While watching this stand-up comedy special, Judge Geoffrey Miller made sure to eat a Hot Pocket.
"Pie can't compete with cake. Put candles in a cake, it's a birthday cake; put candles in a pie…and someone's drunk in the kitchen."
You may not be familiar with Jim Gaffigan on a name basis, but you've surely seen him before. A regular stand-up guest on the late night circuit, he's also had a number of acting roles on TV (That '70s Show, Sex and the City, Ed) and in movies (Three Kings, 13 Going On 30, Super Troopers). Basically, he's everywhere, usually making a memorable cameo. His new stand-up special, Jim Gaffigan: Beyond The Pale, originally aired on Comedy Central and has gotten a near-simultaneous DVD release (with some additional footage and bonus features added).
The joke behind the hour-long special's title is that Gaffigan is a pasty white fellow. (He's even poked fun at this in some animated shorts entitled "Pale Force" that pop on Late Night with Conan O'Brien when Gaffigan appears on there.) While the creepy cover, featuring Gaffigan in a child-like pose with a spoon and bowl in washed-out colors, would lead you to believe otherwise, he has the persona of a Midwestern Everyman with a quirky, affably goofy sensibility.
Gaffigan works in the observational style of humor, commenting on everyday life. He's not quite "family-friendly," but refrains from cursing or shock value. There are a lot of characters and "voices" in his performances, the most famous of which is his "inside voice." Imagine a strained, effeminate whisper critiquing the performance, and you've got the idea. The audience goes wild every time he does it and with good reason: Gaffigan uses it as a clever way to add an extra layer to his jokes while poking fun at himself.
I've always enjoyed Gaffigan's appearances on late night shows, but I wasn't sure if he'd hold up over an hour-long special. There's only a handful of comedians capable of holding my attention for that long; my favorites, like George Carlin and Chris Rock, have a large dose of sociopolitical commentary that goes beyond the typical setup/punchline routine. Gaffigan doesn't have that kind of depth, but his knack for engaging performances keeps him exciting. As one of the few stand-up comedians who's equally comfortable on-stage as he is acting in front of the camera, Gaffigan has more range than a typical comic, with a wide variety of moods and facial expressions at his disposal. His delivery and timing is impeccable as well.
Gaffigan's favorite subject—at least for this performance—is food. Close to half of the special is devoted to it. He disses bologna. ("Steak is like the tuxedo of meat…and bologna is the retarded cousin.") He riffs for almost five minutes on different kinds of cake alone. Then he claims to be a vegetarian…except for "beef and pork…and chicken." His most popular food bit is on Hot Pockets, the microwavable favorite that consists of meat and cheese stuffed into a bread roll; Gaffigan describes them as "a Pop-Tart filled with really nasty meat." (Nestlé, the manufacturer of Hot Pockets, would prefer you think of them as "America's Favorite Stuffed Sandwiches.") The capper is when Gaffigan perfectly mimics the Hot Pockets jingle (which, in case you forgot, is simply an exclaimed "Hot Pooocket!"), which he then does variations on—like "diarrhea pooocket!"
The rest of his material covers holiday traditions, gift giving, and religion. It's a shame that Beyond The Pale is so heavily weighted toward food, because Gaffigan's other stuff is good. His holiday traditions segment is particularly funny: He compares cutting down and bringing home a Christmas tree to the behavior or a drunkard, and expresses his disdain for Valentine's Day chalky conversation heart candies. (Come to think of it, that last one is about food too!) A little bit more variety on the menu would have definitely made Beyond the Pale more appetizing.
The special is presented in 16:9, which is good news if you're into watching a flabby, balding, middle-aged guy tell jokes. Additionally, the disc has a number of bonus features, like "Mr. Chicago," a light-hearted look at his stay in Chicago (where the special was filmed); "Eat Dinner with Jim," a one-sided conversation with Gaffigan while he eats a Hot Pocket; "Jim's First Stand-Up Performance" from way back in 1991, which was heavy on impersonations; "How to Break into Stand-Up Comedy," a mock instructional video from a shady fictional comic (played by Gaffigan); and "Jim Makes the News," a real morning news segment he appeared on along with Gilbert Gottfried. There's also a short cartoon, which unfortunately isn't "Pale Force."
Jim Gaffigan: Beyond the Pale is perfect for fans, and its low price makes it an attractive impulse purchase those unfamiliar with his work. Like a Midwestern Jerry Seinfeld crossbred with Emo Philips, Gaffigan has a talent for taking the quotidian and irreverently twisting it into his own surreal world.
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