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Review: With 'The Pale Tourist,' Jim Gaffigan tries comic globalization

Comedian's latest special finds him performing material in front of crowds in Canada and Spain

Tom Long
Special to The Detroit News

What’s funny in Detroit may not be funny in Istanbul. Comedy relies on common ground.

So you have to admire Jim Gaffigan for trying out uncommon ground in his two new Amazon comedy specials “Jim Gaffigan: The Pale Tourist.” The idea is that Gaffigan goes to a foreign country, absorbs its culture, and then performs a stand-up set about that country in front of locals.

Jim Gaffigan in "The Pale Tourist."

The two countries Gaffigan travels to in these specials are Canada and Spain. Not surprisingly his Canadian set works out better since Canada isn’t all that foreign (especially if you live in Michigan).

Jokes about Mounties work because everyone in the U.S. knows what a Canadian Mountie is. His observation that there’s a youth hockey team in every Canadian hotel is certainly familiar. And musings on the popularity of poutine — why not? Health care is free — will likely bring laughs even in faraway Texas.

In fact, Gaffigan is his reliably funny self all through the Canadian set, even as the famously “clean” comic compares Regina to female genitalia and says Saskatchewan sounds like some sort of STD. The laughs are steady.

Things get shakier, though, when Gaffigan travels afar to Spain. There are a lot of paella jokes that may get Yanks wondering how to spell paella. A number of topics — siestas, bullfighting, smoking — seem obvious while others (a log kids beat on for Christmas?) come off as just weird.

Gaffigan offers some nice ugly tourist notes, but as the show goes on he leaves Spain behind. At the end he’s riffing on American rodeos and talking about the Toledo Zoo. Not surprisingly, he’s funnier on home ground.

Still, it would be interesting to see what he could do with Istanbul.

'Jim Gaffigan: The Pale Tourist'

GRADE: B-

Amazon Prime Video

Tom Long is a longtime contributor to The Detroit News.