The Comedy Couch

 Jim Gaffigan: Beyond the Pale - review by Dylan Rhymer

Beyond the PaleNew York-based comedian Jim Gaffigan has been known to comics and comedy geeks for some time, but first made his appearance to Vancouver audiences at last year's Canwest Comedyfest. He is an accomplished writer and actor, but it is in the field of stand-up that he really shines, and not just because of his pale complexion. Recorded live at Chicago's Vic Theatre in 2005, Beyond the Pale is an impressive hour of stand up comedy.

Gaffigan's true genius lies in his ability to appeal to large numbers of people from all ages and social scenes. He is the rare kind of comedian who is enjoyed by pretty much everyone. He is dirty and family-friendly, original and familiar, cuddly and disturbing. He's offbeat enough to appeal to underground fans of alternative comedy and clean as a whistle for the Leno crowd. Just when you think he's nothing but another vanilla sitcom case, he'll drop an offbeat aside that will bring you back on board.

Gaffigan's performance style is a meticulously constructed collage that keeps the show fresh and interesting throughout. His delivery consists of a menagerie of vocal styles ranging from his naturally sarcastic drawl to a high-pitched whisper to the various accents and vocal ticks of any of the dozen or so characters he uses to highlight his jokes. His most famous trick is to comment on his own routines through the third person voice of an audience member who is either deeply offended by his act or just too stupid to get the jokes. It is a highly effective device that serves to create an illusion of intimacy with his 1000-plus audience while allowing him to remain creatively detached enough to depict his particularly strange and disturbing scenarios. At first this gets annoying, but he eases up on it after twenty minutes and gets on with the jokes.

It is in the special's second half that he truly gets into his game. Here, the brilliance of his cadence-based delivery style reveals itself as he has effectively conditioned the audience to laugh at his material at all the right moments. One cannot help but be seduced by the familiarity of his delivery and anticipate the punch lines.

Jim Gaffigan If there is a flaw with Gaffigan, it lies in the writing. His material tends to lean towards the standard, if not done-to-death. Jokes about food, greeting cards and marriage abound. The points of his jokes are more often than not about the gluttony and laziness that lies in everyday life. "We're never satisfied when it comes to food," he plainly states and then slips into his typical-guy American character. "You know what would be good on this burger? A ham sandwich. But instead of a bun, let's use two doughnuts. That way we can have it for breakfast!" This premise would never work in the hands of a less creative performer, but Mr. Gaffigan is so good with his voices that you can't help enjoying it, despite the emptiness of the subject matter. He does, however, hint at a much darker place from where he draws his material. Jokes about gluttony, laziness and ignorance all add up to a particularly unflattering depiction of American life. Gaffigan never blames the politicians. In his world the blame for the state of affairs lies squarely on the shoulders of the average ignorant person. Sadly, this angle remains too far below the surface to have any sufficient impact and you wind up wishing he would use his considerable talents to rail against larger targets than Cinnabon. A brief divergence into material aimed at the Catholic Church suggests a hidden subversive streak that makes you hope for more.

Another one of Beyond the Pale's setbacks is how much of his earlier material makes it onto his special, and he can't be blamed given the immense pressure of manning his first one-hour television special. Those who have never heard his CDs will love it, while those already familiar with him will probably be a little disappointed. A piece about Hot Pockets is met with excited applause that could only come from a room full of people who have already heard it. Gaffigan does his best to play this down, suggesting that they were cheering for Hot Pockets, but the moment has given away the fact that this is an old bit. That said, it is a hilarious bit and the moment is only obvious to those already familiar with his earlier work.

The DVD includes his one-hour special for USA's Comedy Central, the far superior version of Canada's lacklustre Comedy Network. It includes his one-hour special plus the usual extras including his first-ever club set, animation and an amusing but not hilarious moment where Gaffigan, Gilbert Gottfried and others descend on a local Chicago news station. Sketches involving Gaffigan sight-seeing around the Windy City with his long-suffering wife or teaching comedy in the guise of a sleazy shyster fall short of the mark to anyone but the fiercest of Jim Gaffigan fans (and judging by the CD-signing footage that closes the stand-up special there are plenty).

Jim Gaffigan is an expert craftsman who deserves to be recognized beyond the one hour collected here. He is best enjoyed through his earlier CDs, which contain a good deal of the material on Beyond the Pale plus all the stuff that might offend television viewers.

Best bits:

"I'm a pig. You ever get so hungry watching a commercial and then realize it's an ad for dog food? Yeah, those are savory chunks of beef. Rich, creamy… Why are they giving it to the dog?! Thank God for packaging".

"I wish I was Chinese. Because then my interest in Asian women wouldn't be considered so creepy".

"You're not supposed to eat at night, but then they say you're not supposed to drink in the morning. And apparently you're never supposed to smoke crack. Hey, I'm not training for the Olympics, here. After a hard hour's work I like to unwind with a burger and a crack pipe".

"I just got married. My wife changed her name. I know some of you don't approve. But I wanted my wife to take my ex-girlfriend's name. I'm an old-fashioned guy and this fella does what the Bible tells him to".

Jim Gaffigan: Beyond the Pale is available for rent at Happy Bats Video at 15th & Main or for sale at

Dylan Rhymer is a Vancouver-based stand-up comic and actor.


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