They're Newhart, The Newlywed Game, and The Price is Right, by the way. But I digress.
This morning I had a look at Comedy Central's 100 Greatest Standups of All Time. I'm not a big fan of standup comedy, but I appreciate it. Almost half of the people in Comedy Central's top 20 (and most of the top ten) would match my own list, and those are better odds than usual. As with any list of this nature, some of the more current household names on it will be less relevant in five years. Denis Leary and Eddie Izzard belong higher and Jerry Seinfeld belongs much lower (like, we could add a few decimal places), but the names I want to see on the list are there.
And then there's Gallagher at number 100.
Gallagher, for those who don't remember (or who have repressed the memory) was the guy who used to hit a watermelon with a sledgehammer onstage. He also... um... He... Well, nobody remembers the rest of his act, but they do remember him as the Watermelon Guy. Anyway, the reason I bring him up is that The Oregonian just interviewed him about his placement on the list, and he's pretty bitter about it. Check out his assessment of his higher-ranking competitors:
- Jim Carey: [E]mbarrassing. He didn't know where to go with that broad, overplayed action that he has. He could really look stupid. It amazes me that these comedians have serious acting careers.
- Robin Williams: ...Robin always has C-level jokes since he does them so spontaneously. The thing about him is that when he says something, you think, "What does that mean?" ... Everything he says seems funny but it's not really a joke.
- David Letterman: What I never got was that he was never funny enough to be a guest, so how does he become the host?
Does anybody else have any idea as to why that might be? I have a hunch that it might have something to do with his material, maybe the fact that he's been trotting out the same not funny (but off-color enough to elicit nervous laughter) material since the early '80s. We liked that stuff twenty years ago, in the same way that we liked widening the gender gap and starting every sentence with "what the hell is up with" in the mid-'90s. By now most of us have moved on, and are not willing to spend $60/ticket to see another show that climaxes with produce being sledged onstage.
Michael Keaton, Jim Carrey and Tom Hanks moved on (which is not the same as selling out). If they still wanted to do standup, I'm sure they would. Hollywood is full of people who do movies because they're too good for standup, and people who do standup because they're too good for movies. "Why does Jim Carrey get a serious part when he got famous by overacting?" Maybe it's because he's good at more than overacting. Tom Hanks is fast becoming the James Stewart (or maybe Dick Van Dyke) of his generation. Why does David Letterman get to host a talk show? Because once the cue cards are gone, he can give a glib, relaxed interview.
Gallagher says that people get him in "Green Bay, Wisconsin. I can play a 2,000-seater there and do three shows. I'll do a show in Los Angeles in front of 800 people.." and that he'd like a shot at a film career: "New York and Los Angeles just don't get me. "
I've been to Green Bay. I know Green Bay. Green Bay isn't culturally retarded, but it's not a bastion of the arts, either, and they take what they can get. Sure, Gallagher sells out in Green Bay. So does Korn, Rent (in 1999 -- I was there), and everything from The Vagina Monologues to The Ice Capades Presents Weekend at Bernie's II. Why no movie deal? Has he even expressed an interest? Or is he holding out for the perfect Gallagher role ("What's my motivation, Mr. Bergman? Did the watermelon give me the finger or something?")?
I've always hated the "sit down and shut up" attitude that drives standup comedy (let's face it, popular standup is 90% "sit down and shut up," and the other 10% is populated by the likes of Denis Leary ("sit down, shut up, and pull up your pants"), Adam Sandler ("sit down, shut up, and listen to every word I say!"), Dave Chappelle ("sit down and shut up, bitch!"), and Steven Wright ("Once I was going to shut down my computer, and I accidentally clicked on 'shut up.' Now when I have new mail, AOL sends me smoke signals")), but maybe Gallagher could use a dose. Or maybe he could lay off the watermelons and come up with something new.
* It's a British list.