Three accomplished comedians—including headliner Gallagher—are bringing their Joke’s on You Comedy Tour to Suffolk Theater on Friday, October 30.
Gallagher may be best known for hammering watermelons with his Sledge-O-Matic, but for the Halloween weekend event the Riverhead venue promises a “Pumpkin Smash.”
Gallagher owes his career to Ron Popeil’s Ronco Veg-O-Matic infomercials. “I make fun of him with Sledge-o-Matic and I made millions,” Gallagher says during a recent interview.
His career jumpstarted in 1980 with Gallagher: An Uncensored Evening, a one-man comedy special for cable network Showtime, which gave him creative freedom. “When cable started, I realized that no adults were in charge there,” he recalls. “The same stick-up-their-butt people were not on cable.”
Since then he’s had a dozen more specials, performed 4,000 shows and has had four heart attacks. At 69 years old, he’s still going strong and touring constantly. “I work in small towns all across the country,” he says. “I know this country better than the candidates. The candidates only go there when they want your vote. Then they ignore you the rest of the time—then do what the lobbyists want.”
Gallagher prides himself on meeting and connecting with people. He finds it’s essential to creating art. “I’m in the lobby an hour before the show signing autographs and taking pictures with my fans,” he says, noting that his fan base spans multiple generations. Younger fans bring their grandparents out to a show and tell him, “Grandpa never puts his pants on for anyone—you’re the only one!”
Gallagher never lounges in a dressing room. When it’s show time, he goes directly from the lobby to the stage, where stand-up comedians Artie Fletcher and Bob Nelson will join him.
Nelson, a Massapequa native and now a Mount Sinai resident, is known for his characters: a nerd, a prizefighter, an entire college football team. He was Rodney Dangerfield’s opening act for eight years and he’s had two HBO one-hour specials. Fletcher is an author, actor and talk show host, in addition to his stand-up career.
“Never before have three comedians been on stage at the same time working ad lib together,” Gallagher says. “I would say the last ones who’ve done this are the Marx Brothers.”
“Two shows are never the same,” Nelson says. “It’s pure chaos—it’s mayhem.”
Gallagher compares their shows to a cocktail party. When one comic is given the stage to himself, the others sit in the audience and yell at him. “I invented getting off of the stage. I invented using the theater as a fun environment,” he says. Before him, “You had to behave and it was stupid and boring.”
A new aspect of Gallagher’s show is to invite members of the audience onto the stage to take a swing with his trademark sledgehammer. He picks 10 to 15 volunteers to have a cake smashed in their faces. That’s their initiation. “If they take a cake in the face, they’ll smack a piece of watermelon.”
Gallagher always strives for his shows to be different and innovative. He’s concerned about the future of comedy being a repetition of the same formula: a brick wall, a stool and a bottle of water—to hydrate. “They don’t know what they are doing,” he says of today’s comics, who he calls amateurish and unprepared. “They lean on the mic stand, they scratch their crotch… They can’t even talk for an hour without having to hydrate. George Burns smoked a cigar and was 100 years old and didn’t have to have to hydrate.”
No one can accuse Gallagher, and his show, of being anything short of unique.
“Some people say it’s the best time they’ve ever had,” he says. “How could you miss that?”
Gallagher performs October 30, at 8 p.m. (doors 6:30) at Suffolk Theater, 118 E Main St, Riverhead. For tickets ($49, $55) call 631-727-4343 or visit suffolktheater.com.