Jim Gaffigan knows bad food. During the first of his two sets Saturday evening in the University at Buffalo's Center for the Arts, the 45-year-old stand-up comic focused almost exclusively on his, and America's, obsession with the fast, fry-olated and microwaved food groups.
A comic could use a topic like this to make harrowing social commentary, but Gaffigan preferred to simply point out the ridiculousness of it all. Soft-spoken, self-loathing and endearingly sarcastic, the Indiana native's strengths are his artful way with words and the gentle, matter-of-fact tone he uses to deliver them. While marveling at the fact that there's a market for the Domino's Pasta Bread Bowl in our country, there was no anger to be found -- just a beautifully crafted one-liner. "It's pasta, in a bread bowl, covered with cheese. The only thing missing is a suicide note."
Not to say that Gaffigan is a monotone comic a la Steven Wright. His set was sprinkled with the strange asides that have become his trademark, spoken from the perspective of a perplexed audience member and delivered in a high-pitched whisper. For example, after comparing speed walkers to people experiencing a bathroom emergency, we got this aside: "A diarrhea joke, already? Come on, fella!" These bizarre conversations with himself prevent his performances from becoming too one-note and present endless opportunities for self-criticism.
But those stone-faced punch lines are Gaffigan's true gift. And his best ones Saturday were about those foods we eat in spite of ourselves. An extended commentary on our masochistic relationship with McDonald's was filled with awkward moments, the comic's disdain for those who pretend to never eat there and a perfectly grotesque description of a melted milkshake: "It looks like chocolate mucous."
Gaffigan's biggest home run was his exposure of the boldfaced lie that is Subway's "get fresh" tagline. After descriptions of "bread baked in a dirty dishwasher" and a pathetic, watery excuse for tuna, the comic let this one rip: "I could make a sandwich at home for 20 cents, but I'd rather pay more and have a sociopath make it for me."
The highlights of the set are too numerous to list. But here are a few more:
*On having his fourth child: "Just imagine you're drowning, and then someone hands you a baby."
*On the outdated rides at Disney World: "A go-cart goes into a dark room, and there's a picture of Winnie the Pooh."
*Speaking to an extra fry he discovered in a McDonald's bag: "Bonus fry, you get your own ketchup!"
Gaffigan saved a sure-fire crowd-pleaser for his encore -- his famous bit about the culinary disaster that is a Hot Pocket. When the words "Hot Pocket" first escaped his lips, the jam-packed crowd hooted and hollered with joy. It was a rock star moment for a comic who is decidedly not outrageous, who didn't even curse once. He just said funny stuff about things we understand, in a manner that would make anybody with a sense of humor say to themselves, "I'm lovin' it."
Two shows Saturday night in the University at Buffalo Center for the Arts Mainstage Theatre, North Campus, Amherst.