Has Jim Gaffigan gone Hollywood? That was likely the unspoken concern sweeping across the sold-out crowd at the Historic State Theatre when the veteran comic strolled onto the stage in dyed blond hair and a clean-shaven face, a noticeable upgrade from his familiar just-rolled-off-the-couch look.
The transformation would make sense. His self-titled sitcom on TV Land is a modest hit, and Wednesday night’s show was the first of seven performances over four nights, a record for a stand-up comic in a major Twin Cities venue.
Gaffigan quickly put fears to rest, explaining he was only gussied up for a movie role.
“I look like a black-and-white movie that’s been colorized,” he said, before launching into a 70-minute routine that confirmed his status as the ideal poster boy for La-Z-Boy recliners.
He railed against hiking, insisting he’d search for a furnished basement rather than run for the hills to escape the Nazis, complained about the physical strain of getting into an SUV and argued that binge watching should be considered exercise.
“Oh, you ran a 10K?” said Gaffigan, who rarely moved his feet throughout the evening and often rested his left hand on the microphone stand. “Well, I finished ‘Breaking Bad.’ ”
But never letting them see you sweat isn’t easy. Working oneself into lather is a calling card for many comics, including opener Todd Glass, who didn’t have quite enough stage time to dive into the full rant he kept teasing at. Gaffigan has long preferred a more subtle approach, taking on the guise of the next-door neighbor who’s the natural center of attention at an otherwise unbearable block party.
His voices — the ex-Valley girl mooning over the changing of the leaves, the backwoods buffoon composing “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” the gung-ho redneck boasting a little too loudly about his pickup truck — may not be wacky enough to earn him a gig in the next Pixar movie, but they are great examples of how effective comedy doesn’t always mean turning the volume to 11.
Gaffigan’s casual approach even allowed him to venture into the taboo subject of religion, wondering if Jesus could have disappointed the masses, even as he performed a miracle such as multiplying loaves.
“Boom! Pumpernickel,” he said, giving the Messiah the delivery of a used-car salesman. “Sorry. I didn’t get much sleep last night.”
A less secure comic may have made some religiously inclined spectators squirm. In the hands of a 25-year road warrior, it sounded as harmless as a knock-knock joke while never sacrificing its smart sting.
Gaffigan’s popularity may be on the rise, but he didn’t overlook fans salivating over his never-ending lust for steak and his utter disgust for fish. He closed the evening with his signature riff on Hot Pockets. The mere mention of the microwave delicacy triggered the kind of applause Lynyrd Skynyrd must receive every time it launches into “Free Bird.”
The bit, still punctuated with Gaffigan’s singsong reprise of the product’s jingle, passed its expiration date years ago, so it was a bit of a miscalculation to pull out the gags to close an evening that didn’t include an encore, a minor disappointment considering Wednesday’s 7 p.m. show was the only one in Minneapolis he didn’t have to follow with another later in the evening.
Perhaps he was in a rush to honor his reservations at Manny’s.