Before the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit, The Produce News caught up with watermelon-smashing comedian Gallagher for an interview in a special section dedicated to the National Watermelon Association Centennial Celebration. A few weeks later, the NWA announced that Gallagher would be making a stop at the convention in San Antonio, TX, on what he has announced will be his final tour.
With that appearance planned, Gallagher was gracious enough to grant The Produce News yet another interview about his career, upcoming work and some insight into the art of busting up watermelons.
Known around the world the last 40 years for blending brainy humor with sublime silliness — most memorably for smashing watermelons with a sledgehammer in a parody of television commercial product pitches — between 1980 and 2007 Gallagher made 15 television specials and was a top-earning comedian in the world in the 1980s and 1990s. In 2003, he finished 16th out of 135 candidates in the California gubernatorial election. In 2004, Comedy Central ranked him amongthe top 100 best stand-up comedians of all time. Despite three heart attacks from March 2011 to March 2012, he is still working and actively pursuing new projects.
THE PRODUCE NEWS: When we last caught up, you weren’t sure what you were going to do next. Now we know. You’ve said this is the last tour. Are there any new tricks you’re going to pull out, surprises in store?
GALLAGHER: In the last 15 years or so, I usually just show up and perform. This time around, we have a much more produced show, so the audience will get a little more bang for their buck.
TPN: The GEICO commercial you did had just wrapped up when we last talked. Now it’s been everywhere for several months. It’s a great, great spot. It’s not often an artist gets to pay homage to himself. That kind of exposure has to be fun and a little gratifying given the massive exposure to a new generation of fans.
GALLAGHER: I like sitting in a bar or restaurant where no one recognizes me, then the commercial comes on the television. Then I just watch their faces when they go from the TV to me, to the TV, then me again, then the TV.
TPN: How many watermelons have you purchased in your career?
GALLAGHER: We just worked this out recently. I have done 200 shows a year for 35 years, use about nine watermelons a show — so that’s 63,000 watermelons. I have spent over $250,000 of my own money on watermelons.
TPN: How do you select the perfect watermelon?
GALLAGHER: I actually try to take the watermelons other people might not buy for eating, since mine won’t be consumed.
TPN: While Sledge-O-Matic is what made you famous, it’s actually a small part of your comedy, which is always refreshingly cerebral and typically topical. And the Sledge-O-Matic routine itself is both slapstick and satire. Do you ever think about that, or is it just fun busting stuff up?
GALLAGHER: I don’t think it’s what made me famous, it’s what people remember me by. I was already famous before I smashed anything on TV. By the time I had been smashing in my TV specials I had been on HBO, Johnny Carson, the “Midnight Special” and lots of stuff. But the routine was meant to be a simple exaggeration of something I thought was already unintentionally funny, which is why parody works so well. And since I had both the intellectual comedy and the visual of the smashing, it appealed to both the adult and kid in everyone, which is why I have been able to last all these years. It reminds them of their youth.
TPN: Is it as much fun as it looks?
GALLAGHER: Look, if it wasn’t fun, I wouldn’t have a career. By now, either I would get bored or the audience would. Who doesn’t like making a mess and destroying things, but in public and with permission? It was always a good bit. What changed was how I did it. You can’t just smack a solid watermelon, it doesn’t spray the right way. So I learned the science of it, how to cut it in the right places, what other things to add to it, which trays to put it on to help it propel into the audience the way I wanted it to. In the beginning it was a bit, and then I turned it into a science.
TPN: Who handles the cleanup?
GALLAGHER: Not me.
TPN: Where do you go from here? How long will this tour last? I know there are shows scheduled into March. You had mentioned a possible movie or maybe more commercial projects. What’s next for you?
GALLAGHER: The tour has no end date for now, it will depend heavily on my health. But for now, I feel great. After I had a heart attack I didn’t want to do too much. Then this commercial came up and I really enjoyed it. I have a number of TV shows I am making some guest appearances on, and doing some small roles in feature films. I have a biography being written, a documentary being shot, lots of cool stuff. Plus I am working hard trying to make a few of my inventions and ideas a reality. I tried retirement and it didn’t take. I tried dying and that didn’t take either. So I am sure you will see me around.