The Celebrity Theatre's marquee read "The Return of Gallagher" on Friday night, but a more accurate legend would have been "The Rerun of Gallagher." The balding, slovenly comedian doused his Anaheim audience with a predictable stream of ridicule and liquids, adding little to the self-consciously offensive persona he's used as an act for the past decade.
Barely a shred of topical humor entered Gallagher's nearly 3-hour show; a crack about the scatological sound of Michael Dukakis' name and a repeated warning to use condoms in the decade he called the "Nineteen-AIDS-ies," sufficed for Gallagher's social criticism.
Instead, there was pun after tired pun, punctuated with slurs for modern comedy's familiar enemies list: homosexuals, fat people, politicians, television evangelists, government agencies. For big laughs, Gallagher turned to his prop boxes, pulling out such devices as a "handgun" (a pistol that fires plastic hands) and a "baby on board" (a doll nailed to a wooden plank).
The comedian's fans, many wearing plastic rain ponchos decorated with Gallagher's stylized image, eagerly awaited his famous assaults on the audience. Gallagher happily obliged, spraying the crowd with enormous water guns disguised as stuffed animals, articles of furniture and, in an image characteristic of Gallagher's taste, a "moose douche." As a running joke, the comedian teased his audience with a search through the prop boxes for a "possum uterus" that, enigmatically, he never found.
If Gallagher had presented himself merely as a crude showman, his ceaseless banality might have been tolerable; after all, here is a comic best known for smashing vegetables with a sledgehammer. But Gallagher threatened even the faint amusement possible from his malapropism-based humor with frequent sanctimony about his self-appointed mission to enlighten America.
With a fervor approaching that of the TV evangelists he ridicules, Gallagher proclaimed that his was "a meaningful show. I want to change your life," he told the audience, which responded with cheers of "Gallagher for President!" and "Gallagher for Emperor!"
"It's my job to yell at the world," he yelled at his audience again and again. "I'm tired of the ignorance! I'm tired of the stupidity!"
Despite this constant railing against ignorance and stupidity, Gallagher's act fed on them. He praised himself for courage in telling San Franciscans that they "live in a bowl of granola; whatever's not fruits or nuts is flakes." Other important concerns to which America might heretofore have turned a blind eye: exercise guru Richard Simmons' sexual orientation and the comeliness of Ruth Westheimer, the elderly TV sex therapist.
For Gallagher, further insights into the true nature of the world were to be gleaned from the sort of puns that children extract from everyday phenomena; the Transportation Department, he said, has posted road signs explaining the cause of flatulence--"Gas-Food-Lodging."
Yet, by combining his unique parade of visual gags with the vulgar tirades that pass for contemporary stand-up comedy, Gallagher enthralled his audience for the show's first hour and a half. What he lacked in material, he offered in energy, circling his stage in the Celebrity's theater-in-the-round, encouraging the audience to yell back at him, even handing out $50 bills to spectators whose jokes he decided excelled his own.
After a 45-minute intermission, however, Gallagher lost the even the mindless brand of enthusiasm that propels his act. He repeated several jokes from show's first half, to the boos of the increasingly disenchanted audience. After a half-hearted attempt to get the crowd to join in an obscene sing-along, Gallagher turned to his most reliable gag: the Sledge-O-Matic.
Reflecting the originality and freshness of his entire show, Gallagher's grand finale parodied a discontinued product manufactured by a firm that declared bankruptcy years ago. Still, Gallagher's well-practiced Sledge-O-Matic act approached the unintentional humor of the original Ronco Veg-O-Matic commercials aired in the 1970s.
Wielding his sledgehammer, Gallagher destroyed an array of foodstuffs, each of which splattered into the plastic-clad front rows of the theater. Chocolate milk, cottage cheese, grapes, watermelon--all received this treatment. The destruction continued as Gallagher pounded every laugh he could from the sledgehammer, even paying $50 to the audience member who could catch a bottle of detergent as it was hurled from the Sledge-O-Matic anvil.
Few of Gallagher's gags could have surprised his fans; all have appeared in varying forms on his many television appearances over the past decade. However, the personal contact between performer, audience and food product may ultimately be the key to imparting Gallagher's profound insights to America.
Asked to assess her life-changing Gallagher experience, one 29-year-old fan quickly responded: "When I drive down the road and see that 'Gas-Food-Lodging' sign, it'll never be the same again."