“Comedy is taking something that other people love, and smashing it.” ~Gallagher, Probably Science, April 2013.
Gallagher—yes, THE GALLAGHER—told my friend he was wasting his life.
It was at Stumptown, Portland's small-press comics convention. We were on mushrooms. It was pretty surreal, and not all that funny at the time.
With the passage of time, it’s now entirely funny, in that cringy, sort-of-awkward comedy way that the olds have on lockdown when they start throwing tantrums. Like your mean uncle at Thanksgiving passive aggressively hinting about Obama’s birth certificate and then throwing his fork into the mashed potatoes and some gravy gets on your mom. Terrible gold.
For some reason, the ‘Galgs was still in Portland a week after the Bridgetown Comedy Festival brought him upon our shores. Portland was excited to see Gallagher, an icon past his prime, but, as his recent media bouts desperately assert, not past his notoriety. For many children of the '80s, he was a pivotal comedic catalyst of absurdism, an unabashed fruit brutalist and friendly ambassador for male pattern baldness. For a while there, Gallagher looked like a fun guy. He told us jokes that made us question things. Those accomplishments still stand, despite his best efforts.
So, when I saw the Galgs trot out random racisms on the podcast Probably Science at Bridgetown, I sank into my chair under the weight of '80s nostalgia gone sour. His fellow podcast guest Peter Serafinowicz straight-up called him on it, and after an hour of increasingly angry back and forths, post-game handshakes offered to Gallagher hung in the air, denied. I stumbled out into the daylight, and bemoaned the state of decaying baby boomers, and why they think they have to be such bitches about freaking everything, all of the time.
A week later, when the Portland convention scene switched from comedy to my home turf of comics, how surprised was I to again encounter the notorious comedian himself, still rocking his embroidered namesake jacket, stalking his signature skullet around the convention floor? Pretty surprised. Also, I was on mushrooms at the time. They were old, and didn’t affect me all that much, except for making me somewhat sweatier and entirely unable to be anything other than 100% myself. Tabling on mushrooms was a dare doubled down on, thanks to my tablemate being a total Bad Kid 4 Life.
That would be Justin Fetsko, who makes stickers of mandalas and 8-bit sprites, et cetera, as StickerNinja. We met while catering, while his friend got drunk and banged some bridesmaids and passed out in the porta potties. Justin and I just did our job for the most part, until we found a moment to steal away and sip some nipped wine, looking at the stars and hanging easy in the comfortable knowledge that we could be bros for life.
Back to Stumptown Comic Con. I had some mushrooms in my purse, and Justin had some crackers under the table. We mixed and matched, popping the power shrooms with a side of wasabi, and thus irrevocably upping our game. An invitation to the universe to bring it on. Shortly thereafter, the universe complied: The Galgs himself rolls up to our table.
He looks older by roughly three thousand years. This man has seen some shit. He looks at my stuff, grimacing. My stuff is great, and some of it should indeed be grimaced at. The Galgs notes one gag on my booklet cover. “But where’s the rest of it? Is there even any more?” he jeers. I’m entirely confused by his confusion. Is he on drugs too? It takes a stoner’s moment, but I figure out that he hasn’t even opened the book. I show him how to open the book. He opens it.
Eventually, after what can only be described as “hate reading,” Gallagher sets my comic down. He’s got nothing. Crickets chirp. I slump in my seat. He looks around for something to look at, and catches Justin in his sights. Justin has long hair, a table full of stickers, and the genial air of a man who gets laid, often and well. Gallagher has long white hair, and the bearing of a cranky hobo who only remembers pussy from a certain vintage. The following is their epic exchange:
Justin: “Hey, want a free ninja sticker?”
The Galgs, dismissive: “I don’t know if I want to commit to anything!”
“Its free.” Justin shrugs. The crickets start shrugging. I unfocus my eyes and catch glimmers of chi swirling in between molecules of air, everywhere around me. The essence of life is dancing, shimmering, emanating from everyone in the room. Everyone except the Galgs.
“I don’t want to commit!” the Galgs is jeering not just at Justin, but at all the stickers, posters, comics, prints, and art surrounding him in the buzzing convention center. He’s clearly unhappy. I’m now covering my face in my hands and groaning, silently. A ghost’s groan. I’m still on shrooms, and this is shaping into a major bummer. This is when the Galgs stops being polite, and starts getting real.
“You’re wasting your life. Do you really think the world needs more shit on it?” I gasp, and slink further down in an effort both to hide and to access more crackers. (Shit’s just getting good—what can I say, I’m a ghost who loves my drama bombs with crackers.)
Justin, who is also on shrooms, is holding it all together like a multidimensional boss. He asserts his worldview effortlessly. “Yes, I do think the world needs more shit on it, if it’s awesome shit. I love stickers. I used to have them all over my bedroom door when I was a kid,” he offers, harkening us all back to the time when we used to like Gallagher.
“Yeah, and I bet not many people ever saw that bedroom door!” Galgs rejoins. (Snaps to Gallagher except, how many people is a kid even supposed to be banging?) “Your stuff doesn’t even have a message!” the Galgs burns, his foe bested. But before the sick burn can be tallied, it is countered. Fatally. Finish him, bro.
“This one does,” says Justin, holding aloft a sticker depicting a cassette tape, with the text “listening is art.” “But you’re a bad listener!” the Galgs decrees. He spins to me. I’m barely holding it together at this point. He used to remind me of my father, but now he reminds me of my mother. “He’s a bad listener!” Galgs says, an accusatory finger pointed at my bro. I just shake my head, and die, or something.
“I’m not a bad listener, I just don’t agree with anything you have to say,” Justin says softly, the pity now barely concealed in his voice. With a dismissive head shake and all the aplomb of smoke bomb, the Galgs disappeared from us, perhaps forever. We gape in his wake. I laugh, and die, and go pee for like the 50th time that day.
Gallagher was clearly not impressed by anything we had to offer. In truth, Gallagher might never be impressed again. He’s not long for this world. This is a man who has had two heart attacks. On stage, even. He’s lost all his '80s money, and is living in hotels, roving the country, looking for the next big score. He pitched numerous get rich quick schemes on the podcast I saw—the crescendo of his terrible, exploitative ideas being slot machines for children.
Forever the man who smashes watermelons, his grapes have clearly soured on the vine. Turns out, he wasn’t smashing watermelons because it was funny, he was smashing watermelons because he thought we liked those watermelons. And that’s what made him want to smash them. Because he thinks that’s comedy. This is why we can’t have nice things.
Gallagher is kind of a dick, y’all.
~Carolyn Main, www.sexwizards.com