It would be easy to talk about the nearly 40 years that Gallagher has spent leaving an indelible impression on stand-up comedy. He was one of the biggest comedians in the 1980s and one of the originators of the televised stand-up comedy special — he has 14 total. He combined rapid-fire punchlines, crowd interaction and zany prop comedy anarchy that frequently crescendoed to a signature demonstration of the Sledge-O-Matic, a giant hammer that made mush of a variety of food products and frequently left those in the first few rows taking cover under ponchos.
Leading up to his upcoming performance with fellow comedians Bob Nelson and Artie Fletcher on Friday at the Lancaster Grand Theatre, the comedian didn’t really want to talk much about the past.
Instead, he liked talking about what he has recently worked on away from the stage, including poems he has authored for adults and children ... or the two movies he’s currently writing (one for Jennifer Lopez, the other for Katy Perry) ... or his catalog of original songs he planned to pitch to some songwriters in Nashville this week during his tour stop in nearby Clarksville, Tenn.
Then there are Gallagher’s ideas that aren’t confined to entertainment. He has patented software he developed that would allow people to play a slot machine game on their mobile device. He also wants to start a chain of family reunion centers that would be a cheaper option than staying in hotel rooms, and he would like to develop a full-fledged cowboy land in the middle of Times Square in New York City.
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It becomes apparent from speaking with the 70-year-old comedian that the two hours Gallagher spends on stage making people laugh most nights doesn’t account for the other 22 hours of the day his brain is cranking out jokes, lyrics, poetry or ideas that couldn’t have come from the mind of anyone else.
The Sledge-O-Matic was just me saying, we can have more fun in this space if we did this.
“I enjoy writing the perfect little thing. I like blank pieces of paper or cardboard, because I can write on them,” he said. “All my things are Gallagher-esque. You can tell it’s me. It’s slanted, it ain’t afraid to tell the truth and it’s nuts.”
When you can get him to talk about his stand-up career and the current state of comedy, Gallagher isn’t short on opinions. He wishes his style had been emulated more, and he says the “lack of artistry” of many of today’s comedians tends to rob audiences of the sense of professionalism and production value.
Gallagher knew that his use of props, switching to different characters and thinking differently about what a live audience will tolerate for the sake of comedy is how his televised stand-up specials appealed to the viewers at home.
“I’ve seen variety shows. I knew that it could switch people,” he said. “The Sledge-O-Matic was just me saying, we can have more fun in this space if we did this.”
You don’t see Gallagher performing on TV these days, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t trying to push the boundaries of stand-up comedy. He first came along as a fill-in on The Joke’s On You Comedy Tour when comic Rain Pryor (daughter of the legendary Richard Pryor) dropped out. Now, he has practically taken over the show and has turned it into a mix of written routine, characters, props and improv. Gallagher, Artie Fletcher and Bob Nelson don’t take turns performing on stage. They share the the stage together.
I’ve already got this let’s-stand-up-and-talk-for-two-hours down. I want something that amuses ourselves and pushes the art form.
“Why does a comedian have to leave when you see the other one? It makes the stage a wilder place,” he said. “I’m looking for more of a challenge. I’ve already got this let’s-stand-up-and-talk-for-two-hours down. I want something that amuses ourselves and pushes the art form.”
Gallagher might be trying to dabble in different approaches, but he said he always wants his relentless style to get the same kind of reaction.
“A Gallagher show is uproarious. I don’t go for Jerry Seinfeld laughs where you hit your knee,” he said. “What should I be going for? Giggles? No. I want to beat. Them. Up. I do jokes next to jokes so I hit them on the way down and kick them when they’re on the floor.”
For Gallagher, there’s a great deal of idealism and ambition behind all the goofy antics and crazed energy. He might get frustrated with trying to build up more of an internet following and frustrated that more people aren’t taking more notice of his ideas outside of entertainment. But even as an elder statesman of comedy, he’s probably the youngest at heart at any venue he’s in and loves being in the driver’s seat for the audience.
“They’re (the audience) all younger than me. They’re all kids. I’m playing with the kids,” he said. “We have the most fun you can have without anybody getting hurt.”
Blake Hannon: firstname.lastname@example.org.