Comedian Spotlight: Jim Gaffigan

Serving Up Social Absurdities

These days comedian Jim Gaffigan is running a 24/7 diner, which he and his wife Jeannie jokingly describe as “mediocre food for ungrateful recipients” for their five children. When he’s not cleaning up fruit snacks and juice boxes strewn all over his house, Gaffgan is on TV every week with his Quarantine Updates airing on CBS Sunday Morning, which offer glimpses into the famous comedian/actor/writer’s home, which are not too different from many other people’s lives at the moment: working from home, arguing over devices, non- stop meals and news, but also a lot of much-needed family time.

Jim Gaffigan is most certainly a purveyor of absurdities, whether taking jabs at distance learning and increased screen time, explaining how the meaning of alcohol changes in each decade of life, acknowledging how weddings and fashion shows are weird and uncomfortable, and observing the sheer laziness of food delivery. Most of these topics have been covered in Gaffigan’s Grammy-nominated comedy specials Mr. Universe, Obsessed, Cinco, and Quality Time, confirming he’d be one heck of a guy to hang with at a bar or as a travel companion.

He continues his string of comedy specials with Jim Gaffigan: The Pale Tourist, his second Amazon Prime Video stint premiering July 24, the same day his new crime-thriller film Most Wanted comes to streaming platforms. Known for his many voices from his soft whisper to his high-pitched screech, his drunk voice to women’s voices, his tough-guy New Yorker and his Southern accent, he’s one of the most relatable comics on the scene. He’s uploading a new YouTube video daily, sharing nostalgic foods with his two youngest boys Mike and Pat, and just trying to make us laugh and reflect during this crazy time. Gaffigan spoke with Hamptons Monthly about some of his favorite travels before the borders closed, how comedians need to access real life to find the funny, and how quarantining in his previous two- bedroom in New York City with his wife and five kids would have been nearly impossible.

Jim, we know you filmed your new The Pale Tourist special in Toronto and Barcelona. Of all the countries and cities you toured, which one would you magically visit right now if you could and we were not in quarantine?

Well I think the answer depends on which one I — whether I was with my family or not — and some of it is, I enjoy going to new places so much, I would say, you know, Asia. I also toured Asia. It’s unfair to compare all of Asia, which is so many countries to Canada. And I love Spain; I went to three cities there and there is so much to see and to know. Gosh, I think I would go immediately back, and I was interrupted in the middle of being in Bogotá. Argentina closed their borders back in March, and once they closed I could go on to Brazil, but I decided to come back immediately; I didn’t want to be separated from my family. I think I would have to finish the Latin American cities. I feel bad ’cause I had a big tour of Mexico.

You had a leading role in the thriller American Dreamer recently. What is your opinion on comedians and funny people being able to tackle drama?

I think that obviously it depends on the comedian if they care about acting. In some ways, it makes perfect sense because comedy is making light of a truth and sometimes those truths are frustration. A lot of people think that comedy is just pain plus time, tragedy plus time, so there is something. Comedians have access to some of that seriousness.

You famously lived in a two-bedroom apartment in New York City with your wife and five kids until 2015. Can you even start to imagine what quarantining in that space would have been like?

Oh yeah. Well it also depends on the size of the children. I think quarantining or doing a quarantine with children in general in a New York City apartment is pretty impossible. It’s interesting, you know, ’cause the appeal of New York City is that you compromise size for convenience and so having five kids at the time, two of them were essentially babies, so you can put a crib just about anywhere and they’re not going to be emotionally scarred. We had a crib in the bedroom which was also my offce which was also the TV room. And then we had three kids in the other room. We had two beds.

By the way, we lived downtown, and a lot of these are old tenement buildings 60, 80 years ago were holding twice as many people, right? A teenager needs a certain amount of space, whereas little kids want to be in close proximity. Like during this whole COVID thing the kids have regressed a little bit, not dramatically but some of the independence has slipped away from them a bit. They hear things on the news. We are trying to help frontline workers. The conversation has always been that we are living through a pandemic.

Your YouTube channel seems to be pretty active lately. Are you writing and creating more material now that you’re not touring than you normally would?

It’s a different type of writing and creating. Obviously if I was acting in a movie or touring on stand-up, I wouldn’t have the opportunity. We have five kids so there are no babysitters; it’s literally us. I love YouTube. And I am posting a daily video, clips from my shows, sometimes it’s me preparing dinner, also the “Mike and Pat Show” trying things I ate while I was in my childhood. They never had bologna, they never had
SpaghettiOs. In two weeks where are we going to be? We don’t know. But there is this belief that we should social distance, people are not back to normal, so there is a desire for easily accessible entertainment. I do a new YouTube video every day.

You are one of only 10 comedians to sell out Madison Square Garden, and this month you were slated to play four shows at Radio City Music Hall. Is there anything different in your approach to a show when it’s a big stadium vs. a smaller venue?

Well, there is something about Radio City and Madison Square Garden where it’s such an event, whether you’re going there to see The Rockettes or you’re seeing The Knicks or you’re seeing a concert. The experience in the venue is unique. Madison Square Garden is obviously famous, but it’s an enormous venue. Radio City is also a theater but also enormous. It’s a completely different task. I’ve never driven an 18-wheeler, but it’s a different skill set to do a show that size.

You are going to get feedback from the audience; it is a conversation. Not the same thing as doing Town Hall or Skirball Center or even The Beacon. As a performer you have to be conscious of an intimacy, so even if people are at Radio City you want people to forget where they are. You don’t want them thinking about the setting. Maybe there is excitement about the setting initially, but 6,000 people laughing is really powerful. It really is a one-on-one conversation.

You are starring in a new crime drama called Most Wanted alongside Josh Hartnett and Antoine Olivier Pilon coming July 24 to streaming platforms. What is on Jim Gaffigan’s most wanted list right now in terms of what you wish you could do?

Gosh, you know, I miss stand-up. I miss traveling and I miss the creative energy and the endorphins of a stand- up show. I’m sure like everyone we get these calendar notifications for things we wanted to do. Like, hey you’re going here, no I’m not! I just miss the nomadic lifestyle, the spontaneity. I think it’s really hard for New Yorkers that – people in New York, the lifestyle is kind of tied to a certain level of spontaneity. Where you are going to dinner, are you going to meet friends, are you going to run into people on the subway? That social spontaneity, it’s very sad it’s not there.