Jim Gaffigan is a bit of a throwback, as far as today's stand-ups go. In contrast to the edgier comedy of alt-comedians like Patton Oswalt and Sarah Silverman, the experimental strangeness of Zach Galifianakis or Demetri Martin, or the expletive-laden rants of Chris Rock or Louis CK, Gaffigan does quiet, old-fashioned observational humor, and does it without the use of profanity. Hailing from Indiana and maintaining a Midwestern point-of-view, his comic persona is that of a slightly bewildered pudgy white guy whose desires are primarily limited to comfort food and a good nap. That he has become such a phenomenally successful comic speaks to the strength of his material and his distinctive delivery; like Bob Newhart in the 60s, he's so uncool, he's cool.
The (relative) cleanliness of his act also makes him a good fit for Comedy Central, who have sponsored his last two tours and put out their respective CDs and DVDs. His most recent special, King Baby, makes its DVD debut two days after its Comedy Central premiere; as has become the norm with their recent DVDs, it runs a good 30 minutes longer than the broadcast version.
His topics don't veer far from the expected: infomercials, TV, escalators, and bowling are examined, and he spends considerable time on one of his favorite topics, laziness (he talks about the snooze bar in an inspired bit: "Nothing like starting the day with a little procrastination!"), as well as his aborted attempts at physical fitness ("Those workout clothes are comfortable... to watch TV in..."). Garbage and recycling, deodorant and pharmacies all get the Gaffigan treatment, and he veers into some potentially touchy waters with bits about circumcision and religion ("If you've never been to a Catholic mass... it's still goin' on.").
But as usual, food is his favorite topic. He discusses bacon ("the most beautiful thing on earth!") and meat in general, and does a good couple of minutes on ketchup (regarding "fancy ketchup": "what kind of lifestyle are you leading if you consider ketchup 'fancy'?"). Fast food also provides some fertile material, particularly an extended bit on the décor of the Waffle House restaurants ("Here's something you'll never hear in a Waffle House: 'Nice job cleaning up!'"). His only serious error, material-wise, is in choosing to do a bit about KFC's Famous Bowls--Patton Oswalt's previous, and uproarious, takedown of that ridiculous item has become so identified with that comic (among us comedy nerds, anyway) that it's rather akin to Oswalt trying to do his own version of Gaffigan's trademark riff on Hot Pockets.
I'm probably not doing justice to Gaffigan's material with the quotes; he gets plenty of laughs with his flat but amusing delivery and impeccable timing. And, as old-school as his act tends to be, he also occasionally bends toward meta-comedy, both in one-off lines ("I went camping recently, for this next joke") and his previously-used device of doing a running commentary of his own act, in the high-pitched voice of an unimpressed audience member. It's a funny way to poke fun at his own shortcomings ("That was the worse impression of a bear ever") and the innocuous nature of his material ("Pillow jokes, really, that's what he's doing? I didn't know it was gonna be so edgy"). These moments often get big laughs, though the device could be used more sparingly; its ubiquity is starting to make his act more predictable than it should be. That complaint aside, King Baby is a solid 70 minutes of very funny stand-up.
Veteran comedy special (and "Mr. Show") director Troy Miller puts together a slick, well-produced package, though the 1.78:1 widescreen image is about average. The foregrounds are crisp, though there is some slight color pixilation in the backgrounds. Black levels are also a little muddy. However, I liked the look of the grainy, high contrast opening sequence, setting the scene in Austin (where the special was shot).
The 5.1 audio mix is much more agreeable; I'm glad to see more and more comedy specials on disc are going to the trouble of creating a vibrant surround track. Gaffigan's audio is crisp and clear in the center channel, with echoes, laughter, and applause in the surround channels, creating a nicely immersive effect that replicates the experience of being in his audience.
Fans should enjoy the overstuffed plate of bonus features offered up by Comedy Central. First up are three episodes of "Pale Force" (14:02 total), Gaffigan's "Ambiguously Gay Duo"-style cartoon feature for "Late Night With Conan O'Brien." Strange and wickedly funny (particularly in its portrayal of O'Brien as a whimpering coward), these are definitely worth a spin. The four episodes of "Our Massive Planet" (7:25 total) are less successful; this Internet series matches up wildlife footage with faux-interview audio of Gaffigan playing some kind of scientific expert, with results that are more odd than genuinely funny.
Next up is a "Never-Aired British Interview" (6:37), which is played mostly (and sometimes successfully) for laughs. His "XM/Sirius Interview" (26:33) is a bit more informative. This video of the recording of his interview for the "Unmasked" show (in front of an audience at Comix) is fairly insightful and enjoyable, though the show's host is a little obnoxious. "Atlanta: Meet and Greet on Demand" (9:49) is a promo piece for Comedy Central's On Demand service; it features funny interviews with Gaffigan and his opening comic, Rich Brooks, plus footage of Gaffigan's extensive meet and greets with fans and their reactions to him.
Rounding out the disc are several of the promo spots for his Comedy Central tours, aired during the channel's "Friday Night Stand-Up" blocks. The commercials for "The Sexy Tour" (11:20 total) are a little thin, and much of the material from the British interview is repeated. However, the spots for "The Beyond The Pale Tour" (10:17 total) are quite a bit funnier, particularly the first one, in which he reads his "fake books."
Gaffigan's new special isn't quite as consistently hilarious as his last one, but it's still absolutely worth a look. His act is smart and relatable, while his eschewing of profanity and adult topics is certainly a plus for some viewers. It doesn't make much difference to this one; the guy is very funny, pure and simple, and there are an abundance of big laughs to be found in King Baby.
Jason lives with his wife Rebekah and their daughter Lucy in New York. He holds an MA in Cultural Reporting and Criticism from NYU. He is film editor for Flavorwire and is a contributor to Salon, the Atlantic, and several other publications. His first book, Pulp Fiction: The Complete History of Quentin Tarantino's Masterpiece, was released last fall by Voyageur Press. He blogs at Fourth Row Center and is yet another critic with a Twitter feed.