Paler than thou

Jim Gaffigan’s off-white superheroes
September 19, 2007 12:32:24 PM

VIDEO: A "Pale Force" short

Comic-book-style superheroes have been a staple of TV since George Reeves put on Superman’s red cape and blue tights in 1951. But as anyone who’s seen Captain Hero on Comedy Central’s Drawn Together knows, animated superheroes have become increasingly perverse. The latest crime-fighting team on the tube show up on Late Night with Conan O’Brien as Pale Force: a Speedo-wearing duo — one macho, the other an effeminate pants wetter — who shoot laser beams from their nipples and use their otherworldly paleness to blind evildoers.

These disturbing, hilarious animated shorts are the twisted notion of Jim Gaffigan, who’s contributed skits to Late Night for a decade and recently became a stand-up star thanks to his Comedy Central special and popular DVD Beyond the Pale as well as commercials for Sierra Mist.

After the first episode — which pitted Pale Force against evil Lady Bronze, a cartoon version of actress/singer Eartha Kitt — debuted in January, the show registered on the pop-culture radar via YouTube and other sites. At the end of its initial run (available in sequence at the Late Night Web site), “Pale Force” garnered nominations for Broadband Emmy and Webby awards. It also amassed a sizable following among cartoon fans, superhero nerds, and goths, for whom the pale connection is more than skin deep.

“We get to be outrageous, and it’s amazing that it’s caught on the way it has,” says Gaffigan, who’ll appear on O’Brien’s show this Monday, September 24, to premiere a new “Pale Force” season.

Did I mention that the superheroes are named Jim Gaffigan and Conan O’Brien? And since Gaffigan’s in charge and performs all the voices, he’s not playing the pants wetter with the high squealing voice. “Not everybody would green-light something like ‘Pale Force,’ ” he says. “Conan and I have really self-effacing styles of humor. He’s got no ego when it comes to his show.”

And O’Brien? “My initial reaction to ‘Pale Force’ was: this is really funny and it should never air,” he wrote in reply to an e-mail. “It’s a very original idea for a host to premiere an animated series that’s spiraling out of his control. The live dynamic of me begging Jim for a better portrayal is like nothing I’ve seen before. On top of that, it helps that the cartoons are funny and visually original.”

Paleness, as well as Hot Pockets and panda sex fantasies, is a staple of Gaffigan’s humor. And his life. “I always felt like I was the only pale kid around, so I avoided wearing shorts and thought that people always looked at me like I was odd. When I’d appear on the show, Conan and I would joke about how pale we both were, and ‘Pale Force’ just took that to the extreme.”

Despite the cartoon’s dedication to pursuing any daft whim, like portraying actor Philip Seymour Hoffman as a villain murderously jealous of Gaffigan and lampooning Lionel Richie’s saccharine ballads, Gaffigan says that “the show really strikes a chord with pale people. There are pockets of goth kids at my shows now, and they tell me how much they relate to it, or they say, ‘I’m paler than you.’ ”

Perhaps the strangest thing about this patently absurd series is that, as Gaffigan notes, its core runs deeper than simply satirizing the cult of personality and the superhero genre. “Obviously skin color is one of the larger issues in the world, and standards of beauty and attraction are worth examining, which we do in our own way. An upcoming episode starts with the characters getting ready for a Pale Parade. It’s in rough form now, but it goes on to make fun of different kinds of ethnocentrism.”

And Pale Force strikes yet another blow for justice.


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