$10K fee for Uniontown show not paid, comedian Gallagher claims
It has happened only a few times in the past four decades, but Sledge-O-Matic watermelon pulverizer Gallagher spent a night telling jokes in Uniontown — and none of them made any cents.
According to the longtime comedian, he got stiffed out of his $10,000 fee by Chase Ebaugh, a 22-year-old North Versailles promoter who is facing a lawsuit tied to a canceled Bill Engvall comedy stop last year in Oakland's Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum.
“The trip to Uniontown meant a lot to me because it was kind of like completing the circle of life,” said Leo Gallagher, 67, noting that his Irish grandfather in Sharon and Croatian grandmother from West Virginia courted in that part of Fayette County and that he drew much of his early comedic inspiration from them.
“Something I've noticed over the years is that there are more Gallaghers in Pittsburgh than any other city. So I was looking forward to getting to Uniontown and doing a show where my family came from. I've had four heart attacks, so that's why these farewell gigs are so important to me, especially this one.”
CEE Presents promoter Ebaugh told the Tribune-Review that he wants to pay Gallagher something — maybe $7,500 — but he spent nearly twice that on radio advertising and sold only about half of the State Theatre's 1,404 seats. He said he does not want to take a major loss.
“Gallagher is an awesome guy, and there's no way I want to hurt him,” Ebaugh said, “but he just didn't sell the tickets.”
As for the lawsuit brought by Showclix Inc. demanding that Ebaugh repay $39,646 for the botched Engvall concert, Ebaugh said he is trying to work out a deal that would let him sluice profits from future promotions to the online box office company.
In court filings, attorneys for Showclix have warned that Ebaugh could be on the hook for $50,000 to reimburse ticket buyers for the canceled Engvall show, but Ebaugh told the Trib that he filed for bankruptcy in June. The Trib could not find a record of bankruptcy proceedings in Ebaugh's name or that of CEE Presents. Showclix attorneys did not return calls seeking comment.
Erica Miller, manager of the historic State Theatre, said she's now “kind of leery” of working with Ebaugh because of his dispute with Gallagher. Ebaugh paid the theater's $2,700 rental fee, and the comic's fans told her that “it was a great experience,” but stiffing the talent is never good, she said.
“In our industry, the promoter takes all the risk but also can reap big rewards,” said Miller. “We're an industry that works by word of mouth, and trust is very important. This has been really bothering me because the first thing we always do is pay the performer.”
Miller told the Trib that Ebaugh's CEE Presents had successfully booked Larry the Cable Guy to two earlier sold-out Uniontown performances.
Ebaugh said that while he has made money from promoting acts such as Australian singer Havana Brown and Dayton rockers Hawthorne Heights, he lost nearly $2,500 last year because Gallagher had a heart attack that forced him to cancel his booking.
Craig Marquardo, Gallagher's manager in Oregon, shared with the Trib a string of emails he exchanged with Ebaugh dating back to the day of the concert. They show Ebaugh mentioning his earlier losses on Gallagher's show and trying to back out of his pledge to pay the $10,000 fee printed on the Uniontown gig's offer sheet.
Ebaugh told the Trib that the messages prove only that he had no written contract with Gallagher and he's sticking to his $7,500 offer — take it or leave it. Gallagher's manager wonders whether the comic will ever see a penny from a Uniontown show that grossed nearly $21,000.
“I feel for this kid. I really do,” said Marquardo. “But he's not just cheating Gallagher out of his $10,000. Gallagher is out the money he spent on a hotel, on his rental car, on his flight, and he's also out the money he would've had if he'd done a concert elsewhere and got paid.”
Marquardo faulted Ebaugh for running ads that might have suggested to fans that Gallagher was going to take a sledgehammer to fruit — prop comedy that cemented his star status in the 1980s. Ebaugh booked him for a stand-up routine; crushing watermelons costs $5,000 more, and Ebaugh was not willing to pay that, Marquardo said.
As for failing to draw audiences, Marquardo scoffed and pointed to a resurgence in Gallagher's comedic career during the past two years – a role in a feature film, a funny spot on David Letterman's TV show, a successful turn in a Geico insurance ad and a string of sold-out bookings in Nevada and Florida during “The Last Smash! Farewell Tour.”
Younger critics have taken shots at Gallagher's routine, especially his conservative crankiness and his skewering of politicians and racial minorities, but Marquardo said Gallagher writes his own material and tries edgy jokes on stage. To Marquardo, Gallagher's act portrays him as a grouchy, politically incorrect hippie riffing on daily observations, akin to the late George Carlin's routine — only with fruit shrapnel.
Gallagher told the Trib that that's fitting. A former chemical engineer, he tried to sell his Sledge-O-Matic shtick to Carlin, but he passed. So Gallagher decided to do it himself.
While other comics of his generation ended up rich and famous because of movies and TV — including Michael Keaton of Coraopolis, Robin Williams and Jay Leno — Gallagher stuck to the comedy house circuit.
“I love my fans,” Gallagher said. “It's all I've got now. I never made friends in Hollywood, so my adult life has been made by my relationship with all the folks who bought my tickets while I was out on the road.”
Carl Prine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7826 or firstname.lastname@example.org.