Gallagher in 2007
|Born||Leo Anthony Gallagher Jr.
July 24, 1946
Fort Bragg, North Carolina
|Occupation||Comedian, prop comic|
Gallagher was born in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to a family of Irish and Croatian heritage. Until the age of nine, he lived in Lorain, Ohio, but because of his asthma, the family moved to South Tampa, Florida, where he attended H.B. Plant High School. He graduated from the University of South Florida with a chemical engineering degree in 1970. He minored in English literature, which he uses often in his skits to mock the language.
After college, Gallagher began working as comic/musician Jim Stafford's road manager. Stafford and Gallagher traveled to California in 1969, during which time Gallagher decided to perform himself. He began honing his own comedy act while frequenting both The Comedy Store and The Ice House. He was repeatedly denied appearance on The Tonight Show in the 1970s and 1980s, as Johnny Carson disliked prop comedy. However, he was liked by some of the program's staff, and Gallagher eventually performed several times on the show when guest hosts were filling in for Carson. Gallagher first appeared on The Tonight Show Dec. 5, 1975, when he demonstrated his prop, "The Tonight Show Home Game", and Carson noted it was his first appearance. Gallagher again appeared on The Tonight Show on May 9, 1979, a show hosted by Carson.
Gallagher was one of the most popular and recognizable American comedians during the 1980s. He did fourteen comedy specials for Showtime which have been re-broadcast numerous times, notably on Comedy Central.
In the early 1990s, Gallagher's younger brother Ron asked him for permission to perform shows using Gallagher's trademark Sledge-O-Matic routine. Gallagher granted his permission on the condition that Ron, who shared a strong likeness to Leo, and his manager clarified in promotional materials that it was Ron Gallagher, not Leo Gallagher, who was performing. Ron typically performed in venues smaller than those that Leo Gallagher performed in. After several years, Ron began promoting his act as Gallagher Too or Gallagher Two. In some instances, Ron's act was promoted in a way that left unclear the fact that he was not the original Gallagher.
Gallagher initially responded by requesting only that his brother not use the Sledge-O-Matic routine. Ron nonetheless continued to tour as Gallagher Too using the routine. In August 2000, Gallagher sued his brother for trademark violations and false advertising. The courts ultimately sided with him, and an injunction was granted prohibiting Ron from performing any act that impersonated his brother in small clubs and venues. This injunction also prohibited Ron from intentionally bearing likeness to Leo.
Gallagher's signature sketch is a pitch for the "Sledge-O-Matic," a large wooden mallet that he uses to smash a variety of food items and other objects, culminating with a watermelon. It also features a variety of props, including a large trampoline designed to look like a couch.
While the Sledge-O-Matic act is an example of physical prop comedy, the act itself (and even its name) is a parody of ads for the Ronco Veg-O-Matic, a kitchen appliance that was heavily advertised on American television from the mid-1960s through the 1970s. Gallagher also uses wordplay in his act, pointing out the eccentricities of the English language.
In July 1999 he did a show in Cerritos, California in which he used stereotypes that were considered offensive towards Mexicans. In January 2011, Gallagher walked out of comedian Marc Maron's WTF podcast when Maron continued to ask Gallagher about the jokes after Gallagher had responded that, out of a two-to-three-hour show, they were only five jokes that he had heard in the street. In a subsequent interview which touched on the incident, Gallagher accused Maron of "taking the other side of everything".
In July 2012, Gallagher was featured in a television commercial for GEICO Insurance, repeating his Sledge-O-Matic bit. It shows 2 people asking for a cauliflower's carbon foot print, until Gallagher shows up and smashes watermelons in front of the couple and the employees. The commercial is also part of Geico's "get happy, get GEICO" campaign.
In 2004, Comedy Central rated Gallagher the 100th best stand-up comedian of all time. Gallagher was displeased with being ranked so low, and he told The Oregonian, "I looked at the other people and I was trying to find anyone I ever heard of. How could I be behind people I never heard of? ... I made 13 one-hour shows for Showtime, which are available on videotape. I invented the one-man show on cable."
Gallagher lost nearly all of his fortune in stock market speculation gone wrong, and jokes that he is currently 'broke'. However, his longtime manager disputes this as a bit of comedic exaggeration, adding "We all need to be as broke as Leo".
During a performance on March 10, 2011, in Rochester, Minnesota, Gallagher collapsed on stage, gripping his chest. He was rushed to Saint Marys Hospital, where it was determined that he had suffered a minor heart attack.
A year later, on March 14, 2012, just before a performance in Lewisville, Texas, Gallagher began to experience intense chest pains. Gallagher's manager said the comic suffered a "mild to serious" heart attack and was placed in the hospital in a medically induced coma while doctors tried to determine what was wrong with his heart. After replacing two coronary stents, doctors slowly brought him out of the coma on March 18, 2012. He quickly recovered and started talking to his family. His manager, Christine Sherrer, stated that he was breathing on his own, moving, and telling jokes.