Gallagher, more than just a bunch of smashed fruit

It was sad to hear that this week the comedy world lost another one of its all-time greats, especially when it is one that was probably more misunderstood than most.

If you were around in the 1980s-90s, you definitely knew who Gallagher was, or at least "that guy who smashed the watermelons on TV." He was certainly one of my earliest exposures to standup comedy as a kid with his HBO specials, as well as his antics in front of a crowd of spectators dressed in ponchos.

It wasn't until I was older that I began to realize this guy was much more of an innovator than what his schtick and reputation had led people to believe. Of course, he will always be known as the "Sledge-o-matic Guy," but he was also a smart, topical, if at times controversial comedian who had more in common with his contemporaries like George Carlin and Richard Pryor than simply a spoof on QVC infomercials.

It's like Carrot Top, who everyone thinks of as just a prop comic, but anyone in the comedy world will tell you there's more to it than meets the eye.

If you rewatch some of Gallagher's old specials, the first hour is usually all topical humor, with observational monologues about human behavior, politics, or maybe something simple as the annoyance of being stuck in traffic on the freeway. Of course, it's been many years since I've revisited those old specials, so how they hold up might depend on if you were around at the time, but still.

Comedian Gallagher smashes strawberry syrup and flour at the end of his performance at the Five Flags Theater in Dubuque, Iowa on In this Nov. 18, 2006. Gallagher, the smash-’em-up comedian who left a trail of laughter, anger and shattered watermelons over a decades-long career, died Friday at his home in Palm Springs, Calif., after a brief illness. He was 76.
Comedian Gallagher smashes strawberry syrup and flour at the end of his performance at the Five Flags Theater in Dubuque, Iowa on In this Nov. 18, 2006. Gallagher, the smash-’em-up comedian who left a trail of laughter, anger and shattered watermelons over a decades-long career, died Friday at his home in Palm Springs, Calif., after a brief illness. He was 76.

It's a shame that later in life Gallagher sort of fell into obscurity, as well as creating the kind of career-killing controversy by making alleged racists statements onstage and during interviews. He also suffered many health issues in his later years, even suffering a heart attack while onstage in 2011.

Then there is the whole Gallagher Two fiasco, wherein his brother Ron began performing under his name and trademark image. Can't say I've ever born witness to one of those shows, and I don't intend to. To me, it just seemed wrong and kind of phony.

Having so many of Gallagher's old specials memorialized will always be a treat to revisit, if to just be reminded that the man was more than a gimmick, but a real thinker who was more interested in the quirkiness of everyday people than he was about his latest props. Although that was a big seller of his shows, it's not what it was all about, at least I'd like to believe.

Perhaps I'll dust off those old Gallagher DVDs and see if they still hold up, if just to celebrate one of the greatest comedians in his prime, as well as how relevant some of his bits might still be today. And yes, it will be hilarious to relive the classic Sledge-O-Matic gimmick at least one more time, for old times' sake.

Jay Powell
Jay Powell

Jay Powell is a reporter for The Daily Herald. Contact him at jpowell@c-dh.net or follow him on Twitter @JayPowellCDH.

This article originally appeared on The Daily Herald: Gallagher, more than just a bunch of smashed fruit