Jon Solomon takes a break from installing a hidden camera in the Benson family toilet to forward the following interview with comic legend Gallagher by The Oregonian’s Ed Condran.
Q: You’ve received considerable grief from critics for using props.
A: In the early days, Jay Leno told me that props are the enemy of wit. Now Jay uses props on his show all the time. Dave (Letterman) has smashed things on his show and has worn a Teflon suit. (Editor’s note: Actually, Letterman occasionally wears a Velcro suit.) All that has that Gallagher flair, but I’m not on their shows. It’s amazing. Dave and I used to work the same club in the (San Fernando) Valley all the time.
Q Why won’t Jay Leno or David Letterman book you for their shows, considering you started out together?
A: I don’t know. Johnny (Carson) hated me, and I was on his “Tonight Show.”
Q: How was Letterman’s stand-up?
A: It was terrible. You see how it is every night. He does three jokes. But Dave once told me that he didn’t need an act. He told me that he was going to be a talk-show host. What I never got was that he was never funny enough to be a guest, so how does he become the host? But that’s America for you. America wants the mediocre. It doesn’t want the heroic or the moral.
Q: Much of your set is spontaneous.
A: That’s by design. A spontaneous moment will get twice the response of a set joke. I figured out a long time ago to work spontaneously. Robin Williams does this. But 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. He was well known for taking jokes because he’s an actor looking for a script. The same goes for Chevy Chase and Tom Hanks.
Q: How was Hank’s stand-up?
A: It was terrible.
Q: But he went on to become a huge star.
A: Yes, it’s frustrating. He didn’t go on the road (as a stand-up) and work anywhere. I went off on the road and worked. He and Michael Keaton would meet someone in the movie business and, bang, they’re millionaires and living in Beverly Hills. You have (my) skill and ability and you’re renting a condo.
Q : So Michael Keaton was a stand-up?
A: He was a terrible comedian. Jim Carrey was embarrassing. 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.
What qualifies them to be serious actors? Serious actors must be irritated by this. Why does Jim Carrey get a serious part when he got famous by overacting?
Q: How did it feel when you received the news that you were the 100th best stand-up according to Comedy Central?
A: It stunk. I looked at the other people and I was trying to find anyone I ever heard of. How could I be behind people I never heard of? How many of these people stayed in the business for 20 years? I made 13 one-hour shows for Showtime, which are available on videotape. I invented the one-man show on cable.
Q: What’s it like to be an outsider after all these years in the business?
A : It could be worse. I guess I’m lucky I’m not the 101st person on that list. I might not be accepted in New York and L.A., but I have my fans and they’ve been very good to me.
(Gallagher and his not-nearly as successful younger brother,Gallagher II , wondering if Jimmy Kimmel’s people are ever going to call back)