Late comedian Gallagher had a good reason for destroying those watermelons onstage

A man on stage with juice splashing
Gallagher, seen in 2006, made smashing food a part of live comedy shows.
(Jeremy Portje / Associated Press)

Gallagher always knew how to treat fans to something sweet.

The prop comedian, who died of organ failure at 76 on Friday, was known for making a mess onstage. He was fond of picking up a sledgehammer to smash eggs, cheeseburgers and, most notably, watermelons. But what led him to pulverize food? For Gallagher, his signature gimmick was all about giving in to the fun.

“I have this need to disrupt order,” he told The Times in 1998. “I have this temper. I scream for two hours and like to smash things.”

The comedian, whose first name was Leo, died Friday of organ failure in Palm Springs, his longtime manager said. He had been in hospice care.

Nov. 11, 2022

Gallagher, whose first name was Leo, said he found inspiration for his sticky schtick in a food instrument popular in the ’60s. And that was the Veg-O-Matic, a manual food slicer advertised to make chopping fruits and veggies a breeze.


According to its seemingly inescapable commercial, “It slices! It dices!” But Gallagher didn’t get the point.

“‘Why not just smash the food?’ I thought. ‘You have to eat it anyway,’” Gallagher said.

And smash he did — with his sledgehammer named Sledge-O-Matic (a cheeky take on the aforementioned kitchen tool) and sometimes with his bare hands. Gallagher would even have the melons pulverize one another, as seen in a 1981 trapeze skit.

The comedian, whose numerous specials also aired on Showtime in the ’80s, told The Times in another interview that he found inspiration in something much more personal than a vegetable slicer.

“I get all my ideas from my kids,” he said in 1993. “That’s the way I go in my act ... it’s the child in you I’m trying to entertain.”

Some comedy enthusiasts bought into the act so much that they’d reserve seats in the splash zone. Those first 10 rows at Gallagher shows were also known as Death Row.

In preparation for the mess, they’d would wear old clothing or even rain ponchos to bask in the flashy splashiness of it all.

“The personal contact between performer, audience and food product may ultimately be the key to imparting Gallagher’s profound insights to America,” The Times wrote in a 1988 review.

Others, however, weren’t so keen on Gallagher’s gimmicks.

“Against impossible odds and the better judgment of the American public, Gallagher has managed to ride a silly, scatological gimmick involving taking a sledgehammer to watermelons into decades of fame, fortune and television infamy,” Vulture’s Nathan Rabin wrote in 2015 in a scathing assessment of Gallagher’s legacy.

In his later years, the comic was criticized for his homophobic and racist remarks in his shows. When Marc Maron raised the issue on his “WTF With Marc Maron” podcast in 2011, Gallagher walked out midway into the contentious interview.

As messy as his signature move was, smashing food was also Gallagher’s way of bringing his shows to a satisfying grand finale.

“I think you can’t just peter out with a show,” he told the Morning Call in 2019. “You got to have a good closer, and they all look forward to it and it’s spectacular.”