Jim Gaffigan opens his latest special, Mr. Universe, by immediately using his secondary, imaginary audience member voice to analyze his opening joke. He then follows that up by using a similar voice to criticize the first voice. In case you’re not too great with numbers, that’s two voices removed from his original joke-telling voice, which would be like if I started this review by writing, “What if this review sucks?” And then following that, in a totally different font so you know it’s supposed to be you talking, with “I won’t get back the time needed to read this.” And then, in a third font, by writing, “Does he really think that just changing the font on a document means he’s changing the voice? That doesn’t make any sense.”
It doesn’t. Luckily, what looks like proof of a learning disability through my writing actually works really well for Gaffigan on stage. Mr. Universe uses a lot of the same style and subjects that anyone would come to expect from Gaffigan. “Oh, so the Hot Pocket guy is going to talk about eating bad food and having kids and generally being a very lazy and weird looking guy while utilizing a degree of self-awareness by way of a weird, pretend voice that criticizes his act while he’s doing it?” says the condescending version of you I made up to make you look like a jerk. Yes, he is going to cover all of those things in his act. He’s also going to use the high-pitched, funny, joke-deconstructing voice that he’s well known for. Despite treading similar ground, however, Mr. Universe is so expertly and humorously delivered that you won’t mind Gaffigan revisiting some familiar territory.
Some of the best material on Mr. Universe comes from Gaffigan pointing out the delusions we all allow ourselves to have for the sake of convenience or convincing people who might stare at us in public that we aren’t as fat and terrible and possibly diabetic as we actually are. Gaffigan compares our vices to McDonald’s — things we know are unhealthy for us in every respect because everyone has told us so, yet we continue to shove them down our dumb gullets because they’re easy, tasty, and we can always just lie to ourselves about ever having consumed them. Reality television, celebrity gossip, Glee, reading Us Weekly: these are all our McDonald’s in one form or another.
Gaffigan talks about and embraces all of the things that make him a generally lethargic, subpar human being, and he does so in a tone that’s slightly self-loathing with an enduring hint of camaraderie. It’s as if he’s explaining to us all that we don’t have to hide in our brother’s shame-shed every time we eat a box of doughnuts by ourselves (I assume we all deal with our stresses and anxieties by hiding in our brothers’ shame-sheds, by the way). After all, we’re all pretty gross when you really get down to it.
Final Rating: One obese whale out of however many days it would take it to get over an eating disorder (I would say at least ten, so that’s a very fair score by any measure).
Buy Jim Gaffigan’s “Mr. Universe” via iTunes: