Saturday, October 11, 2014

CD Review: Gallagher: I Am Who I Pretend to Be

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2014
Images from the Internet

Gallagher: I Am Who I Pretend to Be
Produced by David Drozen
Uproar Entertainment
70 minutes, 2014

In case you are wondering who (Leo) Gallagher is, I don’t think it would be an understatement to say he was as influential in the stand-up world as Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, and Robin Williams. Arguably, you could even add George Carlin. Was he as funny as them? Well, that’s a matter of the style of humor you enjoy, but it was Gallagher that almost single-handedly brought the stand-up series of specials to cable television, 14 shows over the years that had millions of viewers each. Some say the existence of the Comedy Channel in some part was created due to Gallagher’s on-air popularity.

I have to say, I found him extremely funny. I viewed probably about 5 of those specials, and saw him a number of times on the likes of Johnny Carson’s The Tonight Show. He was outrageous without being overly shocking (profanity is in his cable shows, but not his mainstream presentations). He had a unique style, using his own creative props that were inventive on the level of engineering, and unlike some other prop comics like, say, Carrot Top, Gallagher was not manic (though he screamed a lot) and was actually enjoyable.

From North Carolina, he had a bit of a twang and a unique way of phrasing things, often using some colloquialisms, such as saying “them people.” Considering how much of the use of language a key part of his act is, I’m not sure if this was an in-bred way of patter, or was part of his stage persona. I don’t ever remember seeing him talk off the stage.

The reason I use past tense in this piece is because this show is part of Gallagher’s retirement tour. After serious health issues, he has decided to professionally call it quits.

When the CD starts, honestly, it doesn’t sound like him. He has a particular way to talking and it takes a while before I can “recognize” his voice. But that’s okay. I also wondered about a vocal-only recording, because he usually is quite visual, including using a sledge hammer on a watermelon (yeah, that’s the guy). That is probably why he has all these television shows and only one other vocal recording from the beginning of his career.

One of the things that appeals to me about Gallagher is the way he has a slight twisted way of looking at life that seems to make sense until you really think about it. For example, he often posits (including here) that they ought to give deaf people houses by the airport. Or that that they should make Jehovah Witnesses mail carriers because they’re going to come to your door anyway (not included). Illogical logic?

In the hour-plus of this CD, I did notice something that I had not realized before, but has been a consistent theme of his act, and that is he promotes cultural gender-normative stereotypes. Sort of a “You know what you guys do?” “You know what you ‘girls’ do?” Then comes out the controlling image of women who love to go shopping, and men who are slackers around the house who don’t do much tidying, and how both drive each other crazy. He’s been focusing in on these for thirty years now, and honestly, the timer is up on it. It’s a dated notion that is okay to acknowledge that times have changed. More men work around the house, and more women are in the workforce. That being said, I thought the line about a version of Playboy for married men that has the same centerfold model in each issue was pretty funny. Okay, I’m done with that cultural rant.

Gallagher has always been a bit of an American jingoist, but tends not to be overly obnoxious about it, like Ted Nugent, for example. He loves “Amurrka” (as he pronounces it) and hates to see foreign interests changing the landscape, as it were. Is his material racist? Well, there is definitely singling out some cultures, such as Mexicanos, but it’s not nasty any more than his pointing out gender norms. I did cringe, however, the one time when he used the expression “that is so gay.”

Once you get beyond those, and he finally gets fired up, as he does here, his two strong suits come out. The first one is pointing out the sheer ridiculousness of our culture, and how we look at things. He would make a powerful General Semanticist. It could be how we may be viewed by aliens (stating how from space telescopes we have to look up to the stars find any kind of intelligence, rather than back at Earth), weirdness about how people view the Bible, and how crazy is our justice system. His analysis using a spork (spoon-fork a la KFC) as a springboard is quite smart.

Then his second strong point comes out that is my favorite, which is Carlin-esque in how he points out the randomness of grammar and language. In this particular case he looks at the “enemy” of the English language, the French, and how their mother tongue has influenced us in nearly a poetic rant.

The bonus track, “Words of Wisdom,” is a bit I’ve heard before, and in fact there is a smattering of repeating here and there (this is true of many comics, including Robin Williams, with his Mr. Happy bits).

Yeah, he’s still sharp and witty, and considering his heart situation, he’s definitely still Gallagher. That’s something that’s worth a listen.
Bonus video from the ‘80s (unrelated to this CD):

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