MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Friday, August 23rd. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: If you like standup comedy, and I should say clean standup comedy, our Megan Basham may have something that you’ll really appreciate.
MEGAN BASHAM, REVIEWER: The man the Wall Street Journal dubbed the King of Clean Comedy is back with a new Amazon special, titled Quality Time. And fans will be glad to hear that while the material is all new, Jim Gaffigan hasn’t changed his tune. Much.
Along with being clean, the famously Catholic father of five adheres to an old-school definition of inclusiveness. That is, he makes the kind of self-deprecating jokes about his weight, his wife, and his laid-back parenting style you might have heard on Johnny Carson back in the day. Only with a fresh spin.
CLIP: It’s good to be here. This is what I look like. It’s mostly my fault. Well it’s all my fault. I wish I had an excuse. Like I had to gain all this weight for a movie. There’s no movie. If you saw me eat you would think there were multiple movies. Are they doing a live action Shrek? This guy’s gonna be perfect!
What you won’t hear are the routines that have come to characterize modern late night comedy. Nothing about race, unless jokes about his own extraordinary paleness count. Nothing about divisive current events. And certainly nothing about politics.
CLIP: It turns out I couldn’t run the New York City marathon because I didn’t want to. Which is the main reason I don’t do a lot of things. I just rarely admit it. It’s like, “Hey, Jim, why don’t you come to my birthday party. I don’t want to.” We never really reply to invitations that way. “Don’t wanna go. Completely available just not interested. Really wish I wasn’t there so I won’t be.”
When it comes to his career, Gaffigan seems to harken back to the old Michael Jordan observation that Republicans (or Democrats) buy sneakers, too. Fans would be hard-pressed to even guess where he falls on the ideological spectrum. Gaffigan likes it that way, telling the Daily Beast earlier this week, “I don’t want to grab some soap box on a certain issue if there might be nuances to it.”
And even though GQ headlined a 2018 interview with a claim that the comedian didn’t vote for Trump, if you read carefully, he never really says that. Instead he offers a hilarious description of his fellow New Yorkers accosting him on the street screaming, “You did this!” Until he finally wonders, “Did I do it?” It’s a typical wily Gaffigan side-step to the media’s perpetual drive to force every public figure to carry a party banner.
Gaffigan’s approach seems to be working. In spades. He ranked number three on Forbes’ 20-19 list of highest-earning comedians, just behind Jerry Seinfeld.
But while the fundamentals of his style are holding strong, that doesn’t mean his comedy hasn’t evolved over time. His last special, Noble Ape, dealt with a especially tough blow his family suffered in 20-17. His wife Jeannie’s brain tumor. Jeannie is also his writing partner. And with her help, he developed a set that was surprisingly tender, funny, and, yet, classic Gaffigan.
CLIP: It’s been a crazy year for me. I don’t know if you know in April it was discovered that my wife had a brain tumor. I’m not even making this up. It was removed. She’s great. Everything’s good. I didn’t remove it. I was in the other room soiling myself. But the tumor is gone. Along with my ability to ever win another argument. It’s not like I was winning a lot before, but now I’m retired. Luckily my wife’s not the type to bring it up. Well, once she did. She’s like, “You know, I did have brain surgery.” And I’m like, “Yeah, but that was like a month ago. It’s time to move on. What about my seasonal allergies?”
Things seemed to have settled down in Gaffigan world. The new special feels a little less specific to experiences in the family’s household. But it’s also a little looser. It’s as if he’s gaining confidence that he can take the audience to weirder, less tried-and-true places.
Despite that Wall Street Journal billing, Quality Time does contain a bit of mild language. As his previous shows did. Think the kind of thing you’d hear on any primetime sitcom. And he calls out the name of Jesus once. But it’s while praying for rescue during a bear attack. So if we’re giving him the benefit of the doubt, it’s not an instance of taking the Lord’s name in vain.
Fans will notice Gaffigan seems to be getting comfortable moving further afield from the old “fat dad, lazy dad” bits he’s best known for. The new material might be a little racier than the old hot pocket bits. But it’s all within the context of married fatherhood. I’d dare any dad not to laugh.
CLIP: If you’re unfamiliar or you have a life Dateline is a news magazine show like 60 minutes but at one point Dateline just went all in on murder. And it’s usually spousal murder. Like if you watch Dateline it appears most marriages end in murder. Every episode starts the same: They had the perfect marriage. But you know someone’s killed. A husband. A wife. Sometimes they’ll get someone else to kill their spouse, which seems impersonal. Like, you took a vow, do it yourself.
And that is what really makes this special, special. It’s not that he doesn’t swear. As Gaffigan quipped to Stephen Colbert, nobody pays to hear someone not curse for an hour.
It’s because he finds the funny in those experiences—family, marriage, parenthood, and, yes, good old fashioned American overeating—we still hold in common.
For WORLD Radio, I’m Megan Basham.