After years of Tampa providing an eager audience on his many tours, comedian Jim Gaffigan returned the favor by recording his 10th comedy special last February at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts. The special, called “Dark Pale,” dropped on Amazon Prime on Tuesday, July 25, to rave reviews.
“Thank you Tampa,” the Indiana-born comic mumbled behind a black face mask as he entered the stage. “America’s next great city.”
The audience laughed hard at the insult.
He only mentioned the city again in passing during the special, but he went on to deliver what the New York Times said, after putting out five specials in six years, is “the best of the bunch.”
It’s hard to recognize the Straz Center on the special. The stage has a gray background with black silhouettes of leafless trees and a prairie. The moody landscape reveals itself as the inside of a picture frame when the camera pulls back.
Like the special’s title indicates, the comic has heavier things on his mind these days and he’s leaning into the shadows. Coming out in a face mask, he takes it off for a long spiel about pandemic deaths and how we all know people who are skeptical of vaccines, “or some of us used to know an anti-vaxxer.”
He sprinkles food jokes in with jokes about how God must wonder why his messages of climate disasters are not getting through. “I miss the days,” Gaffigan-as-God says, “when you could send a plague and people would listen.”
He sets the tone early with a very dark and funny story of a plane that nose-dived for three full minutes before crashing, imagining if anyone hit the flight attendant button.
“Is that too dark?” he asks. “It’s going to get worse.”