Jim Gaffigan has rarely been a slave to fashion, as evidenced by his choice to stroll onto the Grandstand on Friday night in bluejeans and a pink sweatshirt courtesy of State Fair organizers.
Fortunately, he puts a lot more thought into his comedy than his attire. Gaffigan’s casual style — he rarely moves on stage or works up a lather — masks a meticulous, workingman’s approach to his material deeply appreciated in the Twin Cities, where he last punched the clock in 2015 for seven performances over four nights at the Historic State Theatre, a record for a major Minnesota venue. At the State Fair, he seemed completely at home in front of more than 11,700 fans, despite the constant threat of thunderstorms that only materialized in a four-minute downpour near the end of his 80-minute act.
“It’s great to be in a state where I have a normal size head,” said the Indiana-raised Gaffigan, as way of explaining his comfort level.
Gaffigan, 51, may come across like he just rolled out of his man cave in the basement, but he’s an ardent student of his craft, and he keeps getting better with age. His most celebrated bit involves his love/hate relationship with Hot Pockets, and he appeased his fans by closing his routine with an update on the microwave-ready meal. But the riff has clearly become more obligatory than inspired in recent years, especially with so much smarter, fresher material in his arsenal.
Gaffigan relieved fans worried about his wife’s recent brain tumor with both news that it had been successfully removed and an inspired bit about how surgeons “dumb down” diagnoses for thickheaded husbands like himself.
“I don’t know why they always compare the size of tumors to fruit,” he said. “The doctor probably took one look at me and thought, ‘This guy must not understand centimeters. He’s probably seen a pear when he was at the grocery store buying ice cream.’ ”
He turned his reflections on continent-crossing concerts into the International House of Putdowns, playing the wide-eyed tourist agog at Finland’s obsession with saunas, China’s vast population and Japan’s treatment of overweight people.
Anytime a joke could be interpreted as nasty, Gaffigan switched to the voice of a Minnesota grandmother blanching at the PG-13 tone: “Jim, that’s disgusting;” “Jim, I don’t appreciate that cynicism.”
In other words, he served as his own heckler. Now that’s a work ethic.
Gaffigan didn’t spare Minnesotans, gently ribbing those who enjoyed winter activities as “mentally unstable” and poking fun at our rivalry with neighboring Wisconsin.
“The only difference is that they eat a little more cheese,” he said.
Even his set’s big surprise had local flavor. Shortly after taking the microphone, he requested a stool from a stagehand. Out came Al Franken.
“Who are you?” Gaffigan said after the applause died down.
“I’m just a guy who gets things done here in Minnesota,” Franken responded before shuffling backstage.
Aside from the senator’s cameo, Gaffigan stayed away from politics with the exception of one halfhearted reference to Donald Trump.
“My wife hates that joke,” he said before promptly returning to what he does best: observational humor from the last guy you assumed was paying attention.
Ted Alexandro was an ideal opening act — warm, nonthreatening and eager to please. His set was only 10 minutes long, most certainly abbreviated to make sure Gaffigan could get on and offstage before the skies opened up.
No matter. Fans got their money’s worth.