There's a reason Gallagher hasn't retired from comedy, even at 63 and even after three decades of doing the same stand-up act, famous for a grand finale with a food-smashing mallet.
He has a message to tell.
"It is my duty here tonight to lift up a mirror to your life and show you your stupidity. That's why I haven't retired," he told an appreciative crowd Thursday night at the Majestic Theatre.
But when all was done, when he had rattled off a string of mostly mean-spirited, bitter jokes and splattered the Majestic with everything from SpaghettiO's to cottage cheese, it was truly unclear what this almighty message is and why it's keeping him from relaxing with a Mai Tai on West Palm Beach.
Then again, a Mai Tai is probably too "faggy" for him, to use one of his favorite adjectives. And don't even start him on the word "cock-tail." Har-dee-har.
Nothing is off-limits in comedy, of course, and that's the way it should be. As Gallagher himself pointed out, if a joke has a grain of truth behind it, it has redeeming value. But most of his material is so hackneyed and old-fashioned that it's like listening to Grandpa go off on an armchair rant after a couple of beers on Thanksgiving.
He centered his pre-splatter act around the downfall of American society, rotted as it is by "unthinking Communists," political correctness, baggy-pants, the French, men who wear earrings and women who get tattoos. He held forth while standing atop a makeshift pedestal, later converted into the food-smashing table.
Gallagher's main point of contention is what he perceives as a lack of rules and clearly defined meanings in today's culture.
"We have very few lines drawn. Man, woman, bad taste, good taste -- it's all up for grabs," he said. Take for instance the girl's name "Toni" or the boy's name "Chris." Both are too wishy-washy, in his opinion, and too close to blurring the line between female and male. Scott and Mark, now those are fine masculine names!
He urged the audience to think for themselves, let go of their uptight political correctness and just laugh.
"I know you want to laugh," he teased. Then he set off into a bit about President Obama, which ended with the zinger, "Plus, he's not like other black guys -- he doesn't have a white wife!"
The crowd loved that one. He raised in arms in triumph: "Aha! I finally got to you!"
Political correctness is a drag, no doubt. But most of what he seems to think of as edgy, boundary-pushing jokes are so stale, they've lost whatever punch they once had. Example, from one of his many lesbian jokes: "Why don't lesbians mind going through menopause? Because they finally get mustaches!"
Gallagher did get into some good bits, like pointing out the ridiculousness of off-road vehicles with names like Explorer and Safari stuck in a traffic jam. He's pretty nimble with the physical comedy (such as it was in an extended riff on the whole toilet seat up-or-down dilemma) and quick-witted in his audience participation. He left the houselights up the entire show and often interacted with the crowd by singling people out.
After more than two hours of this, he started lining up aluminum pie tins full of the food he would later smash: creamed corn, mustard, mayo, apple slices, apple sauce, Chinese noodles and more. He filled a carved-out head of iceberg with flour. It gave a delightful poof when whacked.
The performance was as sick and fun as a high school food fight. He ceremoniously took out his trademark "Sledge-O-Matic" mallet and proceeded to pound each pie tin into an incredible explosion. He invited members of the audience on stage to smash watermelon and creamed corn. Even with the stage sealed off with black plastic and many in the audience wearing protective garbage bags, it got gross and messy. Watermelon shards and globs of pureed pumpkin covered everything and everyone.
The scene was grotesque, yet fascinating in the way that an itch demands a scratch. Perhaps this was the downfall of society.
Earlier in his set, Gallagher had said he wanted the crowd to leave feeling "reinvigorated." But in the end, as we streamed out the door amidst the stench of sauerkraut and cream-of-mushroom soup, I felt depressed. (To be fair, mine seems to have been in the minority opinion.)
Moreover, I felt sorry for the poor soul who'll have to dangle off a ladder to scrape off the melted carcass of the Hershey's Kiss that Gallagher tossed up into one of the fixtures on the ceiling chandelier.