Less than a minute into his new album, Obsessed, Jim Gaffigan proclaims proudly, “I’m fat.” Jim Gaffigan, though, is not that fat. And therein lies his brilliance: His everyman affability allows him to create a character anyone can relate to, despite having in nothing in common with him.
Like most of his albums, Gaffigan’s Obsessed set list reads like a fast-food menu: “Donuts,” “Chinese Desserts,” and “Hot Dogs & Buffalo Wings” all make the cut. While the new release contains delicacies among the plethora of food jokes, there’s also fat that could have been trimmed. Fortunately Gaffigan’s tight delivery and pace help make up for the slow spots.
Gaffigan has become one of the best in the business at stitching together a solid comedy set. Jokes fly every three or four seconds, some barely finished before he moves on to the next setup. Obsessed features brilliant transitions and the few call-backs feel genuine and earned. He flies through 70 minutes of material with nary a misstep, hitting every beat, every voice (with the high-pitched offended sorority girl voice still front and center); even the chuckles between jokes feel well timed. Gaffigan makes this master class in technique sound effortless. His hilarious tags rarely get run over by the audience’s laughter: “I had biscuits and gravy for breakfast for nine days straight… I still haven’t gone to the bathroom… that tour was 27 years ago.” Written, that’s a funny string of sentences, but with Gaffigan’s delivery, it kills.
Despite Gaffigan’s flawless technique, some of the material feels weak. Obsessed is filled with jokes about eating food, cooking food, good food, bad food, and kale food. He goes in for about five minutes about kale and, while some lines hit—“They could tell me kale cures cancer, and I’d still be like, ‘I’m just gonna do the chemo’”—most just compare the green stuff to pesticides or death. Gaffigan does better when he needles the culture behind kale, but his Whole Foods and grass-fed beef jokes sound stale after three seasons of Portlandia. He’s funnier when he gets away from the material that made him famous.
Gaffigan’s last album, 2012’s Jim Gaffigan: Mr. Universe, showed the quiet ferocity with which he can rip a giant company or American institution. His best material on Obsessed does just that, making fun of Victoria’s Secret, Mt. Rushmore, and, well, the entire South. Even if the setups are stereotypical—a man scared of buying lingerie, slow Southern folks—Gaffigan mines gold with the right tweaks and turns. It helps that it always feels like he’s making fun of himself. He sells his hapless, overweight, goofy character so well that none of the mean jokes feel mean, an improvement over previous sets.
Although his subject matter has stayed largely the same since 2004’s Doing My Time (which featured his most famous bit, “Hot Pocket”), his tone has softened significantly. So while he has always been a clean comic (“shit” makes a single appearance), Obsessed feels like his broadest work yet. When he does veer off, it’s usually a quick, absurd aside—little treats for his focused fans. Gaffigan plays to the cheap seats, but he’s also winking at the front row.
Gaffigan’s Obsessed comedy special aligned with this album, which debuted April 27 on Comedy Central, would also be right at home on, say, NBC or Fox, with no late-night censors needed. Although broad comedy is often maligned, especially by other, “edgier” comics, Gaffigan is profoundly gifted at seizing the audience’s attention and holding on to it, joke after joke after joke. There’s nothing revolutionary here, but it goes down easy and tastes great after. Obsessed is like the best vanilla ice cream you’ve ever had, so take his advice: Throw away the lid and finish the whole pint.