“McDonald’s of the Soul”: A Few Lessons from Jim Gaffigan

Stand-up comedian Jim Gaffigan has a relatively new and insightful comedy special, Mr. Universe. Are […]

Matt Schneider / 7.31.12

Stand-up comedian Jim Gaffigan has a relatively new and insightful comedy special, Mr. Universe. Are you familiar with Gaffigan or his stand-up? You may recognize him in Flight of the Conchords (or his brief appearances in any number of other sitcoms and movies). If you don’t know who or what I am talking about, his bits on Hot Pockets and bacon are mandatory viewing.

For my money, the highlight of his Mr. Universe special is a bit on McDonald’s. In fact, it inspired me to list a few observations (in no particular order) about Gaffigan’s act and persona that are highlighted by the McDonald’s bit:

1. Breadth of appeal/Accessibility: Gaffigan’s comedy is quite unique in the typically crass, politicized, and racially segregated stand-up world. His appeal spans the ideological spectrum, probably because his humor is fairly clean (save for a few of the least-offensive swear words here and there), without feeling “scrubbed.” Perhaps this is because so many of his bits are about food. Everyone eats! Those of us who are interested in communicating a Message (and I’m not just talking about preachers here) could learn a thing or two from Gaffigan’s ability to connect with as broad an audience as possible without losing his edge or pigeonholing himself.

2. Honesty and Humility: Mockingbird’s conference this past spring was subtitled “Honesty, Humility and the Grace of God,” and those first two themes describe Gaffigan as well. His honesty and humility often come in the form of self-deprecation. That is, he humbly casts himself as the chief offender in his societal observations. But that might not matter if he weren’t so honest. To use another line from the same Mockingbird conference, he sees human nature with “clear eyes,” often driving home the idea we humans do not have as much control over our lives our ourselves as might like to think. Without ever explicitly saying so, Jim implies that our wills are bound. And the McDonald’s bit is a case in point, with its drumbeat observation that “it’s all McDonald’s”:

I’m tired of people acting like they’re better than McDonald’s. It’s like you may have never set foot in McDonald’s, but you have your own McDonald’s. Maybe instead of buying a Big Mac, you read Us Weekly. Hey, that’s still McDonald’s. It’s just served up a little different. Maybe your McDonald’s is telling yourself that Starbucks Frappuccino is not a milkshake. Or maybe you watch “Glee.” It’s all McDonald’s—McDonald’s of the soul: Momentary pleasure followed by incredible guilt eventually leading to cancer. ‘I’m lovin’ it.’

3. Abreaction: This observation in some respects circles back to my first two points about broad appeal, honesty, and humility. Gaffigan is like the medieval court jester who is expected to openly criticize the king for the bad decisions he makes. Gaffigan brings to the surface the truth that we are all really eating at McDonald’s (or doing something like it) while making light of the fact. In many ways we can all relate to what he is talking about. Not only that, but the abreactive quality of his comedy (for the most part) is non-judgmental. When he does judge, it is simply to judge the judgmental (i.e., the law-lover in all of us). Again, those with an interest in communicating the Gospel, whether from the pulpit or in everyday life, could learn from Gaffigan’s methods.

Here is the McDonald’s bit from the Mr. Universe special, and the whole special is on DVD and also available for streaming from Netflix: