Brian Jacobson

Jim Gaffigan at the Pabst Theater

By - Dec 31st, 2011 08:27 am

Jim Gaffigan and his new son Michael

Actor-Comedian Jim Gaffigan has been in Milwaukee since before Christmas, staying with his wife and four kids at a nearby hotel and visiting her relatives.  We know this because he tweets and does Facebook updates about it.  We know this because Gaffigan returns to town every New Year’s Eve weekend for a couple of special shows at the Pabst Theater. We know this because the show on Friday was adorably begun with an announcement: “Ladies and Gentleman, for your pre-show entertainment, the Irish dance stylings of Marre Gaffigan.”

A 6-year-old girl in a sparkly pink dress dances a jig to house-pumped music.  She is joined on stage by 2-year-old sister Katie, and they reel around the empty stage while the audience gets to their feet clapping.  After a few minutes, they depart and a woman (likely Jim’s wife, Jeannie) places a microphone stand at its lowest setting.  Out comes 4-year-old son Jack, who makes the standard announcement about cell phones and video recordings to the audience in the cutest fashion possible.  At the end of the show, Gaffigan again lets them loose on the stage to dance, joined this time by newborn son, Michael, whom he puppeteers into a jig.

So it was a family show, in a way.

Gaffigan is about to launch a new American tour in January, and you get the feeling he was trying out new material at a rapid and threadbare pace.  It’s not that he wasn’t funny—it’s just that the jokes were a bit rough when we are used to seeing rock-star talent and timing through his comedy specials like the seminal Beyond the Pale. The comic stood on a black curtained stage in his typical untucked black shirt and black jeans.  The Pabst uncharacteristically turned off all the lights, leaving only the main spotlights: It was easy to see the pale man was a bit haggard, and a bit thinner than usual.

The more lithe Gaffigan is no coincidence. Much of his new material involved going to the gym or avoiding going the gym.  Of course there were the standard riffs about food or fast food restaurants—the material that has made him famous—but there were also entertaining takes on being a father: “People ask me what it’s like to have a fourth child.  Imagine you’re drowning. Then somebody hands you a baby.”

His well-known whispering audience member reaction voice was joined by others, like the Bronx guy selling the first Stairmaster: “You climb and never go anywhere, but on the upside then you die.”

There was the polite handling of the drunk lady who went to school with Gaffigan’s wife and thought she could talk about it loudly to the comedian on stage: “She’s going to wake up and find meeting times for AA stuffed in her pockets.”

Finally, Gaffigan started the car running with a riff on McDonald’s, and how we all have our own “McDonald’s,” whether its tattoos or smoking or watching TMZ. True, of course.

Like a rock star, Gaffigan thanked the audience and dashed off stage, then after a minute of applause came out for the encore.  Like a rock star who has played his new album and now plays the classic that topped the charts, he reprised a few Wisconsin favorites, including a cheese-curd Hot Pocket.  Gaffigan has been refining the Hot Pocket bit since his 2005 album, Doing My Time, which I’m listening to as I write this. And while the piece has evolved a little over time, the general timbre and rhythm remains the same.

You want to see the Saturday show?  It’s sold out, like the Friday show.  A look at his tour schedules finds this a lot, but there are some tickets available in Gaffigan’s home state of Indiana, or in Illinois in March.  Otherwise, there’s always next New Year’s weekend. This year, though, you missed out on the special Point Pale Ale special featuring a souvenir cup with Gaffigan’s image on it.  Come by the office sometime and I’ll put it in the big glass window.

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