RIP LEO GALLAGHER. The Court Jester of comedy. He was the original cable TV comedy star and the first huge Stand-up fool our generation had. He was Rip Taylor or Phyliss Diller in an a moment when David Letterman, Jay Leno, and Tim Allen were taking the stage and making it even cooler than it ever was to just stand there and talk. He may have been followed by Emo Phillips and Judy Tenuta and an early version of Howie Mandel with the glove on his head, but in his original days, it was not at all smart to have too much of a hook and he had an uber-hook with the props, which he then took to a ridiculous level that quickly overshadowed his great joke writing and onstage straight stand-up skills. I remember in the early days at The Comedy Store how good Gallagher was with audience play.
Gallagher; Okay, yell out your astrological signs and I’ll tell you all about yourself.
Audience Member; Virgo!
Gallagher; Virgo. Sign of the loudmouth!! First to yell out in any crowd!
(Gallagher and Joey Camen at the store)
GREAT JOKE WRITER
He was a great joke writer but his fame came from his wild and ridiculous props. The Watermelon, obviously, and the Couch Trampoline. He pioneered the cable special and became a touring act, originally only playing in places where people had Showtime, (his cable home) in an era where Showtime. and HBO weren’t yet ubiquitous. Nonetheless, the comics at the ‘store’ and the Improv, despite the fact that he was a killer onstage, (and damn hard to follow) never gave him much due in those day. I remember it embittering him in a way that he wore the pain on not only his sleeve but on this props as well. The more the ‘cool kids’ would belittle his act the more the watermelons became the focus of the set.
I was on a TV show with him for a few years called Make Me Laugh which was a syndicated deal that aired five nights in a row on local stations throughout the U.S. In it’s time it was highly rated and the comics on it helped launch, fuel, and grow the comedy club business out in the hinterlands. Gallagher and I did more shows than anyone. (Maybe Bruce Baum and Bob Saget as well.) It was fun to work with him, and overtime in need of material as the show ate up ours like a cookie monster, we all turned to bringing out props to make people laugh in the contest. Rather than feel we were stepping into his category, Gallagher was happy to have us in his lane, and often helped hone and tone the gags we were using the props with.
I remember once he gave me a lecture on not returning fan mail. I was nineteen and some young girls would send me letters to the show and I would answer them word for word. Leo came into the production office one day and saw me doing this. He went off on me. ‘Throw them out. That’s what I do. Or at the least just send back a damn signed photo.’ He went on to explain his theory that I was breaking some sacred fourth wall by answering those letters with a handwritten reply. I was just happy to be getting fan mail. It was all new to me. He was sure I was doing the fans a disservice. He may have been right about one aspect, once I wrote back a detailed letter, I got more and more from those people and when I didn’t go tit for tat, they’d start writing me to tell me what a ‘stuck-up’ brat I was. Gallagher loved to see those letters when they came , seeing as they validated him.
He had a surly side to him as well. He always pissed off about someone or something that had done him wrong, and later in his life was perpetually unhappy, walking off of shows or picking public feuds with former friends. I hadn’t seen or talked to him in years and didn’t much pay attention to the negative, choosing to only dwell on the great barbecues we had with Gallaher and Jay Leno and Alan Bursky, Vic Dunlop, and Argus Hamilton, or the early shows we all did at the ‘store.’
RIP Gallagher. You were a well written character.
EARLY GALLAGHER STUFF
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