Jim Gaffigan is playing the long game, and it has been working for him — at age 50, he's hitting his peak. Where most of the ten comedians who have thus far performed the feat — Eddie Murphy, Dane Cook. Andrew Dice Clay — did so early on in their careers, Gaffigan sold out Madison Square Garden in December of 2015. In 2014, his fourth special and ninth album Obsessed debuted at #1 on iTunes, going on to earn him his second Grammy nomination for "Best Comedy Album" after 2012's Mr. Universe. He also wrote two best-selling books in the last four years, won an Emmy in 2015 for his work on CBS Sunday Morning, and co-helmed two seasons of The Jim Gaffigan Show, alongside various other choice roles on screens big and small.
Setting the table for Jim's headlining appearance at JFL NorthWest, Vancouver's own Ivan Decker basically delivered the same 15 minutes that he did opening up for Iliza the week before. He did shift focus from the downtown eastside to making juice and waiting for the bus, but returned to the well of the Dark Table Restaurant experience for most of it. At first, his inoffensive observations made more sense in context with Gaffigan than Iliza, but then Gaffigan took the stage.
Since the late '90s, Jim Gaffigan has earned a reputation as one of America's finest "clean" comics. Working closely with his wife, actress Jeannie Gaffigan, the Catholic comic's subject matter typically revolves around traditional topics like marriage, kids and food, while generally avoiding profanity and social commentary. Yet, the gloves came off early in this set.
Before the show, I'd heard a man with a southern drawl in the crowd talking about how he doesn't like political humour. Fair enough, considering that comedians are overwhelmingly liberal, there aren't many places that conservatives can go for a laugh. Well, it was tough titty for him, because Jim let everyone know what side he was on a few minutes into his set.
After working a couple of localized jokes in early, comparing the Vancouver reception to Ottawa, and expressing his appreciation for poutine, Jim let us know that he did not vote for the Trumpocalypse. For him, every morning in Trump's America is like waking up with a toddler running loose in your house, and assessing the inevitable damage thereof. He then checked his white male privilege, before acknowledging the dreadful and pervasive feeling that we are all going to die very soon. For someone who has cultivated such an accessible presence in combining Seinfeldian observation with a grounding in Louie CK's brutal familial honesty, someone whose most famous bit is about Hot Pockets, it was refreshing to see him drop that off the bat.
Not to make the southern man sweat too much, Jim settled into his wheelhouse from that point on. He tackled various marriage quirks, unhealthy eating habits and subsequent health problems, the absurdity of last names and fashion shows, theories on Swedish genetics and Finland sauna obsession, and how he insulted the city of Philadelphia while opening for the Pope. He also delivered an updated take on his Hot Pockets bit, so you can't say he didn't give them what they wanted. He just went a little further outside of his bubble too.
Granted, Jim had a little difficulty flipping to his falsetto, the voice of his internal critic. He had been battling a cold for over a month, as detailed in this tweet, a cold to which he said we would all subsequently be subjected after a cough escaped mid-set. Yet, if this ailment caused any sapping of his energy, it was negligible. His style is fairly deadpan and he doesn't do much physically to sell his jokes anyway, so a little gruffness in his voice barely registered as he maintained his momentum throughout his tight hour-long set. Even when obviously sick, Jim is still killing it right now.