog that he dug out of his pocket. He talked about his age, how he now looks at women as "a bag of hamburgers, and I’m not hungry," and about getting his prostate checked. He talked about wondering why God designed the human body the way He did. He joked about getting in trouble with gay people, deaf people, the handicapped, and proved why by doing several troublesome jokes. He told us, in all seriousness, that he was making us think. "This is the smartest show you’ll ever go to," Gallagher told us. He talked about his problem with all of the French words in the English language and that they turn us into sissies. Who says the word sissy anymore, anyhow? Only a sissy. Moving on. Plenty of "Hey-OH!" groaner jokes to be had in this set. There was a drunk couple in the front row who liked to chatter so much that Gallagher stopped the show more than once and eventually ordered them out, which led to the drunk woman’s family members to also leave. Or so we thought. The drunk man emerged from out of nowhere a couple of times, once to try to shake Gallagher’s hand, then later to shout at Gallagher that they were no longer fans of his. If only we had some of this on video. Ahem.
Gallagher had a table full of food ingredients and filled pie trays with corn and mashed potatoes, apple pieces and applesauce, dog food with Pepto Bismol and Spam, chocolate sauce, strawberry sauce, and more, including, of course, the watermelon slices. It wouldn’t be until 11:05 p.m. that we actually got to see him smash anything and make our plastic ponchos valuable wardrobe items. For the next 20 minutes, Gallagher smashed food and had fans come onstage to get initiated. Almost all of the fans onstage were men in their teens and early 20s.
"You won’t remember what I said, but you’ll remember what I did," Gallagher said last night. And we shall remember this night all too well.
Tragedy? Comedy? Tragedy that we couldn’t help but laugh at during the show and hours afterward. Something happened here that we shall not soon forget. And if you have someone offer you a ticket to see Gallagher, you know you need to say yes. Because this was epic.
P.S. In gchat with a comedian this afternoon, I just remembered that I also had a mini-moment with Gallagher during the show. He attempted to make a joke about Isiah Thomas and his sexual harassment lawsuit but couldn’t remember that he coaches the New York Knicks, so instead, Gallagher stumbled for his words, and ultimately went with, "and…uh…that team." Mostly silence since the crowd didn’t even know what he was trying to say, but I busted a gut. Gallagher turned, pointed and smiled at me in the third row. "Look, he gets it!" No. That’s not why I was laughing so much and so hard.
P.P.S. Eliot Glazer recently interviewed Gallagher and you can read it here.