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For the most part, Gaffigan does work “clean” in his latest special, with the exception of the occasional Hitler reference and one throwaway rape joke (just a line, but still somewhat at odds with his other material.) Still, to classify Gaffigan as the “king of clean comedy” fails to recognize what he’s really good at. Gaffigan isn’t actively trying to create material that’s free of cursing and risque subject matter, nor is he trying to cultivate an image that’s “wholesome” or “family-friendly.” Gaffigan just is family-friendly.
As a husband and father, Gaffigan’s joys and frustrations revolve largely around the domesticity he has comfortably settled into. Unlike one of his more obvious peers, Louis C.K., Gaffigan is not a philosopher in disguise, trying to impart some kind of universal “truth” to his audience. In Cinco, he doesn’t get any more political than observing how bringing up Jesus sucks the air out of a room and how annoying it is as a white guy when people reverse-stereotype you by assuming you want to hear a racist joke (“He looks like he’d enjoy a little hatred!”). Although they both talk about their children onstage, C.K.’s observations on fatherhood are more absurdist and tend to ask larger questions about life. Gaffigan, on the other hand, presents a take that is at once more personal and more relatable. Case in point: “It’s hard to seem concerned about your child’s whereabouts holding a corn dog.”
Although he is less edgy and incisive, Gaffigan has still managed to become one of the best in the world at what he does. His latest hour-long show stays comfortably within his usual framework: He’s a dad, he’s pale, he’s lazy (although the irony of that last point is implicit in the fact that he’s on his fifth comedy special). His standard, running monologue from the perspective of an audience member pops up from time to time too, although less so than in past sets.
A few new bits are as good as anything he’s ever done, including an extended section on the weather. A rant on the Midwest specifically will feel particularly real to anyone who’s ever left that part of the country for a warmer climate (“I love telling my friends in California that I go to Wisconsin in December… ‘Oh no! Don’t go there!’ ‘That’s where my wife’s family is from.’ ‘You should get a new wife!’”) His commentary on the expansive landscape of modern television, beginning with a brief discussion of his own canceled show, also proves be excellent comedic fodder. “There are nights when I’ve told myself, Alright, one more season,’” quips Gaffigan, whose inclusion on Netflix now feels all the more appropriate.
And of course, there’s material about food. Gaffigan does less on eating this time than he has in previous work, perhaps trying to expand upon what people think they know about him. But Gaffigan also knows himself well enough to realize that his relationship with food will always be a part of who he is, and his new jokes on the subject don’t disappoint. Though they come fairly late in Cinco’s runtime, musings on the manliness of steak and trying to smuggle donuts through an airport are sure to delight longtime fans.
The other big presence in Gaffigan’s latest is his wife, Jeannie. “Parenting is a sacrifice. It’s exhausting, it’s expensive, at times it feels thankless. But, eventually, you die,” Gaffigan whimpers, before pivoting to an admission that, “My wife hates that joke.” He then spends the remainder of Cinco extolling his wife’s virtues, sincerely and sarcastically. “She’s amazing, she’s my writing partner, we do everything together,” Gaffigan gushes, before pulling a note out of his pocket and continuing. “She’s brilliant, she’s creative… I can’t read her handwriting,” he jokes. But as Gaffigan himself tells us, Jeannie is more than his muse. Not only did they create his TV show together—she is also credited on Cinco as co-writer, executive producer, and director. Increasingly, it’s become clear that Gaffigan fans have Jeannie to thank for his output as much as him.
Jim Gaffigan occupies an almost singular place in comedy in that he’s broad enough to appeal to almost any audience, but he has the respect of a “comedian’s comedian” who’s put in the necessary work to hone his craft over many years. He’s not here to drop “truth bombs” or to change your life. He’s here to make you laugh. And with Cinco, he has yet again thoroughly succeeded.
Chris Osterndorf is an entertainment reporter and movie critic based in Los Angeles. He holds a degree in cinema from Chicago’s DePaul University. His work has appeared on the Daily Dot, Mic, the Script Lab, Salon, the Week, xoJane, and more.