Watermelon-Smashing Ethics: The Sad Tale Of The Brothers Gallagher

Prop comic Gallagher, once a college campus comedy superstar, died last week, reviving memories of a classic ethics family drama with many life lessons attached.

Gallagher (first name, never used professionally: Leo) was an acquired taste that I never acquired, but he had many TV specials, a famous bit (smashing things, especially watermelons, with a sledgehammer), and even ran for Governor of California. In 1987, researchers at Loma Linda University in Southern California took blood samples from medical students while they watched Gallagher’s antics. Their white blood cell levels increased the more they laughed at him. His comedy, the study concluded, strengthened their immune systems.

Why hospital staffs don’t smash watermelons in cancer wards, I don’t know. But I digress.

When Gallagher’s younger brother Ron lost his job as a bulldozer salesman, Gallagher decided to help him out by allowing Ron to do a comedy act similar to his—the brothers looked somewhat alike, especially after Ron grew his hair long and added a mustache. So Ron Gallagher smashed lobsters instead of watermelons, and was able to earn a modest living doing a clone of his famous brother’s routine in small clubs and other minor venues.

Then Ron Gallagher got greedy. He began billing himself as Gallagher II, Gallagher Too or Gallagher Two without getting his brother’s permission; indeed the conditions under which Gallagher had allowed Ron to imitate his act specifically required him not to use a confusing billing. Brother Leo felt this invited confusion and created competition, and he asked his brother to stop using the “Gallagher” moniker. Ron refused. This is technically known as “being an ungrateful bastard.” Gallagher I finally sued in federal court to stop his brother from using the “Gallagher” name, which “violated Gallagher’s right of publicity and trademark rights.”

Ron lost, as he should have. The court issued an injunction prohibiting Ron Gallagher from performing any act that impersonated his brother; nor was Ron allowed to do the Gallagher-ish gags that Leo had originally allowed him to use when he was down and out. The judge ordered Ron not to perform with “a sledgehammer or other similar device to pulverize watermelons, fruits, food or other items of any kind.” Nor could Ron perform in the “beret, striped shirt, long hair and mustache” identified with his brother.

The decision quickly ended Ron Gallagher’s comedy career, as well as his relationship with his brother.

Ron’s betrayal creates echoes of many maxims we were taught along the way to adulthood, like “The love of money is the root of all evil,” “No good deed goes unpunished,” “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you,” and one of Samuel Clemens’, aka Mark Twain, best observations, “If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man.” An Isaac Asimov observation is also germane:

“If you ask for too much, you lose even that which you have.


Source: New York Times

6 thoughts on “Watermelon-Smashing Ethics: The Sad Tale Of The Brothers Gallagher

  1. “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” –Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy

    I’d say the Brothers Gallaghers have Lev covered.

  2. If you are going to betray someone, you had better make damn sure that you will be too powerful for him to defeat once you betray him.

    Favors get forgotten, but screwovers get remembered forever. Friends come and go, but enemies accumulate. The impulse to take revenge is a very powerful one, and quite often it is more powerful than anything else. It can lead to people destroying relationships, destroying other people, or resorting to violence. That said, it is also true that before you seek revenge you should dig two graves.

    • If you are going to betray someone, you had better make damn sure that you will be too powerful for him to defeat once you betray him.

      Are you thinking of Macchiavelli’s dictum, “Never do an enemy a small injury”? It rested on that logic.

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