Gaffigan is a subversive voice, for the reason others consider him so middle of the road: He’s able to talk to everybody, and that puts him in a position to affect more societal change than the trio of “on edge” comedians mentioned above.
Comics “on the edge” tend to have edge or fringe followings. Stanhope is fantastic, but he’s a niche performer. Cross may be offensively poignant, but he’s preaching to the choir. Same goes for Garofalo; as much as she is able to rally the left, she’s not changing any Republican minds.
Now, take Gaffigan: he’s less vitriolic than the aforementioned comics, but he’s certainly found a way to criticize people to their faces—and because of his wide appeal, he’s been able to accomplish this on a larger scale.
In the comments there, Gaffigan's inside voice is brought up by someone named Roped:
what you’re missing here is Gaffigan’s strange voice that talks back to his jokes from the perspective of a confused (possibly female) audience member. This tic makes him more subversive than any of the other comics you’ve mentioned because he is able to play with our responses by responding to this voice. Through this he goes beyond simply stating what he thinks in the way you’ve mentioned. Like, he’s not just going “I HATE OBESITY AND CRITICIZE IT” but he can display both sides of the conversation. It is wizardry.
Good point that. I've heard Gaffigan refer to it as his "inside voice." But to me, it always seemed more of an "outside voice" — him acting out the thoughts of a conservative, easily offended, female audience member.
And that's the beauty of it. It shows he's completely aware of how he's being perceived, which lets him get away with saying on-the-edge stuff. It's like a bumper that minimizes any damage. Plus, it also shows the silliness of those thin-skinned soccer mom types.
And one more thing worth mentioning on the topic: Sometimes Gaffigan is just outright subversive. Take this chunk he does on religion where he tackles the virgin birth, pearly gates, people who talk a lot about Jesus, the burning bush, etc.
I don't think the Jesus stuff is why he's so popular. To keep up his mainstream appeal, this kinda thing needs to be sandwiched between bits on bowling and Hot Pockets. But sometimes it takes some sugar (or bacon) to make a pill go down.
First, thanks for doing this blog. I think your comments about stand-up are extremely insightful and helpful to aspiring comics and mere comedy fans alike. Awesome! With your intelligence and dedication, you'll probably go far in comedy.
I think these Gaffigan assessments, however, are one of your rare instances of missing the mark. Although I do believe his audience voice character lets him smooth over any material that might otherwise offend an audience. In this case, it hardly matters. It just provides for more funny lines. This material is not offensive in the least. In fact, if you told me that Gaffigan was hired to do a set for a Catholic priest convention, I could hardly find a line in this entire chunk that would need to be deleted. These jokes are perfectly harmless. From the top, he mentions that he's Catholic (i.e. "Hey audience, I totally believe in Jesus too so don't think I'm coming at you with anything but friendly inside jokes amongst us family members."). Then he goes on to tell a series of jokes that are in the exact same harmless vein that I have seen videos of self-proclaimed Christian comics do inside of churches to warm laughs and applause. There is nothing subversive to it at all.
Now having said that, I do think that any comedian who could talk to a mixed crowd with some jokes that actually challenged their beliefs, but in a sensitive enough way as to not incite booing and walk-outs is a much more courageous and admirable rhetorical feat than an atheist comic who preaches to an atheist choir. I think George Carlin's legendary chunk on praying to Joe Pesci is a perfect example of what I'm talking about. He made a couple very subversive points there: 1) Prayers don't work. And 2) There is no god. But he said them in a way that wasn't terribly abrasive, and he used comic/rhetorical devices to smooth over any crowd members who might have had the hair on the back of their necks standing up. That's ballsy, clever, and very persuasive to a audience of not all choir members. (I don't care if they were George Carlin fans. I can guarantee that a signficant portion of that audience were not atheists.) Jim Gaffigan, on the other hand, was nothing but funny and harmless. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that. That's great. He's a very talented comic. Let's just not confuse him for some subversive comic who's challenging or changing anyone's mind on religion. Every single Jesus-believing audience member walked away from that performance without even one of their beliefs challenged. Not one. (Unless one of their most precious, most cherished, most closely held articles of faith was that Jesus built perfectly constructed sheds.)
-Brenner Hayes (who if I had the time would make positive comments on 99+% of your other posts)
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