Jim Gaffigan at the Shaw Theatre

Note: This review is from 2010

Review by Corry Shaw

American comedian Jim Gaffigan may only be vaguely recognisable this side of the pond from his appearances in Flight Of The Conchords, but his reputation is enough to fill the 450 seats in London's Shaw Theatre with people who know his work inside-out. Mere mention of the word ‘bacon’ achieves an applause break, in anticipation of the material to follow.

Gaffigan has a couple of trademark topics and techniques. Alongside his obsession with pork products, he adopts a split personality, using an effeminate whisper as the Voice of the Audience, providing his own commentary on how well the show is going. The Voice makes an almost immediate appearance and then remarks ‘oh, he’s using that voice already’. Gaffigan has been criticised in the past for overusing this technique, but when used sparingly – as here – it is brilliantly effective, and the audience lap it up.

The double-edged sword of having an already loyal UK fan base means that the audience will already be familiar whatever they can get their hands on DVD, CD and YouTube. It seems odd, then, for Gaffigan to effectively produce an exact replica of his performances on his old DVD Beyond The Pale and current CD King Baby. Not that this knowledge of his material dissipated their reaction too much; it may not be the overly enthusiastic whooping and applause that he is used to from his home audience, but there is barely pause for breath between the laughs.

The topics that Gaffigan covers are hardly groundbreaking, his laziness, his expanding waistline and his wife's yearning for camping are not going to change the world, but he squeezes every drip of funny from each drawn-out gripe – all delivered with a scowl and a slow, morose drawl. Due to the lack of research on his part, which he confesses is just another symptom of his laziness, there are sections which lose a little of their punch. The audience may be familiar with all the material but they are certainly not as familiar with Cap’n Crunch breakfast cereal, and the laughs take a slight dip as a result. Gaffigan remains unfazed, and carries on regardless. The only nod to the UK crowd comes in that aforementioned extended bacon section, where he praises the English breakfast.

There are some beautifully written lines, which are made all the more tantalising as he refuses to showcase them in a obvious or pizzazzy way, preferring to tuck them into his long set pieces alongside more groanworthy lines. And Gaffigan is all too aware when he is about to cross the line into hack, using the trusted Voice of the Audience to chastise a particularly poor Schwarzenegger impression. It’s the self deprecation that gets the laugh, reflecting the audience’s relief that he knows how low he’s gone, not the structured joke. There is a slight question whether this technique is as valid as writing a decent joke, especially as it is repeated throughout the show, but it is certainly effective, making it incredibly hard not to laugh along with his animated disgust with himself.

It is a disappointment that the scripts from his previously released work are so religiously adhered to, the frustrating lack of new material exacerbated the audience pre-empting punchlines. Gaffigan will hopefully grace our shores more frequently, as his brand of deadpan joy is certainly a winning one – but hopefully with a fresher set to really showcase what he can do.

Review date: 22 Mar 2010
Reviewed by: Corry Shaw
Reviewed at: Shaw Theatre

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