Arts & Theater

Comedian Jack Gallagher explores the accident that changed his life in ‘Concussed’

Jack Gallagher’s “Concussed: Four Days in the Dark” stems from a bike accident he had.
Jack Gallagher’s “Concussed: Four Days in the Dark” stems from a bike accident he had. Rudy Meyers Photography

Jack Gallagher didn’t spend four days in a quiet, darkened room for the fun of it. He didn’t do it so he could write a show about it later. An emergency room doctor insisted.

Gallagher just had been struck by a motorist while riding his bike. He flew helmet-first into a car’s windshield, cracking it and suffering a severe concussion. He was lucky he could walk away.

Now, 2 1/2 years after the Sept. 1, 2014, accident, Gallagher has new one-man show, “Concussed: Four Days in the Dark,” about the aftermath of that experience. It opens Sunday, March 5, and runs through April 16 on the B Street Main Stage.

This will be the seventh show Gallagher has written and performed, the sixth commissioned and produced by B Street, where he has found an artistic home. Jerry Montoya, a long-time creative collaborator there, will direct.

Gallagher began his series of autobiographically based monologues with “Letters to Declan” in 1993. That show grew out of letters Gallagher found himself writing to his eldest son, then just a child. The subsequent shows have moved through different phases of his life and sometimes focused on different members of his family.

His other shows are “Just the Guy” (2002) about his aborted network-television sitcom, “What He Left” (2006) about his father, “A Different Kind of Cool” (2010) about his son Liam, and “Complete and Unfinished” (2013) and “5 Songs” (2015), about his love of music.

“I say – and I’m only half-joking – they’re all basically the same. They’re all me,” Gallagher said. “I can do one thing, this, the one thing that I do.”

Not really. Gallagher is a nationally known stand-up comedian when he wants to be, which is not so much anymore. That part of the résumé includes appearances on “The Tonight Show” with then-hosts Johnny Carson and Jay Leno, and “Late Night with Conan O’Brien.” There were television spots, too, on “Cheers” and HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”

Life on the road got to him. He’ll still pick up a gig here and there, particularly when he’s back in Massachusetts around Boston where he grew up. He does occasional corporate comedy gigs he can fly to, perform his set and then come home. He also performs a keynote presentation of “A Different Kind of Cool,” which deals with Liam being on the autism spectrum. Last year he presented it nearly once a month for educational and civic groups around the country.

There was a lot for Gallagher to process after the accident, much of it around what had happened to his brain and any potential loss of cognitive ability, an especially concerning issue for an artist who makes his living from his wit and intellect. His neurosurgeon told him it would be 18 months before he really knew what was “gone for good.”

“I think I’m probably 95 percent. (My wife) Jean might say something else,” Gallagher said. “This is the most embarrassing thing – I still have a tough time getting words out. I stammer a little bit.”

Bright lights bother him and he still gets occasional headaches. “But I’m back on the bike and feel much much better,” he said. “My memory’s not great but I feel good and emotionally I feel really good.”

When he felt like writing again, he thought he knew what he would and wouldn’t put in the script. “I wasn’t going to talk about (the accident) because it seemed a little self-serving – not that anything else I do isn’t.”

He thought he would write about language and how we use words. While those ideas are there in the play about his post-concussion experience, eventually his post-concussion life became the focus. It started with sitting in the darkened room for four days with nothing to do but think. The doctor had told him he couldn’t read, watch television, look at any kind of screen or even listen to music.

“Not to put too fine a point on it, but it was really kind of transformative,” Gallagher said. “The only thing you can’t stop doing is thinking. So I just thought, thought about everything – my work, my family, what I’ve been doing, what I haven’t been doing. How I wanted to change myself. I think everybody should be forced to do that.”

He came back to the world with a “this is the first day of the rest of my life feeling.”

Gallagher said he began doing things he felt he’d been putting off. He and Jean bought a house on Cape Cod close to where they’re both from and still have a lot of family. They’ve spent summers there for decades. “It was like, what are we waiting for?” he said. “I could have died.”

He’s driven across the country three times, once with each one of his sons individually, and once with his dog Harry. “Jean says you’ll never do that again with them, it was once-in-a-lifetime thing,” he explained. “I honestly think none of that would have happened without that car hitting me.”

Gallagher also said age is on his mind. He’s 63, and the show deals with the transitions that take place as we get older. “I try to write something that’s entertaining and really put my feeling into it,” he said. “When I do my stand-up, I don’t do that. I’m cynical and I’m sarcastic. When I do this – this is the way I really feel.”

Marcus Crowder: 916-321-1120, @marcuscrowder

Concussed: Four Days in the Dark

What: A one-man play with and by Jack Gallagher

Where: B Street Theatre mainstage, 2711 B St., Sacramento

When: Previews 5 p.m. Saturday, March 4 and 2 p.m. Sunday, March 5. Opens 7 p.m. Sunday, March 5; continues 8 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays, 5 and 9 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays, 2 and 6:30 p.m. Wednesdays, through April 16.

Tickets: $26-$38; $18 for previews, $8 student rush

Information: 916-443-5300; bstreettheatre.org

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