I’ve defined comedy on occasion as the art of surprise. There’s a lot of stand-ups who can’t help but surprise because they are working with thoughts rarely expressed or said. There’s extreme power there. They can’t help but surprise with things they say. So it’s perhaps an easier shortcut to funny, right?
It’s probably a far too simple a way of looking at it. But I think it points out what’s so impressive about a comic like Jim Gaffigan. The danger in working with the everyday is not that you don’t get laughs. You can and will. But it’s the nature of the laughs that you will get. It’s harder to surprise when you’re working something people know because it’s in the fabric of their daily lives.
We laugh for a lot of reasons. Often when a comic talks the everyday that elicits the laugh of recognition. Of the “I’ve done that.” Or “That’s true.” They’re good. But they’re not the hard surprise laughs, that open up and show things anew.
Those recognition laughs are certainly a part of Gaffigan’s act.But what makes Gaffigan a great comic is that he doesn’t stop there. He’ll break it to find what’s on the other side of recognition, where the everyday becomes strange again.
Here’s a fast food bit that’s in the special “King Baby” that Jim Gaffigan did during a recent sit down with Letterman:
The simpler comparison of how fast food goes through you is taken to the non-parallel of spinach and dysentery, an anti-comparison which makes it sharper. But even richer, he finds that little bit of our relationship in time with fast food restaurant and matches it with our dating lives. To me it created a comparison I won’t forget the next time I surrender to a late night urge to eat at a McDonalds or Wendys.
It’s really, the most desirable results of a surprise: a new recognition. A connection that can’t be escaped. Even if it’s about something as simple as what we eat, it makes the common life refreshed. Something I think many could use in these times.
It seems ridiculous to talk about King Baby, without giving you some of it. So here’s Gaffigan on his love of bologna.
King Baby airs tonight on Comedy Central at 9 PM and will see release on DVD and CD on Tuesday.