Jim Gaffigan’s standup special “Noble Ape” proves he is still one of the funniest comedians working today. He opens the special with 20 minutes dedicated to addressing his wife’s recent health crisis. In 2016 it was discovered that she had a large brain tumor, and subsequently she had two brain surgeries and a significant recovery period. While none of that seems funny, Gaffigan brilliantly found humor in the trying situation.
Using his signature character voices, he takes his audience through the trials and tribulations of a severe medical crisis. He noted that the doctors would only use food shapes to relate the size of her tumor, clearly assuming the husky, pale comedian wouldn’t understand words like “circumference” and “millimeter.” He joked that he bravely consumed all the gifted food during his wife’s recovery, as she was on an all Jell-O diet. He announces joyfully at the end of the bit that the tumor is completely gone, along with his “ability to ever win another argument.”
It’s easy to think of Gaffigan as the guy who always jokes about food, laziness, and being a parent. In fact, none of that is wrong — he rarely wanders outside of those subjects during his specials — but that doesn’t make him a lazy comic. He is incredibly good at finding the lost thoughts in our minds and making them into hysterical jokes. His own self-deprecation speaks to such a broad audience. There is no parent that can’t relate to his feelings of failure with his children, and even a strict dieter can appreciate Gaffigan’s charming affinity for junk food.
His joke delivery is so natural, it’s easy to miss how well-crafted his set up and punchlines are. At the end of his last album, “Cinco,” Gaffigan and his wife, who is also his writing partner of over fifteen years, discuss each segment of the special, and how the jokes came to be from beginning to end. There were usually a few punchlines in discussion, and the two explain how the final product ended up in the special. This provided a rare look into the inner workings of a comedian’s brain, and showed that Gaffigan’s work ethic is anything but lazy.
The subject matter doesn’t change from special to special, but it doesn’t have to. He discusses how in the wake of his wife’s illness, he took his five children with him to several countries while on tour. He explores the seemingly simplistic world of cultural differences he experiences from country to country, but he wastes no time in the special on mediocre jokes. While his scope of material may seem limited on paper, a talent like Gaffigan doesn’t need to go outside of his zone to get big laughs.
While Gaffigan’s stage persona describes himself as a marginal parent who depends on his wife for almost everything, the real Jim Gaffigan is a dedicated, thoughtful family man. Through the release of “Noble Ape,” and subsequent interviews, Gaffigan has described some big professional sacrifices he made for his wife and kids.
“The Jim Gaffigan Show,” which found success and critical acclaim over two seasons, was terminated voluntarily by Gaffigan as he found it pulling him too far from his dad duties. He tweeted on the decision, “the time commitment to make the quality of show we wanted was taking us away from our most important project, our five children.” He now selects projects that demand the smallest amount of parenting help from people that aren’t his wife, and tries to take his kids with him on tour whenever possible.
Gaffigan has long been associated with “clean comedy” because he chooses not to use profanity or cover explicit material. This is not a moral choice, but a creative one. His style was steeped in his Catholic, midwestern upbringing, and he found the use of profanity “uninteresting.” This makes him more accessible to more people, but it has drawn short-sighted criticism over the years for not being provocative from progressives who feel a comedian’s stage should be a platform to push boundaries — not just tell hilarious jokes.
Gaffigan works against the current trend of stand-up specials that trade in humor for a political message. “Noble Ape” is a laugh riot from beginning to end, and appropriate for all audiences.