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Gallagher's last smash in bay area closes down historic Clearwater theater

CLEARWATER — On Sunday, Gallagher, that mustachioed mischief maker of 1980s fame — watermelon slayer, if you will — told his audience at the Capitol Theatre in downtown Clearwater who he really is.

"I'll tell you who I am," he said, following a video retrospective of his career. "I'm the smartest guy in the world."

"You saw me with Dave Letterman (on the video). He's an idiot."

Laughter.

"I've known him his whole career. He can't write jokes. He has to be a host because he can't be the guest."

More laughs with whistles.

And with that, Leo (his first name) launched into Gallagher's Last Smash, the final event at the 93-year-old Capitol before it closes for a $7 million expansion and renovations. The theater is owned by the city of Clearwater and managed by Ruth Eckerd Hall.

The show was also billed as Gallagher's last public performance in the Tampa Bay area before he retires his Sledge-O-Matic, a device he uses to smash fruits and vegetables during his act. Elisa Cerio, 50, wasn't about to miss it.

"This will be the eighth time I've seen him live," the Tarpon Springs resident said before the show. "I think he's the most amazing comic; he's not only funny, but creative. His jokes make you think."

Complimentary plastic yellow hard hats were passed out at the door. Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos presented the funny guy, now 66, with a sledgehammer from the city. Gallagher sloshed up the mayor's tie with a juicy watermelon in return. Together, they pretended to blow up the old theater with some fake TNT.

About 450 fans showed up for the sold-out show. The multigenerational audience came to share a laugh, say a goodbye.

Alleyn Vinson, 8, couldn't wait for the fruit to hit the fans.

"I'm going to eat it right off of me," he said.

Denise Conway, 38, of Tampa brought her father, Carl Wheeler, who recently suffered a stroke, in a wheelchair.

"He took me to see Gallagher a long time ago and now it's my turn to take him," she said. She and Gallagher share the same alma maters — Madison Middle and H.B. Plant High schools in Tampa.

Roger and Nancy Hobbs of Holiday were brave enough to sit in the front row, covered in plastic sheeting.

"We grew old together," said Roger, 60, referring to Gallagher.

Nancy, 59, said she admired the comedian's candor. "He's not afraid to speak his mind. He reminds me of me."

Gallagher has survived four heart attacks, an estrangement from his brother Ron over copying his act, and harsh criticism of his social and political rants.

But he still wields his Sledge-O-Matic like a lumberjack and can go on a two-hour comic spree without breaking a sweat — although he does tend to switch subjects rapidly and return to them later.

Sunday night, he incorporated members of the audience into his act; some of them proved to be jokesters, too.

When he chose a pregnant Heather Willard, 38, of Largo to demonstrate how men's underwear could be cut at the crotch and worn over the head, he asked her what she'll name her baby.

"I'll leave it up to him," she quipped, pointing to a man in the audience. "He thinks he's the father."

Gallagher's act was insane, irreverent, perverse and profane, ranging from potty talk to politics — and the audience ate it up.

Well, most of it.

"I'm a Presbyterian," Gallagher said. "We worship Frisbees. We believe when you die, your soul goes up on the roof and you can't get it down."

Lots of laughs.

But when he said, "Jesus wanted to know his future so he went to the palm reader and she nailed him," boos rang out.

"All right, it was over the line," he admitted.

Gallagher's last smash in bay area closes down historic Clearwater theater 03/25/13 [Last modified: Monday, March 25, 2013 11:12pm]
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