On the highway of stand-up comedy, there is the fast lane (the devilish, white-knuckled derby of profanity and stripped confessions of yuksters like Kevin Hart, Jim Jeffries, and Amy Schumer) and there is the slow lane (given over to the angular, avant-garde pontifications of folks like Steven Wright or the decidedly lowbrow nut-kicks and rib-tickles of, say, Jeff Foxworthy or Ron White). Almost everyone else is somewhere in between. But virtually owning the middle of the road is 49-year-old, longtime married, father of five, and admittedly average Midwesterner Jim Gaffigan, who mines the Everyman world for unexpected laughs, stuffing his hot pockets with misanthropic observations and flicking his sharp, though unsalted, tongue at the concerns most pressing for the nation’s Regular Joes and Janes — our waistlines, our myriad, often desperate obsessions, the cockeyed falsetto of our own needling inner voices, social awkwardness, as well as bologna, cake, donuts, daily recommended servings of fruit, soup, cheese, and butter.
In his live show, the recently crowned “King of Clean” silver platters a veritable smorgasbord of hilarity. As with his recent Comedy Central stand-up concert, Obsessed, the comedian’s new TV Land series, The Jim Gaffigan Show (which premiered July 15), satisfies audiences hungry for a weekly dose of belly laughs with wry observations, an absurdist wit, and a particular idée fixe with all things edible. The show is another winning collaboration between Gaffigan and wife Jeannie, who co-writes much of the laughster’s material. Food: A Love Story, Gaffigan’s second best-selling tome, was recently published, too.
Despite the often almost scatterbrained diversity in your stand-up shows, you’ve become known as “The Food Comic.” There’s so much more to your act – and the terrific new TV series, too – than compulsive eating. Is the food thing really that much of a big deal in your life?
Oh, I feel like I’m just getting more and more unhealthy. I mean, we all go through periods, don’t we, where we’re eating well and living more healthy and then we sort of cheat through the holidays. I used to try to have, like, a burger a week, and at this point, I have a burger as an appetizer. It’s just out of control. Food is just this simple joy, right? I’m actually eating while we’re having this conversation. That’s how much of a pig I am.
Thank goodness then for that high-pitched inner voice that has become a trademark of your act. That must keep the food thing in check sometimes, right?
Oh, that’s just something that’s been a part of my personality since I was a teenager! It’s just an additional layer to my material, really. When you do a show and you look out at the audience, there’s always this one face out there, usually right in front of you, that’s dissatisfied or unhappy. I mean, we all have an inner critic anyway, whether we’re on stage or not. I just give voice to mine. And it often times will crack up the person that was sitting there thinking that I’m an idiot – because my inner voice is actually saying that I’m an idiot. That part of the act is pretty much all improvised, by the way. You can’t write that stuff down.
According to Wall St. Journal, you’re the "King of Clean." What does that mean to you? Is that an ethical consideration or a commercial one?
It’s weird. I have a lot of mixed emotions about that. The truth is, I’m a father, so it makes me happy to be able to do a show my kids can come and see or watch on television. That’s not to say I’m a perfect parent, or perfect at anything. I mean, some of my favorite comedians in the world are filthy. My comedy mentor was Dave Attell. For a long time, Dave Attell was the only person who thought I was funny. I believe that comedians do what they do, and then they get credit or criticism for doing it. There’s nothing planned about this. I’m a guy who comes from a smalltown in the Midwest. It’s just not in my nature to say the most explicit things in public.
“King of Clean” is just who you are.
Yeah, but it’s weird, though; being clean feels like a little bit of an asterisk next to my name. “Oh, well he’s clean.” It’s, like, “come see this strange comedian who doesn’t curse!” It’s not like I’ve never said, “fuck” in my life. A lot of it is just the stuff I end up talking about. I didn’t choose to be the guy who talks about the mundane; it’s just who I am and it’s what kind of works for me. I wish, in some ways, I was the type of comedian who could do something blistering and topical, but I’m the guy who gets stuck in the revolving door and thinks I should write about that.
It seems to be working out. From Beyond the Pale through Obsessed and The Jim Gaffigan Show, you’re delivering consistently.
It’s certainly not sexy what I do, but it’s who I am. Who knows? Maybe in two specials or on the sixth season of Jim Gaffigan Show, the whole thing will be about, oh, I don’t know…
Yes. That! (Laughs) I kind of doubt it though.
Interestingly, you co-write most of your material with your wife, Jeannie, which is fairly unusual for a comedian. How does that work?
It’s such a weird concept — especially for a stand-up comedian. Stand-up is so personal, right? It’s so point of view driven. I was very resistant to the idea of collaborating on material at first, which is not to say she was forcing the idea at all. She’s a very creative person and she’s brilliant. When we were dating and she was coaching me on acting, the collaborating just happened very naturally on some jokes, and it was kind of perfect. She makes everything better. And at this point, I wouldn’t know any better or different. My codependency is so pronounced, you know.
Besides your prolific stand-up career, your bestselling books, the new TV show, a rapid-fire Twitter account, and a very nice side career in film, you’ve been married for 13 years and are a prodigious baby-maker with five young children. How do you balance all of that?
It’s about work ethic, I think, and my wife and I have that in common. We enjoy what we do, so the work never feels like work. It’s what we love to do. We don’t have weekends. We don’t have days off. There’s this life we lead, and it has a lot of children. But honestly, we feel it’s a miracle to get paid to do what we do. It’s like, “We won! We get to do what we love in our lives.” And, yeah, there are a lot of amazing little kids.