Family-friendly comedian Jim Gaffigan may have just returned from the Sundance Film Festival with a slew of dramatic and humorous movies under his belt (Them That Follow, Light from Light and the Viola Davis –staring Troop Zero), but rest assured, stand-up comedy is still his game. “It’s what I do best, first and foremost,” said Gaffigan, in anticipation of his two February 9 shows he’ll bring to The Met Philadelphia (showtimes are 7 pm and 9:30 pm). Philly is of utmost importance to this confirmed Catholic as he performed for Pope Francis (“I like to call it ‘opening’ for the Pope”) when the Pontiff visited Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families back in 2015.
Jim Gaffigan hits the stage in Philly this weekend
You have been doing comedy long before you became the family man you are in real life, and is highlighted in your stand-up routines and in your books. What do you recall about your material before you got married and had kids? What springs to mind?
Jim Gaffigan: My topics are ever-changing, But, if you told me ten years ago that I would be speaking now about appendectomies or seeing bears or focusing on food, I probably didn’t think that was possible. I wouldn’t be telling so many stories. For me, I’ve seen shifts. My stand-up has evolved. Appearing on late night shows such as Conan O'Brien or David Letterman as I did early on informed my writing and pushed me toward weeding out some of the curse words. I mean, I never cursed that much to begin with. Then getting married and having a writing partner made me more comfortable embracing the Catholic stuff I might not have in the past.
Who is the better writer or craftsman, you or your wife?
Jim Gaffigan: I am the better craftsman, but, it also comes down the fact that the roles and dynamics of what we do changes with time. We used to do our kids’ summer and spring break tours on a bus, and there would be time with just us talking out material. The efficiency of our writing together has become crisper and faster. She had a brain tumor too which changed things a bit. (2017, successfully removed). Now, it’s the difference between a Broadway director at rehearsals and then showing up on occasion during show nights. She still sits there and shoots down jokes. The train is moving alone. We don’t have the same luxury of working together when we only had one kid anymore.
Your wife also directs and executive produces much of your work, so that must shape the material.
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Jim Gaffigan: It does. Having someone with structure, someone to say, ‘that’s too freaky,’ or such helps. The infancy and chaos of being a parent definitely rounded things out, and that’s how we got to where are now… with food and riding horses stories.
As your family dynamic evolves, you evolve – with them and on your own.
Jim Gaffigan: As I evolve in stand-up, there is a greater love for it because I genuinely feel as if I’m getting better, and can expand what I am talking about. It sounds corny. Maybe three specials ago, I realized that I had better stop talking about food. Then two specials ago, I decided to expand into longer stories. I move more into autobiography, and away from bacon jokes, but you can still tell that it is the same comedian.
As a Catholic, do you always see the humor in the religion? It’s tough sometimes.
Jim Gaffigan: To be honest, it’s brutal. The tragedy and the corruption and some of its monsters, they must be acknowledged. Yet, when I find the humor in Catholicism…. I love the challenge of creating a joke that atheists and believers might enjoy. At that point, it’s not a joke about Jesus or the religion, but rather one about humans and humanity. Sometimes it is about stupidity. I had these jokes about Moses and the burning bush that when I was dating my wife, I wanted to do, but thought they might alienate people. She talked me into doing them. She influenced me toward doing that humor; these jokes are about human beings.
It’s about self-awareness. Just as much as are jokes about being a lazy dad or eating too much.
Jim Gaffigan: Yes. You don’t have to go deeper, you just have to go differently.
You’ve been doing dramatic television and film roles for a minute, but you had three films in the Sundance festival last month. What sort of roles wake you up?
Jim Gaffigan: For me, I’m looking to see if this scares me a little bit. Can I put myself out there in a way that I haven’t – or maybe couldn’t – before? Can I do a good job? There was a time when I wondered about doing things for the money and finding challenges. So I can, on occasion, do this indie film thing where the director seems great, or you can do this money thing where you’re not going to be challenged – if you do the latter, you’re probably there for the wrong reasons. Besides, when something is presented to me with the money first, I never look at the money. I make my living from stand-up, so when it comes to acting I’m much more about the deeper challenges. I may not seem like the guy in the part I am playing. That’s even better, let’s see if I can do it. I have done films such as American Dreamer where I played a really bad guy. That was appealing to me.