by Ryan Meehan
On August 28th Comedy Central Records will release “Mr. Universe”, the eighth standup comedy album from comedian Jim Gaffigan. Jim has sold over a half of a million copies of his first three records on CCR, and this disc will likely add to that total by a significant amount. A DRM-free download of this special was actually released back on April 11th for $5, but the CD will not hit stores until the end of this month.
Gaffigan is known for his very approachable demeanor and ability to share his consistently new takes on the mundane aspects of life. This is very hard for anybody to do because by this point we’ve all heard most of the comedians’ standard takes on classic subjects. Jim’s skill is in constantly reinventing the basic topics of comedy and putting a new spin on them. For the most part, Gaffigan works clean. There are a couple exceptions, but very few. What never ceases to amaze me about Jim’s standup is that he has a lot of hidden punchlines that are left to the listener to assume that are actually very dirty. The only difference is he doesn’t say them. The premise may seem clean at first but it usually ends up leaving the audience to finish the joke for themselves. It takes a really talented comic to be able to do this as well.
This disc begins and ends with music from another CCR comedian, the very musically talented Reggie Watts. Jim begins by taking us through the many pitfalls of living with four children and his most recent trip to the world’s most colorful prequel to alcoholism – Disney. One of the things that Jim is known for is his tendency to speak in “asides” - a higher pitched register voice that represents an easily offended or confused audience member, which he states was inspired by his sister. This is a great tactic because it always loosens the audience up a little bit by instilling the underlying fear that they might be “that guy”.
The middle of the record is comprised of the usual observational humor for which Gaffigan is known so well. He cycles through his struggles with working out, his crippling addiction to McDonald’s, and then moves on to telling some stories about some of the more unusual hotel stays that he has had while touring the country. Then he lunges forward into my favorite bit on the record – where he slams Domino’s pizza around for some of their incredibly stupid “cuilnary” concoctions. Personally, I was stoked to hear this take because I for one can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen those Domino’s commercials where they show a pristine kitchen where there are knives on the wall and everything is sparkling white like a bag of flour just exploded everywhere. As a former employee of Domino’s…I cannot possibly stress the inaccuracy of such a mental image. Jim talks about some of the ridiculous menu items that Domino’s has made available for the genral public, which of course is silly do anyone who’s ever been employed at one of those places because people have been cooking those types of food since their local health department gave them clearance to bastardize something as simple as pizza. And as I’m tying this piece up, there’s a story on Yahoo! about how Domino’s is dropping the “pizza” postscript from their stock exchange listing. Hilarious. There’s also a really good bit about Sarah McLachlan in there that is key. The record ends with a really good callback, and leaves you with a smile. After all, that’s supposed to be what comedy is all about, isn’t it? Jim knows how to take the frustrations of everyday life and make them funny enough so that everyone at the show can forget about their problems for awhile, even if it’s those same problems that they find themselves laughing at.
Until this record, “Beyond The Pale” had been Gaffigan’s defining career moment. “Mr. Universe” is slightly better because it shows a sense of development (not that he needed it) and the record is edited flawlessly. There are a lot of entertainers whose careers suffer after they become parents, and I am happy to say that Jim isn’t one of them. One reason for this may be the fact that his wife Jeannie also contributes to what ends up being high quality material. Perhaps her assistance allows Gaffigan to present such material in a manner that doesn’t automatically leave half of the audience members out as all involved can see it from each gender’s perspective.
Overall, “Mr. Universe” is a good pickup for anybody who enjoys the science of the performing art that is standup comedy. Gaffigan’s warmth is pleasant as well as entertaining, and those are just two reasons he’s one of comedy’s biggest stars.
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