(As originally appeared in The Guide, 7/4) — Gallagher wants to be known as more than the Smashing Comedian. This is why we spent the first 10 minutes of our interview talking about anything other than comedy, watermelons or his upcoming performance on Hilton Head Island.
Gallagher was in Atlanta on Tuesday, you see, trying to meet with Mayor Shirley Franklin to discuss his proposal for a "family reunion resort," a place specifically designed for families to visit and reconnect. (He did manage to get in a three-night stint at the Punchline, an Atlanta comedy club, as well.)
OK, there was some talk about smashing: smashing atoms. Gallagher also had plans to meet with physicists at Georgia Tech to talk about some of his subatomic particle ideas, and he does have several. America dropped the ball on doing research into the atom after World War II, he said. Why in this time of energy crisis, he wants to know, isn't America looking at atomic energy? "Isn't it America's tradition to be the pioneer?" Gallagher said.
As for helping people understand electrons, protons and the dangers of CT scans or cell phones, he's got ideas for subatomic particle action figures and Pokemon-type cards to help kids get interested.
If all this sounds a far cry from the on-stage persona of Gallagher -- the long-haired, striped-shirt melon smasher who brought prop comedy to new heights before Carrot Top even sprouted -- it really shouldn't. His stage show is zany and goofy, but it also includes some modicum of social commentary. The whole Sledge-o-Matic thing became his trademark, but underneath the watermelon bits and pound cake ("I guess it does!") was a critique of consumerism. Free thought is his call to action, and he spent part of our interview railing against people who follow blind trends or submit to the corporate mindset.
"People think I'm odd because I have passions. That's what's missing today in everyday life," he said. "If you're smart or kind of passionate about an idea, they think you're kind of silly. Americans are supposed to be individuals who want to express themselves."
To that end, Gallagher still does about 100 shows a year, in between making online environmental videos under the name Uncle Earth and working on other film projects. "I'm working my way down," he said. But, he says, at least he can work on some of these side projects at each stop.
"I like traveling. I don't mind having a deductible reason to fly to these towns," he said. He's been to Hilton Head before early in his career, as a roadie for musical comedian Jim Stafford, who played a small bar in 1974.
In his heyday of TV specials, Gallagher poked fun at the absurdities of culture and language, asking, for instance, why we park in a driveway and drive on a parkway and why cargo goes by boat but a shipment goes by truck. He said he's evolved his act over the years because comedy always must surprise.
"Comedians have to push the envelope of what's acceptable to get a rise out of the audience," he said. "People are so stimulated these days, so it's hard."
He cited a few examples of such overstimulation: kids with their underwear hanging out, girls with gaudy tattoos and parents who buy cars larger than members of the military drive.
"That's what I do: I poke at people and show them what they're doing. I'm supposed to be an uninvolved third party that gives them a fresh view of their life."
The props are still part of the show -- and he has the ones he's used over the years stored in Los Angeles. He makes his own Sledge-o-Matic and has several of them stashed in airport baggage ("I think baggage handlers recognize its my luggage and keep it").
His hallmark smashy-smashy bit also is still part of the show, but now he lets kids or other audience members come up and swing the mallet.
"It was the next step to take," he said. "They want to say that they not only came to the show but they got to smash. You've got to change with the times. You've got to add new and exciting things."