Jim Gaffigan’s latest performance film, directed by wife Jeannie, focuses on medical scares and a historically tough gig.
It’s been a dicey few years for Jim Gaffigan, to hear him tell it in his new standup film, Noble Ape: His wife (Jeannie Gaffigan, who directed and co-wrote the film) had a brain tumor; he got booed while opening for the pope; and then he faced one of the most dreaded rites of middle age, the colonoscopy. Managing to talk a lot about health without seeming to obsess over it, the comedian’s latest is as dense with laughs as fans would expect, the quality of the material showing no hint of how many other projects (namely the four feature films that have opened this year and eight reportedly in post) he had going on while writing it.
Fear not: Gaffigan is still talking about shame and eating. Emerging onstage at Boston’s Wilbur Theatre dressed in multiple shades of black, he’d be the first to say the ensemble does little to slim him. He riffs on the sad phenomenon of “fatting out” of clothes, and describes the unwearable pants he keeps in the back of his closet as a kind of expanding-girth diary.
Here, oddly, much of the food talk is linked to his wife’s cancer scare, as he notes how often doctors describe tumors in terms of what fruit they most resemble. Grapefruits, he says, are both the worst tumors and the worst fruits. Jeannie’s tumor (she’s fine now) was a pear, which doctors evidently believed would be of some comfort to the family. How one would cope with having a pear-sized growth inside one’s skull is joke fodder left for another day.
Though he’s presumably done lots of touring for many years now, Gaffigan turns to foreign travel for a chunk of this set’s material, focusing on differing social mores in Japan and England. He’s been feeling some shame as an American abroad recently, what with… you were expecting him to say the president? No: He’s ashamed of the M&M store. (Trump does come up, briefly and amusingly: Gaffigan knows he looks like a Trump voter, but wants you to know he isn’t.)
As usual, Gaffigan’s appeal has a lot to do with preempting criticism. Not only is he more disgusted by his weight than you are: He’ll critique his comic material before you do, as well. Adopting a breathy, feminine voice that sounds mildly scandalized, he points out the zingers that come (however mildly) at someone else’s expense; and starting midway through the act, he notes how often he is referring to dentistry, as if he were being lazy instead of purposeful.
Where he was lazy — according to him, at least — was at that Philadelphia gig where he opened for the pope. Few listeners will believe the setup, but Gaffigan says he did no preparation before playing for such a huge audience, and based his few Philly-specific comments on a few minutes of backstage web research. Suffice to say that he joked about things only locals are supposed to mention, and then fumbled when he met the pontiff as well.
Oh, well. As one of the most liked Catholics in America, he’ll probably still get asked back the next time Francis swings through the States.
Production company: Chimichanga Productions
Distributor: Comedy Dynamics
Director: Jeannie Gaffigan
Screenwriters: Jim Gaffigan, Jeannie Gaffigan
Executive producers: Jim Gaffigan, Jeannie Gaffigan, Alex Murray, Brian Volk-Weiss
Director of photography: Tyler Ribble
Production designer: James Kronzer
Editor: Brenda Carlson
Composer: Patrick Noth