The days of stand-up comedy feature films have dwindled with the advent of streaming options and Netflix’s huge catalog of stand-up comedy specials. Audiences no longer flock to movie theaters to consume these features because there is no need to. The days of Eddie Murphy’s Raw are long gone. However, Jim Gaffigan is taking a chance and doing the opposite of what most comedians are doing today; he is bypassing Netflix, releasing his new special, Noble Ape, in select theaters, and making it available for rent or purchase only.
In his sixth major hour special, Noble Ape was released under the Comedy Dynamics brand. While the entire special is not solely centered on it, it does fall heavy on the medical crisis that his wife, co-writer, producer, and director, Jeannie Gaffigan, endured that, according to Gaffigan, almost led to his retirement.
The saying that “comedy is tragedy plus time” holds true here as did fellow comedic great, Patton Oswalt’s Annihilation, which addressed the sudden death of his wife Michelle McNamara.
Filmed at Boston’s Wilbur Theatre, Noble Ape doesn’t begin with the intro most specials begin with. Instead, it begins with a wide shot of a stage, a stool, a microphone stand, and an audience simply waiting for a show. In the first two minutes Gaffigan hits you with what you would expect of his typical specials. He begins with self-deprecating humor about his beard and weight, and then that voice. It is the voice of a displeased and often confused audience member that has become a Gaffigan trademark. It is familiar and pokes fun at himself.
Within two minutes he addresses the brain tumor that disrupted his family’s life, and became the foundation and tone of the new hour. It was during his 2017 tour that the news of his wife’s brain tumor forced the cancellation and rescheduling of tour dates.
With true Gaffigan style he quickly turns to the subject of food and the comparison in size of the tumor to that of fruit. He gives his fans what they expect from a Gaffigan show, but even with all the food jokes, fat jokes, and the voice, they all step back to let the very personal story of his wife and family shine through. Throughout the special he does side step to focus on gyms, saunas, an M&M store, Japanese and British people, and some self-deprecating fat and fashion humor. Gaffigan also plays to his own age, and surely the age of his fans, by discussing his own colonoscopy.
The special closes with his story of performing stand-up comedy as an opening act for the Pope’s visit to Philadelphia and how he insulted the people with reminding them about the time the Eagles football fans assaulted Santa Claus with snowballs.
Those looking for a more detailed version of this story should seek out Eugene Mirman’s podcast Hold On, in which Gaffigan appeared in September of 2017. Gaffigan’s material ages with not only himself, but with his wife and kids. Fans of comedians, who have been in the game for years, get to experience the personal triumphs and defeats that shape the material from special to special. Sometimes those experiences are brutal, cruel, and potentially life changing. Gaffigan allows the audience to experience those things, while still giving them what made him so good in the first place.