- Eric Levin
- “I don’t have a filthy joke about masturbating in a closet.” Fair enough.
Friday, May 12
Scotiabank Centre, 5284 Duke Street
You know who Jim Gaffigan is. Maybe you listen to or watched his stand-up. Maybe you caught him in an age magic movie like 13 Going on 30 or 17 Again or in one of the Law and Orders. Or maybe you were a regular viewer of Welcome to New York, The Ellen Show or, of course, The Jim Gaffigan Show, a sorta-based-on-reality sitcom he wrote and produced with Jeannie Gaffigan, a hilarious comedy writer that also happens to be his wife.
After wrapping up production on The Jim Gaffigan Show last year, Gaffigan turned his attention to other acting projects, released his fifth standup special, Cinco, and returned to regular stand-up with his Noble Ape tour, which brings him to the Scotiabank Centre on Friday.
"On a television show you have to do an act break. And on a book you have to finish the essay. But with stand-up there are no editorial guidelines," Gaffigan says.
His voice is slow and thick, as recognizable as the third-person whisper-speak often used in his act. Even through his lethargic Midwestern twang, his excitement about being back on the road is obvious. "Stand-up is really fun. And it's just driven by a point of view, which is amazing."
Gaffigan's most famous joke is easily his ramble about Hot Pockets from his special Beyond the Pale, one of two specials that Gaffigan concedes had "the point of view of this kind of lazy guy who is obsessed with food."
His food jokes always land. In fact, they even landed him in a role as Colonel Sanders in some of KFC's advertising last year. "It's weird," Gaffigan says. "I do think my comedy's a little bit more complex than just talking about food, but it's just what resonates. Everyone eats food so that kind of has that broad appeal."
Observational humour can often feel broad. The jokes, on the surface, are simple. But the degree of difficulty—nailing a joke where the punchline is an agreement instead of a shock, or simply doesn't exist—is actually quite high.
A lot has been written about Gaffigan's role as a disrupter in the post-Carlin world of sex, drugs and comedy. In avoiding the seven words you can never say, he crafts rich, relatable observations using a million others, "going from the assumption that we're all for the betterment of human beings," he says. "And that we have compassion. I start with that assumption."
That's evident in how Gaffigan's punchlines land. He's not swinging down. Heck, he's not even swinging up. If anything, he's usually punching himself.
"Nobody's really more of a white guy than me, right?" Gaffigan says. "I don't want to punch down and there's really nowhere to punch up, you know?
"We live in ugly times and in some ways hopefully I am bringing some light rather than darkness. When people walk away from the show I want them to feel better. Negativity can be exhausting."
Gaffigan is not a comedian that pushes for a reaction. There is no blue comedy to redden cheeks with laughter. His act is more of a pull, like a pal sharing jokes. It's not provocative and that's by design.
"I don't have a filthy joke about me masturbating in a closet," he says. "And we live in this day and age when edge is so sexy. But what I would say is that people wanted all that tabloid stuff, they wanted outlandish things and look at the president we got because of that appetite."
It's reductive, though, almost an insult to Gaffigan's talent to hem him into a family-friendly framework. Clean jokes aren't what get people in the door and keep them coming back for more. "We don't live in a culture where people say 'it's amazing! This guy talks for an hour and he doesn't curse!'" Gaffigan also knows who he is. "They're coming because the show is good."