Review: Dad is Fat

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I have zero children. Not a one. I don’t have a wife. I don’t have a fiancée. Some of the writers here at WatchPlayRead have children, multiple children even. Some of them don’t have children but are at least married. I’m twenty-five years old, living with a twenty year old and a twenty-one year old in a two bedroom apartment. I sleep on a bed in the living room. I do this to save money, but also because I feel like it adds a bohemian vibe to my life. What I’m trying to tell you is that I am probably the least qualified person at this website to write a review on a comedy book about the trials and tribulations of parenthood, but here we are.

I wouldn’t say that I dislike children. I like kids, I think they’re adorable, and I enjoy many of the television shows that are marketed towards them. It’s just that… they frighten me. Both the idea and the physical actuality of children frightens me. The idea of children is, to someone without children, the idea of the total loss of selfishness. A life revolving around the sole, constant act of being a 100% responsible adult. For someone who likes to partake in alcohol and live a spontaneous, carefree life, this scares me. Tangible children also scare me. They make me nervous. I’m not around children too much, as not many of my friends have kids of their own, but whenever a child is in my vicinity, I’m an anxious human being. Kids say weird things, things that I don’t know what to say in response to. Kids ask weird questions, questions to which I don’t even know how to articulate an answer. You have to smile at kids, and I’m never sure how long I have to keep smiling at them. The entire time until the child has left? Is their parent going to think my smile isn’t authentic enough and get mad at me? Is their parent going to expect me to initiate conversation with their child? What am I possibly supposed to say? I don’t even know what vocabulary level they’re at. Again I ask, why am I the one reviewing Jim Gaffigan’s new book poking fun at raising a family?

The biggest expectation of a well-crafted comedian is to take a subject that they are familiar with, and joke about it in a way that everyone can relate to. If a comedian is a big sports fan, he should be able to write jokes about sports that a non-fan can relate to, because they’re jokes about sports but at the same time they’re jokes about life. When Aziz Ansari jokes about his misadventures in hanging out with Jay-Z and Kanye, we the audience members can’t relate to that, we don’t hang out with multi-millionaire rappers. But we understand the universal hope to be accepted by others in higher status peer groups, so we laugh. When Lewis Black jokes about – well complains about mostly, who are we kidding – politics, we might not follow politics, but we’ve all had to deal with the consequences of others’ hypocrisy and incompetence, so we laugh in sympathy.

Jim Gaffigan is, thankfully, a talented comedian, so while his new book, Dad is Fat, is, in a very primordial way, about marriage and raising five children, it’s also about everything. It’s about religion and New York City and fast food and slow food and Disney World and The Walking Dead and alcoholism and the 2008 mortgage crisis. It is not, surprisingly, about Hot Pockets.

Dad is Fat reads fairly chronologically. The first chapter opens with Gaffigan and his eventual wife vacationing with a couple who have a baby, and takes a “People with babies are weirdos huh?” tone, and as the book progresses Jim and his wife Jeannie become the weirdos with kids, and further in they realize they’re not weirdos, they’re just parents, parents are just like that, and then finally after the fifth newborn that okay maybe they are sort of weirdos.

This is a comedy book, not a parenting book, let’s be perfectly clear. But at the same time you have to realize and accept that Gaffigan is not trying to make every sentence a joke, and that’s OK. A comedy book about parenting is only going to succeed with a healthy amount of sincerity, which can be scoffed away at times in our ultra-ironic society.

A slight issue is that some of the humor throughout the book is repeated and recycled. A good portion of the jokes are comprised of some variant of “There was a lot of crying, and begging, and pants-peeing, and my kids were not happy either” and “Parenting is hard work. At least that’s what my wife tells me.” Jim’s wife, Jeannie, gets almost as much ink time as the five children. I’m sure she’s deserving of every compliment that’s bestowed on her, but sometimes the chapters can feel like an infomercial for her, like Jim’s going to start mass-producing her and is trying to get pre-release hype built up.

8/10 – Dad is Fat is almost assuredly going to mean more to you if you have children of your own, but anyone with the human emotion of empathy will enjoy the stories Gaffigan brings to the page.

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