Is a brain tumor funny?
It is to Jim Gaffigan, at least after it’s been safely removed. The comedian’s wife and writing partner, Jeannie, underwent emergency surgery early this year to remove a pear-sized tumor from inside her skull. The family emergency caused Gaffigan to postpone several dates on his tour, called The Noble Ape, including an April 21 stop at the Saenger Theatre.
Jeannie Gaffigan’s recovery has apparently gone well, and thus her husband, outfitted with an ever-expanding beard, is back on the road making up for missed dates. His rescheduled New Orleans show is Friday at the Saenger; some tickets are still available.
Reviews of recent performances have noted that Jeannie’s experience has provided grist for the comedy mill. Which is not surprising — Gaffigan’s life and foibles inform much of his comedy. He is, in essence, a clean Louis C.K. — a schleppy everyman whose humor is bluer than mildly PG. He is the anti-rock star of comedy.
In his real life, which bleeds over into his comedy, he is the father of five kids and a devout Roman Catholic. Or, as he put it in a CBS “Sunday Morning” video essay, a “practicing Catholic. And my wife will tell you I need the practice.” He taped that video days before he performed for Pope Francis in 2015. Suffice to say, Louis C.K. will never be invited to perform for this or any other pope.
Gaffigan spelled out his worldview, and the two primary interests in his life, via two best-selling books. “Dad Is Fat” revolves around the ongoing absurdity that is being a father of young children. He explored his other great love in “Food: A Love Story.” Svelte he is not, a fact he milks extensively.
A Chicago Tribune review of a recent Gaffigan show described his stage persona as a “live-action Homer Simpson, a useless doofus with a one-track mind, self-centered, cocksure, and always ready to eat.”
He’s more aware of his shortcomings than Homer Simpson, and more willing to publicize it when he’s cut down to size. Gaffigan tweeted about a recent encounter with a barista:
“Barista: You look like that comedian.”
“Me: I am. I grew out my beard. My wife doesn’t like it.”
“Barista: Yeah, I don’t like it either.”
The exchange, which is easy to imagine unfolding exactly as Gaffigan retold it, illustrates the bone-dry, self-deprecating economy of his humor.
That humor can also be colored by a playfully wicked streak, as evidenced by a note he tweeted with his young daughter’s drawing of a unicorn and a rainbow-colored sun: “My sweet 8-year-old daughter drew this for me. Now I’m selling it to the highest bidder. JK I’m throwing it out. JK.”
The “JK” presumably stands for “just kidding.” It’s safe to assume he is kidding, but funny to imagine he’s not.
For all his newfound celebrity, he has attempted to maintain a semblance of normalcy. He posted a selfie video recently of him and Jeannie riding the subway in New York to their daughter’s soccer game. None of the other riders seemed to recognize him (maybe it’s the beard).
He has made a point of accommodating his career around his family, and not vice-versa. But his family is also essential to his career. His wife is his creative collaborator. His kids are raw material for his act.
Much of that act revolves around his own alleged slovenliness. But the pace of his output would seem to require a borderline workaholic, not a slob. In addition to the books, he’s delivered five comedy specials for Netflix, starred in a semi-autobiographical sitcom, and toured extensively.
Being lazy, he told The New Orleans Advocate this spring before his local date was postponed, is a “romantic notion, like the good old days when I could sit around and do nothing all day. It also has an ebb and flow to it. There’s times where I’m highly productive and times where I am just a slug.”
There’s an underlying sweetness to much of his humor, qualities that are often missing from many comedians’ material.
Conventional wisdom dictates that effective comedy requires its creators to be damaged in some way.
Gaffigan, by contrast, is simply required to be his imperfect self.
What: The comedian’s rescheduled local stop on his Noble Ape Tour
When: 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 3
Where: Saenger Theatre, 1111 Canal St.
Tickets: Starting at $69 via Ticketmaster verified resale