Make 'Em Laugh: Gaffigan's "Obsessed" isn't Jim at his Best

Jim Gaffigan ranks among my favorite comedians, but even I have to confess that I’ve found his comedy specials to be declining in quality as the years have marched on. His early appearances on Comedy Central stand-up shows and his first special Beyond the Pale remain some of my favorite comedy bits of the 00s, but since then there’s a fair argument to be made that he’s been coasting, or worse, repeating himself a bit. Some of that sentiment stems from his transition from his safe zone of all food comedy, all the time. That and his self-condemning audience persona were his two mainstays that made him a terrific stand-up act. Understandably, not wanting to be pigeon-holed as “the food comedy guy”, he’s been branching out since King Baby (which was still pretty food-centric and consistently funny from start to finish), but it hasn’t been working too well for him, especially not with Obsessed.

Now, don’t worry: there’s still a bit of food comedy to be found here, but it’s nothing nearly as strong as King Baby or Beyond the Pale. But then, even the non-food jokes of Obsessed don’t match up to his material from the olden days. Just take this bit from HBO's Comedy Showcase, it was my first exposure to Gaffigan (and he even went on to add to it and perfect it – but I can’t find the longer clip), and you realize that even these jokes are sharper and it’s probably because it’s so random and unexpected.

By contrast, the comedy of Obsessed feels clichéd. Gaffigan has a few unique observations on parenting, mostly because he’s raising so many kids in a small New York apartment, but otherwise they just feel like a rehash of jokes we’ve heard from countless other comedians who’ve gone to that comedic well so many times before.

I’m not saying that Mr. Gaffigan should stick exclusively to food humor, because part of the reason I initially became a fan was his manatee joke which was nothing like any other comedian was doing. The point is that Gaffigan is at his comedic best when he lets his mind go off in those weird unexpected directions that used to be his trademark and which leant an unpredictable nature to his food jokes that allows him to riff on Hot Pockets for 20 minutes.

In short, with Obsessed, Jim Gaffigan has lost a lot of the weirdness that made his earlier acts so sublime. If he can find a way to harness that spontaneity again, then he might creep back up to that level of excellence found in Beyond the Pale or King Baby.

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Lex Walker • Editor

He's a TV junkie with a penchant for watching the same movie six times in one sitting. If you really want to understand him you need to have grown up on Sgt. Bilko, Alien, Jurassic Park and Five Easy Pieces playing in an infinite loop. Recommend something to him - he'll watch it.


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