Back in the 1980's, a guy with just the name Gallagher began his career. One thing you can say about Gallagher up front is that his stage is always a mess. Every comedian needs a hook and his was an enormous wooden sledgehammer!
Taking off on the old “Vegamatic” and other late-night kitchen gadget collection of commercials, he began showing people how easy it is to make “pound” cakes.
He is most famous for smashing watermelons, pineapples, and cantelopes for an easy to make fruit salad — all to the delight of his cowering fans in the front row who, out of necessity, began wearing raincoats and bringing plastic sheeting to his concerts to protect themselves during his grand finales.
Later he began adding other props, like giant furniture, motorized fussing babies, an adult sized big wheel, roller-skates, a zip up jacket made to look like he had enormous muscles, his "Apple" computer, and a wig attached to the back of his ever-present hat to show off and/or hide his balding head.
He expanded into humor about parenthood, politics, and whatever controversies happened to be prevalent at the time. He recently released his amassed collection of concerts on a four-disk set and I’ll tell you sincerely it’s well worth buying and watching over and over again.
What follows is my review of each individual concert. This began as a review from an avid fan, but now I’m just shaking my head. Gallagher started out as the typical entertainingly smart-ass “pot head” that was mildly funny. Then he became the best there was, laughing at himself and with everyone else and it was fun for all. Then he had a heart attack and shaved his head and it wasn’t funny anymore, or even fun.
What’s presented here (though not in chronological order for reasons only the producers seem to understand) is the full spectrum of his work. Here are a few handy hints for watching the shows:
*If he starts singing, hit the fast-forward. The songs are cute but dumb and he eventually figures that out and stops using them in his concerts.
*If he’s on roller-skates during the concert; it’s a good one.
*Avoid anything where he’s wearing a huge wireless mic on a necklace — he’s old and bitter and seldomly funny.
The best hands-down concert in the whole series and what makes this set worth buying at any price is “The Maddest” followed closely behind by “Overboard” and “The Bookkeeper.”
MAD AS HELL – He was just “getting his act together” for this one and, while his comedy was great, there are some places I’d skip over, like the songs at the beginning, the end, and the overly-long, not really funny and very dated “save the whale” poem which he uses to close his show. But he proved that he could get his audience going and keep them laughing. The biggest disappointment was he hadn’t invented the “Sledge-o-Matic” yet.
Best Lines: "Did you ever decide to run a yellow light and then the idiot in front of you chickened out?
Let’s paint an ICBM missile on the top of every Winnebago and scare the hell out of the Russian spy satellites. Russians are so pissed about their own land they took Afghanistan because it looked better to them than their own.
I don’t want you to think I’m into experimenting with drugs. I’m not. I do full-scale research!
Why did God make your underarms stink? does that ever come in handy for anything?
Why does a man have nipples and not tits?"
Subjects covered: Why do four $50 tires cost $300 — because you have to pay for mounting and balancing and putting them on your car; Ignorance and stupidity; bouncing checks and the bank charging you cash fines they know you don't have; pride in workmanship; the invention of clothes; stupid commercials; sex as an event in the Olympics with a coach screaming "Stroke-Stroke-Stroke"; hair loss prevention; and and getting out of speeding tickets — Don't pull over just stop in the middle of the freeway.
TWO REAL – Opens with what looks like a disappointment and practically the whole concert is. You can see he’s still trying to see what works and what doesn’t and this one mostly doesn’t.
The saving grace is near the beginning when he demonstrates the “New and Improved” Sledge-o-Matic commercial and his twirling hat. This is really his best bit and eventually later he’ll learn to save it for last, as the rest of the concert is down hill from there.
It’s great when unprepared audience members start throwing things back at him as the food goes flying after being smashed and he can’t stop cracking up — and neither can you. He goes right into the 2 real News Broadcast where the audience keeps speculating on what his girl assistant is doing under his desk, and he can’t stop getting tongue-tied. This concert also includes his early attempts at balloon jokes with sexual innuendo, which is hilarious!
Best line: "The president of Mexico says he’s moving his nation’s capital to Los Angeles in an effort to get closer to his people!"
It’s mildly funny but you can see he’s still feeling his way with bigger audiences versus the smaller club ones that he’s used to.
STUCK IN THE 60s, 1983 – Gallagher hits his stride with this one. You’ll be laughing your head off within the first five minutes, but as always, fast-forward through the opening musical number. He finally figures out to save the Sledge-o-Matic commercial for the END of the show and it is a classic!
Best lines: "Nowadays if you go to a gas station and ask for a quart of oil, they’ll tell you to go to a grocery store where you belong!
I can’t believe these Americans driving their dinky little cars. I want to run up to them and yell, 'You could’ve had a V-8!'
I invented a honey that was made from bees that pollinated the flowers of marijuana plants. It’s called 'sweet and high.'
Behind every successful man is an amazed mother-in-law."
Highlights: Comparing the boring 80's to the hippie 60's; an early appearance with the hat/hairpiece; the difference between the sexes; a foundation in Michigan actually took some blind people out with hunters to experience it — how do you make a noise that doesn't sound like a rabbit; how a restaurant buffet works versus how it's supposed to work; airline trouble; self-serve gas stations; his inventions; the Boy Scout pledge; stupid questions to ask your father about sex when he tries to explain it to you; and alternate word meanings.
THE MADDEST, 1983 – This is the concert I bought the entire collection for. This is the one where he gets it all together, gets it right, and the audience wisely figures out that they have to bring raincoats and plastic if they're going to sit in the front rows.
He does a sequence of altered photos while wondering what celebrities from Tom Cruise to Marilyn Monroe would look like if they were balding like him. If you watch this one for anything, it’s for what he finds in the giant couch and what he does on it — and over it in mid-air (photo opportunity)!
Now if you don’t fall off your own couch laughing at that, you will at his telling about his new baby girl and “Father Fuck ups 101,” in which he describes how he accidentally bashes his daughter's head against the top of his van while getting into it. "She didn't cry; she just looked at me as if to say, 'Are you that fucking stupid?'"
Highlights: the roller-skates are back; he demonstrates how to have style; people silently nodding at drive-thru speakers; things that don’t make sense; her period; the National Enquirer; “but it was on sale!”; God’s sense of humor versus his hairline; cowboys and cowgirls and how to tell them apart; the classic bit worth watching twice: our country’s founding story (they were called "settlers" because where ever they stopped on their way west, that's what they'd settle for; the American dream of getting a loan; making an intelligent left turn at an intersection; and the mechanical misbehaving and fussing toy baby that you can remove the batteries from.
He’s got the Sledge-o-Matic commercial so down pat that he’s passing out croutons to the audience after smashing food!
Quote of the concert: In the middle of the Sledge-o-Matic commercial he announces “Ladies and gentlemen I’m not going to smash this melon. I don’t want you to think that I have to smash produce to be funny and entertain you. I want you to respect me for my mind. See how dumb that sounds girls?”
MELON CRAZY – Just skip over this one. The only thing funny is the hat he wears at the opening. The success of his “The Maddest” concert must’ve gone to his agent’s head because Gallagher’s heart definitely wasn’t in this one. In fact it appears as if all the rejected jokes not used in “The Maddest” must’ve been used for this one while rushing this hastily into production. To add insult to injury, another comedian even less funny takes over the second half of his concert. Then he comes back and you know it’s a loss when the Sledge-o-Matic commercial isn’t even funny, especially when he breaks into a phony French accent and tries (unsuccessfully) to paint a giant map of the U.S. by throwing and splashing food at it.
OVER YOUR HEAD – Gallagher gets back to being funny while making fun of Texans in Texas. Now that takes balls!
Subjects covered: Stupid things done during the holidays; nuclear bombs for countries that don’t have airports; ancient sales people; teaching his three-year-old daughter things; women and shopping; his inventions, among others, a 10-foot pole with paddles on both ends so you can play ping-pong with yourself, which he uses impressively; and hand-held car horns for people who don’t have cars for pedestrians who aren't watching where they're going.
Three quarters of the way through the concert, he falls on his face again. For no apparent reason he does a long poem about environmentalism and then just as mysteriously brings out a girl to do a tap dance number while he follows her around with a microphone at her feet, and then announces she’s one of the original Mouseketeers: Why?
His saving grace was that he got back into the groove with his Sledge-o-Matic commercial, regaining his old enthusiasm instead of just going through the motions again. It was a joy to watch, especially when he inadvertently and unintentionally gets himself good with soapy water (instead of the audience) while demonstrating how to clean it. He sings again in this one, “Somewhere over the Rainbow,” but it’s worth watching. He starts out with one of his flying toy gadgets and suddenly shows film of him peddling a real one at an airport, which is pretty impressive.
THE BOOKKEEPER – Gallagher gets the audience laughing before he even says a word with a funny water gag and starts throwing money at them. For the rest of the concert he takes joy in faking the jittery and nervous (for good reason) front rows into thinking they’re about to get wet, then goes into which of the audience sections paid for what part of the set, the costumes, the advertising, the hall, and sums it up by saying that he loves the balcony because they’re the ones that represent his money!
He’s happy, he’s confident and he’s obviously enjoying himself because he’s got “it” back.
Subjects covered: Why Congress begins with the word con (con-gress must be the opposite of pro-gress); why would anyone send Ted Kennedy to investigate the hunger in Ethiopia, Michael Jackson running around the country with one glove singing “Beat it”; dumb questions in commercials (Do you need a pain reliever that works?); all men are created equal (just in different tax brackets) that is until their audited; asks why cops padlock their lockers on the police shows; asks why a “w” isn't at the beginning of the word “one” but there is one you don’t need in the middle of the word “two”; he explains Apple computers; and his troubles communicating with his cat ("If you point at something to a cat, it'll watch your damned finger instead of what your pointing at").
At one point he sits next to a water filled wishing-well for about five minutes, joyfully teasing the front row cowering under their plastic. Basically this concert takes all the good jokes from the truly bad concerts and he adds new ones to go with them and comes up with an absolute winner. The poor audience knows for sure they’re doomed when he elaborately puts safety glasses on midway through the Sledge-o-Matic commercial so he can demonstrate the new and handy attachments he’s just come up with.
OVERBOARD! – Gallagher wrote one of his best concerts ever on this one, and the producer and especially the editor nearly destroyed it going overboard. It’s absolutely worth watching, but you have to overlook the overproduction and the dicing and slicing of the bits. They’ll suddenly stop something funny and have him dive in the pool and then fly back out backwards completely dry for no apparent reason, other than the editor was bored.
Best Props: A Cadillac done up like a cabin cruiser, which at one point he tries to move off the stage but can’t, so his little wife appears wearing his muscle jacket and pushes it away with ease; a seagull that shits on the audience with toothpaste; a giant wading pool loaded with water next to the front row; footballs painted like presidents; the can of beer he won’t stop violently shaking, waving around and pounding on the floor while talking about it, meanwhile the front rows are cowering in fear of him opening it; a watermelon vibrator, of which he has one of each for 5 bikini-clad girls in the front row; and a zip-on muscle suit.
Best lines and subjects: "No country should produce a car they can’t pronounce." Sissy names for missiles like “Peacekeeper” as opposed to the U.S. deploying 10,000 “Pissed” missiles today. Why do vampires chase after only Christians when if he chased only Jews or Arabs they wouldn’t have a cross to defend themselves with? Greenland is covered with ice-Iceland is covered with green? No-stick glue? Should a bankruptcy lawyer really expect to be paid?
I’m most disappointed that they edited the living hell out of the Sledge-o-Matic commercial, inter-cutting other unrelated bits into it, but it’s all good and don’t shut it off when the credits roll because that’s one of the best parts, especially when, after his moving tribute to his daughter, she unexpectantly comes out and hits him in the face with a cream pie when he leans down to inquire what she wants.
WE NEED A HERO – There’s only one reason to slog through this one: He and his brother Ron join forces at the end to do the Sledge-o-Matic commercial together. Halfway though it, Gallagher goes out in the audience to see what it’s like from their point of view while Ron finishes it!
The concert starts out very slowly and it’s almost as if he’s not the same guy. He never smiles for the first third of the concert, then reveals he’s shaved his head. He has colonial soldiers who come out on stage at odd times and shoot things for no apparent reason. He picks a 14-year-old kid out of the audience and tricks him into using a mike that sprays him in the face with water and heartlessly berates and picks on him the whole time he’s on stage.
Best lines and subjects: "Bush said, 'Read my lips' because he knew he was going to be lying out his ass!
How is it that a football hero can race down the field and an official is able to keep up with him… running backwards… with his hands in the air… blowing a whistle?
You’re too drunk to drive when you can’t carry a beer with you out to the car without spilling it.
Women hate to go fishing because they have to stay quiet."
MESSIN' UP TEXAS – This is one of his best and funniest, but there are two things to prepare yourself for: lots of local "inside" Texas jokes up front and it’s his first concert since his heart attack and he looks old. This is a very different kind of concert because he calls people up on stage to help him and makes good and comical use of them.
Best lines and subjects: Hilarious first bit as his frustrating young nephew tries to show him how to work an electronic toy dog. “You just pull his thing.” Several other young kids from the audience help him with various toys; an audience member throws a bowling ball back at him; he auditions people to help him with the Sledge-o-Matic commercial and after making fun of everyone’s swinging techniques, he takes over the chore himself; he can’t stop getting himself with the food instead of the audience and his repeated frustration and fight to keep from cracking up at himself is great to watch!
AN UNCENSORED EVENING – This is one of his earliest concerts with a smaller audience and wouldn’t be worth watching if it weren’t for one of his very first Sledge-o-Matic commercials where he suggests ways of making instant applesauce and how to teach even the dumbest dog to play dead!
He goes on to other subjects and then later does the commercial again in Spanish, which is just as funny! Almost all of his other jokes are covered in concerts you've already seen, but these were his first attempts at them in an intimate bar atmosphere and a small crowd.
TOTALLY NEW, 1982 – He suffered a broken elbow just before the concert, so he needed an assistant with the commercial, but it was just as funny as he’d pull pranks on his helpers while doing it.
Best lines and subjects: "Before the invention of the telephone you had to lie to people to their face!"
Why all home-ec teachers divorced?
Why isn’t “so” pronounced like “do”? Why isn’t “laughter” pronounced like “daughter”?
How to improve the game of baseball — the runner should take the bat with him around the bases to attack the base men; differences in the sexes — a man can walk past a shoe store.
SLEDGE-O-MATIC 2000.COM – This starts out looking like a commercial or a DVD extra, but it’s a concert. By the way that website is now a spam site. Skip it or you’ll never be able to watch his earlier concerts, knowing what he becomes later in life.
He starts off by meanly punishing a late audience member with squirting mustard and seems to have turned into a cranky old man instead of a funny one. Even most of his props wouldn’t work for him. I didn’t laugh once the entire first 35 minutes. It got so bad he was doing his own rim shots on a set of drums and it was rare that you saw him smile. Even the grand finale commercial wasn’t funny.
The premise of the Sledge-o-Matic is that it’s an ad for a kitchen device morphed into a giant sledgehammer, but now it's just a lame excuse to spray the audience with anything gross he can think of from raw eggs to undiluted cream of mushroom soup for no reason. It was like he and his helpers were smashing things just for the hell of it and they weren’t enjoying it themselves!
SMASHING CHEESEHEADS, 1997 - This, the last concert of the set. By rights it should be the grand finale, but instead it’s just a retread of earlier concerts. He spends the first 15 minutes out within the audience angrily, unsmilingly, and worse yet, seriously bitching about how children are raised, and cajoling audience members about how stupid they look. When he finally gets back on stage it degenerates into a lecture/bitch session that the audience is obviously struggling, mostly in silence, to find something/anything to laugh at, but all they do is politely chuckle!
He’s not joking about things with a smile and a grin. He’s bitching about things with a frown and a pissed off attitude. Before, it made sense that he’d smash some apples to make applesauce and potatoes to make smashed potatoes. He’d set a little cake on the pedestal to ask with an evil grin, “pound cake?” But now he fills a pie pan with pickles or sauerkraut and there’s no joke, or even an attempt at one. He’s just spraying the audience.
Again with the stupid editing, just as the commercial gets going. Between each whack of the hammer they cut to him grocery shopping for the items, unfunnily bitching about how much they cost. They inter-cut other bits that have nothing whatsoever to do with it, totally ruining the continuity.
Best lines: "Look around you folks, every door in the place is marked 'exit'. How’d you get in here?
We put a telescope into orbit out of focus… looking for intelligent life… and people wonder why those flying saucers don't land!
The Goodyear blimp shows up at games held in domed stadiums.”
All in all – Gallagher is still one of my favorite comedians when he was back in his hey-day, but now I still can’t figure out why they’d show his later unfunny stuff especially in a DVD set that you can contrast with his classic comedy. Also disappointing was the complete lack of any DVD extras.
This DVD set is worth buying, but heed my warnings.