Gallagher, the noted comedian who gained popularity in the ’80s through dozens of one-man comedy specials, passed away early Friday at the age of 76 of organ failure in a hospice in Palm Springs. The comedian, born Leo Gallagher, who dropped his first name and shot to fame with his physical stand-up routine after an appearance on The Tonight Show, notably starred in the first one-man show to air on cable television. Gallagher specialized in physical, prop-based comedy that involved the audience in the routine, and it helped him become a household name.
His most famous comedy bit was the Sledge-O-Matic, a giant homemade hammer he used to smash objects, primarily fruit like watermelons. The Sledge-O-Matic plays off of the Veg-O-Matic, a food processor that was popular in the United States at the time. The Veg-O-Matic was extensively advertised in commercials throughout the 1960s and ’70s with the catchphrase “It slices! It dices!” and by the 1980s, the public was ready to joke about the popular food slicer.
It was parodied by multiple comedians at the time including Dan Aykroyd and Frank Zappa. Gallagher’s Sledge-O-Matic routine perfectly took advantage of the comedic climate of the time and helped the comedian go on to release over 14 comedy specials.
In his bit, Gallagher uses his handmade “kitchen tool” to smash fruits, veggies, and sometimes household appliances. Per The New York Times, Gallagher used the Sledge-O-Matic to smash upwards of 15,000 watermelons during the course of his career. The audience — especially those in the front row, aka the “Splash Zone” — welcomed any stray debris, and some even brought their own raincoats so they could protect themselves from the flying food. This combination of pun-based, slapstick, prop comedy was something new and unique at the time and audiences couldn’t get enough of Gallagher.
Gallagher’s Sledge-O-Matic was so popular, even his younger brother, Ron Gallagher, wanted to get in on the joke. The older Gallagher allowed Ron to use his material in his stand-up routines as long as he made it clear to the audience that he was not the one-named popular comedian. Ron, who looked similar to his brother, soon started billing himself as “Gallagher II” and the older Gallagher was not impressed; Leo filed a lawsuit against his younger brother in 2000. The courts sided with the one-named Gallagher and forbid Ron from using the Sledge-O-Matic or performing in similar attire as his brother.
Up until the COVID-19 Pandemic, Gallagher continued to tour prolifically and doubled down on his “politically incorrect” humor with age. Some felt that his “edgier” jokes about people of color, the LGBTQ community, and women crossed the line and when confronted, Gallagher didn’t respond well to direct criticism from fellow comedian Marc Maron.
His long overdue break from his career took place after he suffered from multiple heart attacks and other health complications. Gallagher decided to take time off from stand-up to spend time with his two children and grandchildren.