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The man The Wall Street Journal dubbed the King of Clean Comedy is back with a new Amazon special, 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.
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.
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 even to guess where he falls on the ideological spectrum, and 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.”
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 sidestep to the media’s perpetual drive to force every public figure to carry a party banner.
His approach seems to be working. In spades. This year he’s ranked No. 3 on Forbes’ list of highest-earning comedians, just behind his friend Jerry Seinfeld.
However, 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 particularly tough blow his family suffered in 2017: his wife Jeannie’s brain tumor. With Jeannie’s help (she’s his writing partner), he developed a set that was surprisingly tender, hilarious, and yet classic Gaffigan.
Things seemed to have settled down in Gaffigan world, because if the new special feels a little less specific to experiences in his and Jeannie’s household, it’s also a little looser. It feels as if he’s gaining confidence that he can take the audience to weirder, less tried-and-true places, as with an extended sequence about horses. The more digressive and random the equine jokes become (and they become highly digressive and random indeed), the funnier they grow. It’s the mark of a master of the craft when the awkward and even nonsensical content feels intentional.
Despite the Wall Street Journal billing, Quality Time contains a bit of mildly bad language. As his previous shows did. Think the kind of thing you’d hear on any prime-time 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 a taking-the-Lord’s-name-in-vain situation.
What fans will really notice is that 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. And that is what really makes this special, like his previous ones, 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.