After an enormous absence, Leo Gallagher showed up in my life, two times in two weekends.
When I was young, I watched his specials whenever they were on TV and they were on all the fucking time. I watched him on flying machines and telling truths and making me and my folks laugh at the same time, at the same nonsensical things we all take for granted. He had this weight to him, he was serious but goofy, his words were true but funny.
As he wandered in to the Mt Tabor lounge to record the podcast, it was clear he still had it; like a switch he turned on and off or a livid puppet he could still operate.
The face would lock into Classic Gallagher and he’d do the wind up for a good one — Something fun like chairs if our legs bent the other way or a hilarious rejoinder about how good fudge is. (My 12 year old brain yearned for it) — and then he’d drop that face and he’d say something about how there’s two types of Mexicans, good ones and bad ones, and we have nothing but bad ones here.
Mostly it was depressing.
Part of me cringed, to see that fame and fortune don’t make you happy if you’re too smart for your own good. The grotesque reveal: if your brain is convinced you shouldn’t be happy; moreover that humans shouldn’t be happy — you won’t be, and others joy will only bring you pain. Part of me wished he could be happy playing with the puppies one last time, which is what everybody but Gallagher himself was ready to let happen. Part of me cringed when he broke, too stoned to follow his own thread or too bored with his invective to care, to shamelessly promote one or the other of his idiotic patent troll plans. And part of me just tuned out because it became obvious that when he says something deep he’s just trying to butter you up to sell you watered down race bait, convince you to buy his pseudointellectual babble, or obliquely ask you to give him drugs on the street when you see him.
He was full of memorable quotes, and I’m sure there’s tons of discussion about the brown folks talk but he also said that humor was taking something that other people like and smashing it. By that measure, he killed. He smashed my opinion of what it was to be the smartest kid in the room. He smashed my innocent belief that he wasn’t a racist. In fact it forced me to realize I only thought he wasn’t because I’d seen Gallagher, Stevie Wonder, and Gordon from Sesame Street in tight offwhite bellbottoms, so clearly they were in cahoots. The rending of my youthful optimism about race in America, laff riot.
I worried about him for a minute, I read he was broke. And then I read he wasn’t really broke he was just getting a lot of traffic tickets in California and so he was avoiding his houses. But the article has another notable quote.
“I see things on the side of the road, which, of course, I’d never see if I just drove by. And I pick up these things, because, to me, it tells me about the society, and I find parts of cars and they’re important parts—and I wonder how the car is driving without that part now. It just seems odd to me.”
When I read it last year I heard it in the old Gallagher voice and my heart went out to the brave spirit speaking that truth. And now I know that he was just trying to sell some plan or idea and I wonder what it is. I wish he’d just come out and say it. Is it you Gallagher? Are you the important part that has fallen out of our societal vehicle, the pitman arm or the tie rod end all abandoned on the side of the road? Should we hit the brakes and swing back around for you, dust you off and install you back where you belong?
That’s not how it works man. When something breaks and falls off your car in the real world, you call one of those unmentionable brown folks and have em’ tow your car to a yard, where they replace it with a shiny new one.
Maybe one that isn’t as racist.