Gallagher and IBM . . . The Rest of the Story!
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There are many people who try to be funny at times. There are a few folks who attempt to be funny most of the time. There are even professional comedians, who may or may not be funny at any time. And then there is Gallagher.
Red-headed (at one time anyway), uninhibited, loud, zany, hilarious Gallagher. Leo Gallagher, born in July under the astrological sign of Leo, has been smashing watermelons on television and for live audiences for many of his 57 years, making audiences howl with his Falstaffish mannerisms.
However, even Gallagher, who has announced his intention to run for California governor in the 2003 fall race if sitting Governor Davis is recalled and there is a new vote, has his limits to what he will stand for. In 1993 Computer Times Editor Terrance Kibiloski photographed Gallagher angrily smashing a watermelon that caught the expensive suits in the front row at COMDEX in Las Vegas by surprise-and very wet. Kibiloski ran the photo in the January 1994 issue of Computer Times, but it wasn't until June 18, 2003, at CeBIT's American premiere in New York City when Kibiloski ran into Gallagher at ShowStoppers at the Marriot Marquis on Times Square that he found out from the horse's mouth "the rest of the story." (Photo at right.) [ShowStoppers is the key press event at major IT shows throughout the country.]
In 1993, IBM approached Gallagher to perform his watermelon smashing comedy routine live at Fall COMDEX (the world's largest computer show) in Las Vegas, to draw attention to IBM's new image. IBM offered him $100,000 to do fifteen minute shows during COMDEX on the half hours during the 5 days of the show and to distribute autographed photos of Gallagher with the new ThinkPad (photo at left). Before accepting this offer, Gallagher decided he wanted to tour the IBM factory and offices, because he really didn't want to promote something he didn't know about or really believe in. He was given a tour of a New Jersey facility, where, according to Gallagher, "the building and production of the new IBM ThinkPads was as messed up as IBM was at the time." Gallagher said that while the rest of the nation was focused on energy efficiency, the New Jersey facility was constructed of all glass exterior walls, making it energy deficient, which was ironical since IBM was producing energy efficient ThinkPads, but only at the top end of the line. He said that the cheaper ThinkPad was not energy efficient, although the target market for the cheaper, inefficient ThinkPad version were probably the ones who would truly care about energy efficiency. Gallagher described the IBM offices as tiny, irregular shaped personal cubicles that were artistically designed but not functional enough to fit anything quite right. Along with the almost unusable cubicle spaces were extremely wide hallways. As he toured the building, he suggested that they should move their "stuff" into the hallway where they would have more room!
In November, Gallagher's 15 minute shows at COMDEX were wildly popular. (Photo at right.) The crowds lingered following his show, wanting more of his zaniness. Soon his 15 minutes approached 30 minutes, as Gallagher, the showman, played to the crowds. He would take a break before resuming, which meant that his two 15 minute shows had turned into one 30 minute show per hour. IBM was upset at this change since his contract clearly stated, "two fifteen minute shows on the half hours."
IBM officials turned down his microphone before his shows began because they were afraid he would be "too loud." Shouting over the din of the COMDEX crowds resulted in severe hoarseness for Gallagher, so IBM sent in a doctor to give him a shot in the derriere to cure the hoarseness that they had caused by turning down the mike! IBM was becoming a pain in the behind in more ways than one for Gallagher. However, IBM wasn't through meddling with his act. Smashing watermelons with a sledge hammer is messy. The IBM folks were afraid the mess would ruin their carpet, so they put Plexiglass all around his smashing surface to save the carpet. But they didn't stop there; they replaced Gallagher's flat smashing surface with a grate. Gallagher steamed, "Watermelons don't smash on a grate; they get pushed through it."
Part of IBM's COMDEX promotion was for Gallagher to ride a bicycle around all the booths yelling, "IBM! We're back!" As he did this, the plan was for all of the IBM representatives to chime in with him, chanting, "IBM! We're back." Gallagher rode the bike; Gallagher chanted. Nobody else did.
Kibiloski states, "One of Gallagher's best laughs came from a comment made by an IBM rep when Gallagher asked why the new ThinkPad's had a Trackball II mouse. 'What happened to Trackball I?' The IBM rep replied that, 'It sucked.' When Gallagher used this material in his comedy act, IBM was very upset. IBM had a very difficult time laughing at themselves, even though they had hired Gallagher to lighten up the crowd and convince the public they were no longer a stuffed shirt company. Gallagher said it was hilarious to have an IBM exec tell him that was why he was wearing a t-shirt instead of a suit. As far as Gallagher was concerned, an IBM exec with an extruding fat belly was still a stuffed shirt."
The comedy routine centered around how IBM had built the ThinkPad. He had a "mother board," depicted as a wooden board wearing a bra (photo at left), "serial ports" shown as boxes of cereal with a bottle of port, and "RAM" represented by a stuffed toy ram (photo at right), along with several others. For the routine, IBM stood for "I Bust Melons."
Gallagher got increasingly frustrated during the week because of the way the IBM officials had interfered with his routine by turning down his microphone, replacing the smashing surface with a grate, failing to join in during the bicycle chant, as well as their paranoia about getting the carpet dirty, and IBM's inability and unwillingness to laugh at themselves. During the week, he discovered that the IBM person who had hired him for COMDEX had been fired. However, the straw that broke the camel's back came when Gallagher asked the company if he could keep the ThinkPad that he had been testing for the past few weeks, which now contained a lot of his personal data. They refused flatly. He asked again, even suggesting that they take the price of the computer out of the $100,000 contract they were paying him for the week's work. IBM again refused.
Gallagher then did what any angry watermelon smasher would have done at this point. He REALLLLLY smashed a watermelon-outside the Plexiglass protected smashing cage, on a FLAT surface instead of a grate, with watermelon mess flying all over the IBM executives and the guests who were sitting in the front row. At this point, his pride and dignity were more important to him than the $100,000 contract.
Kibiloski says, "I happened to catch an earlier Gallagher show or two [during the week], so I knew his routine. When I saw him set up the watermelon outside the Plexiglass and give a mischievous look at the IBM execs in the front row, I instinctively knew this was a priceless moment in time. Although I only had B&W film in my Canon camera, I was able to get some reasonably good pictures of the moment that Gallagher IBMed (I Busted Melons) on the IBM execs. It was a priceless moment in time in the IT industry."
(Gallagher smashing a watermelon all over IBM execs at COMDEX Fall '93)
And now you know the rest of the story!
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