Long before Beyonce was at the top of the musical charts, and somewhere between the time Cher became a solo artist and actor and Madonna transformed from breakout artist to pop diva, there was another one-name entertainer who became a household name: Gallagher.
The comedian's path to fame was quite different than any other singularly named celebrity, however. He became well known by smashing the ever-living daylights out of watermelons (and other assorted groceries and fast food items, from a carton of milk to a Big Mac). The Sledge-O-Matic bit drew laughs over the decades; and the gut-busting kept coming even after a not-so-funny moment last March, when Gallagher collapsed with a minor heart attack as he was doing the bit in a Minnesota performance. Gallagher recovered quickly and soon returned to performing.
Now his comedy show, sans food-smashing, comes to Pasco-Hernando Community College at 8 p.m. Feb. 4 as part of PHCC's Foundation's 2012 Performing Arts Series.
"I love to perform in the Tampa area, it's a great homecoming," said Gallagher, 65, who grew up in Tampa and now calls Los Angeles home.
Although attendees can leave their raincoats, umbrellas and plastic protective sheeting at home, Gallagher still has an evening of roaring laughter to offer in his "nonsmash" standup comedy performance.
"It's the same show without the mess," the performer told the Tampa Bay Times in an email interview. "They sell about the same. I do a meet-and-greet before each show and give them at least two hours of comedy."
He has also traded in his famous props — the adult-sized Big Wheel, raisin-shooting anteater and trampoline disguised as an enormous couch — for more interactive helpers.
"I have the fans come up on the stage and help me with my jokes," Gallagher said. "They are my props."
Born Leo Anthony Gallagher, he moved to Tampa at 8 and graduated from Plant High School. He studied chemical engineering at the University of South Florida, then changed majors and earned his degree in English in 1970. Even then he was into pranks, driving a truck full of pigs to a demonstration protesting bad cafeteria food.
But no hard feelings: His alma mater honored him in 2000 as one of the school's most famous alumni.
After seeing a commercial for the Veg-O-Matic, Gallagher created the Sledge-O-Matic and began wielding it at Tampa bowling alleys and other venues. As he was developing his act, he met singer/comedian Jim Stafford in Clearwater and became his road manager, absorbing the craft along the way.
Over the years he has done more than a dozen cable television comedy specials, performed about 100 shows a year, and made a run for governor of California during the 2003 recall election. One of his slogans was, "Why settle for amateurs? California deserves a professional comedian."
Besides using props, he is known to transform his observations on life, and his love of word play, into comedy. Some of his observations, however, have led to accusations of racism and homophobia.
"They are just jokes . . . don't take them personal," Gallagher told the Times. "I talk about everything. I even make fun of myself. You can learn a lot in my show, I talk about real life and how you should think. I switch it up from time to time though, but why not talk political? There are many things to comment on and make jokes of. It's all around you."
Information from Times files was used in this report.