Gallagher: The ultimate heckler?

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.

UPDATE (March 27): The Onion’s Amelie Gillette and I spoke about this experience on March 26 on KIRO 710 AM in Seattle.

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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10 thoughts on “Gallagher: The ultimate heckler?

  1. Dude, you got a gift. You don’t see disasters like that every day. I wish I could have been there. Being a performer rocks partly because you live through more of this stuff than other people. Watching on TV there’d have been commercials, you’d have changed the channel, whatever. You could have spared yourself and been removed. But you need a baptism like this from time to time in life. Enjoyed the post.

  2. Ok- I was at this show. In the beginning of his set, Gallagher called me up on stage to cut apples. I can’t believe what an asshole Gallagher was. Not in a George Carlin asshole kind of way, but just a pathetic prick who can’t accept his lot in life. I can’t stand dumb people who think that they’re smart, and Gallagher’s pontificating was just nauseating because he’s such a dumbass. He wasn’t funny, and I’m pissed that I wasted my Friday night watching some old hack make some poor girl leave the theater in tears. And I got ravioli and soy milk all over my shoes from his “Sledge-O-Matic”, but I guess that’s my bad. He was a dick. Fuck Gallagher, dude.

  3. I think Gallagher is great. I think he had a lot to put up with in the audience. Any comedian who has hecklers or people talking throughout the show should get irritated.
    If you are a true Gallagher fan, then you should know that all of his shows are comedy and the last 20 minutes is the smash part. It’s a shame you couldn’t open your mind a little.

  4. I remember his videos from the 1980’s. He played in large venues (for a stand-up). I saw him (for the first time live) at the 400-seat Blender Theater. From what I recall Gallagher doesn’t come to NYC very often. He plays smaller towns. It seems quite a fall for a guy who was almost a household name in the 1980’s. From what I’ve read, he’s become a bit ornery as well, getting into hassles with audience members, and in interviews he seems a bit bitter about his legacy, for example, earning the bottom spot in the Comedy Channel’s 100 Greatest Stand-Ups.
    I like your review, it is accurate, but I thought his show was good. He’s very funny. The price of the tickets was reasonable. He does have a low tolerance for audience members who aren’t paying attention. I get the impression that he would rather have a heckler than a person not paying attention, because at least the heckler is paying attention. I was in the loge (out of range of gooey icky stuff) so I can’t be positive what the ejection incident was all about, but I seem to recall that Gallagher engaged with them when a waitress was serving them drinks and they were being loud. I think the guy was kicked out for talking excessively instead of paying attention to the show. I’ve seen this here in NYC–sometimes people act like they’re at a party instead of a performance. If you’re doing this in the first row, it looks like you are blowing off the performer. The guy who was ejected was obviously intoxicated, I think Gallagher was in the right, but he harped on it a bit too much. There is a bit of a bully in Gallagher, it is not attractive. When Don Rickles insults someone, especially someone in the audience, you know he really doesn’t mean it. With Gallagher, however, well, you can’t tell sometimes. But he can also be generous–encouraging people to take photos, having a show that is longer than most standups, and having people participate in smashing things. He said that the audience is his family, he is on the road so much. Maybe his estrangment from his own family (in the wake of the lawsuit he filed against his brother) has contributed to his sometimes negative attitude and demeanor. I’m surprised at the comment by the audience member who cut the apples. Yah, Gallagher set you back at work because he didn’t think you cut the apples to his liking, but I assure you that he did not make you look bad. You did just fine.
    In the opening acts, at first I thought what Gallagher was doing was pre-arranged (interrupting w/ comments and “advice”) but I sort of came to the conclusion that Gallagher was just pissed that he only sold 200 tickets so “youngsters” had to be brought in to help sell tickets. (The place was full by showtime.) The first comic was not realy good, he had a couple of good jokes but his delivery was stilted. The black woman was pretty good and Gallagher barely interrupted her. The other two guys were quite respectable, but the “acted out” joke of the bear and rabbit was lame, and that was Gallagher’s doing. Overall, Gallagher’s interaction with them was indeed strange, but it also was funny.
    Overall, I enjoyed the show quite a bit. I would recommend it to anyone who can tolerate a little political incorrectness.

  5. This sounds better than the show we saw about ten or so years ago or so in Raleigh, NC. He was doing the “Vicious Malicious Penguin” tour. We went to see him because when we were kids he was funny and fun to watch. But he had turned into that weird crazy guy who stands on the street corner and yells at passersby.
    He got up on stage and started to rant and rave about liberals and gays and women and Hillary Clinton and everything that makes hard-right-wingers mad, and it just went on and on and on. There were very few attempts at any kind of humor. I would not be surprised if there was some kind of mental illness involved. Seriously, Rush Limbaugh would have been nervous around this man. People started getting up and leaving when they realized it wasn’t going to get better any time soon… except for the half of the audience that already knew it, and LIKED it… that had come to hear him rant! They yelled “damn ’em” whenever he bashed those crazy liberals.
    I started to wonder if we’d be knifed in the back by toothless white trash before we finally gave up and walked out ourselves. He had gone on like that for more than half an hour by then. It was a nightmare. We never found out how the show ended. He probably smashed a watermelon at some point. I don’t care any more.

  6. Klaus Kinski’s Comedy Canon (03/22/08)

    It’s been a while since I posted much comedy-related news, and the last thing I did post turned out to be somewhat of a false alarm caused by completely erroneous listings on Ticketmaster and Live Nation (which they’ve since corrected)….

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