Hot topics! A Q&A with Jim Gaffigan

I’m glad no one talks about the “sexy dad bod” anymore and I don’t want to resurrect it, but can we talk about what really counts? How about the “sexy dad mind” and the Chicago comedian who exemplifies it: Jim Gaffigan.

Jim Gaffigan Promo Shot 1.14.15-80pct“Wait!,” your inner voice protests, “Jim Gaffigan who talks about Hot Pockets, bacon and being lazy? Isn’t he from Indiana?” Turns out the comedian, who brings his Contagious tour and an hour of fresh material to Rockford on August 4 and to Chicago on August 6, is emphatic about his wife Jeannie’s contributions to his – their – success. What could be sexier than that?

Jeannie has been Jim’s writing partner for most of his career which includes Grammy nominations, bestselling books, multi-platinum albums, 2.4 million Twitter followers and five children. They also collaborate on The Jim Gaffigan Show, a terrific new sitcom airing throughout the summer on TV Land and Comedy Central.

The Jim Gaffigan Show stands out for unflinching honesty, big laughs and authentic touches. Jim plays himself. Jeannie executive produces. The set is an exact replica of the tight Manhattan two-bedroom the family occupied until recently and one of the tiny Gaffigans on the show is an actual tiny Gaffigan. The show is infused with the Gaffigans’ talent for mining humor from adult doubts, blunders, ambivalence and gluttonous, joyous tendency to stuff feelings with food.

There are also dazzling cameos: Chris Rock, Jon Stewart, Hannibal Buress, Janeane Garofalo and Jimmy Fallon, to name a few. After the broadcast, the couple interacts with fans on Twitter’s live streaming service, Periscope.

Oh, and while claims that Jim is Indiana-born, it’s not true. He was born in Elgin, lived in Barrington through mid-fifth grade and it was only then that the family moved to northwest Indiana.

Jim kindly took time for a phone interview to discuss his and Jeannie’s life’s work (kids and comedy) and his devotion to Chicago. What could be sexier than that?

(Watch for a bonus answer from Jeannie below.)


Q: What is a typical day on the road with your family?

A: It’s chaos. There are two scenarios. We either drive overnight after a show or we get up in the morning and drive for a couple of hours to the next city.

We need to stay at a hotel with a pool. During the day, my wife and I will get the kids to the pool and I may swim with them, but mostly my wife takes care of the kids during the day. I’ll nap and get ready for the show. Then the kids get fed and put to sleep either on the bus or in the hotel. We always bring a babysitter, so my wife can meet me at the show. We’ll do the show then either get on the road or go to bed.

But the most important thing from a parenting standpoint is that it’s great for the kids to see different parts of the U.S. They might go to a beach in Santa Barbara or the zoo in Omaha.

Q: What is your family looking forward to in Rockford and Chicago?

A: We have tons of relatives there and my wife is from Milwaukee, so there’s going to be cousin time. It’s a juggling act.  We have learned that we don’t want to commit to necessarily doing something because you don’t know if you’re going to arrive and be toast or if you’re going to figure out something you want to do two hours before you get there. We do go to Chicago a fair amount given that my family is from there and from northwest Indiana.

Q: How similar are you and your wife to Jim and Jeannie on The Jim Gaffigan Show?

A:  My wife is pretty different. You know my wife is my writing partner. We’ve written all the episodes together. I would say my character is dumber then I am in real life.

Q: How much of the TV show is based on your real life?

A: They’re all inspired by stories that happened to my wife and me. It’s not like [all of it] actually happened, but that’s the launching pad. We wanted each of the story lines to be relevant and important to us.

Q: Your show doesn’t feel sitcom-y. It’s very funny, but it also feels very real. How do you accomplish that?

A: A lot of it has to do with us really caring about details. We’re painstaking about it. If lunch has just occurred, there are going to be crumbs on the table. It would also be much easier to shoot a scene without five little kids in it, but we make a point of keeping the reality there. I think it helps the humor, too.

Q: Is that why you decided against a laugh track?

A: Yes.  The four-camera laugh-track comedy is not something I enjoy, so Jeannie and I really tried to do a show that we would enjoy.

The Jim Gaffigan Show
Get More: The Official Jim Gaffigan Show Website

Q: What do your kids think about being played by other kids? I also heard that your two year-old on the show is your actual two year-old.

A: He is. [The other children] make appearances here and there when there are other kids, but we also wanted our kids not to miss tons of school and have as normal a childhood as possible, but they get a kick out of it. They’re there enough. We don’t want to put them in a position where we’re forcing them to do something.

Q: You and Jeannie have said that understanding each other’s voice is key to your collaboration. How does a couple reach that level of insight?

A: Each relationship is unique just like every kid is unique, so it’s hard to give advice. Collaborating and creatively doing things are the basis of our relationship. We also have a very similar work ethic, so it’s not that foreign for us to do everything together. I only know working with my wife, really.

Q: If we were to join you and Jeannie at the table as you’re writing, what would we see?

A: You would see ideas build on top of each other and you would also see disagreement and people defending their ideas. Compromise is a pretty important thing. But we both have the same objective, so we don’t have to be concerned about anyone’s motive in the creative process.

Q: What is each of your favorite episodes?

A: [Calling out] Jeannie, what is your favorite episode?

Jeannie [calling back]: I have a lot of them. I like “Wonderful.”

A: She has a lot of them. Like the season’s last episode.

Jeannie: “Superdad”!

A:  … and “Superdad.” One of the things that is really pleasing about this experience is that we like all the episodes. There’s not one where I’m worried for someone to see it. It’s exciting to see the feedback on Twitter every Wednesday night around 9:30 after people have watched it. That’s really fun.

Q: You’ve talked about your difficult first years in comedy. What kept you going and staying with it?

A: Finding your way along the journey you’re very much exposed so you fail and it’s awkward. There are awkward nights. But coming up with a joke or creating a different kind of joke is so rewarding. It’s still my favorite thing in the world, coming up with a new joke. So that’s the underlying drive of all of it.

Q: It seems like you’re doing less of the “inner thoughts” voice in your stand-up. Have you decided to do less of it and if so, why?

A: Stand-up is an ever evolving thing. I’ve got this new hour and I’m excited to perform it in Rockford and Northerly Island, but it’s whatever the hour necessitates. It’s weird because I use it less in some hours and more in others. Sometimes I feel like the times that I used it more, it was almost too much. It’s interesting. I’m always figuring it out.

Q: What was the most recent thing you observed that will make it into your material?

A: I’m working on this thing on hiking. I just think it’s a weird concept that hiking is essentially walking that’s been rebranded. Some of the topics sound rather mundane when I discuss them, but I love the idea of making the mundane funny.

Q: What is your impression of the Chicago comedy scene?

A: Chicago historically was a sketch and improv town and I think it really changed. The Chicago stand-up scene has had a huge boost. Stand-up in Chicago used to be much more to a boozy audience and now they are much more sophisticated. So it’s changed pretty dramatically. It’s a great comedy market.

Q: In 2006, how did you decide to film your first comedy special, Beyond the Pale, at the Vic?

A:  I picked Chicago because it’s my hometown. I’m from northwest Indiana, but anyone from northwest Indiana is really from Chicagoland. I’d spent a bunch of weeks at Zanies and there was something very familiar about the audience. They got me. So I wanted to do the show in Chicago and someone recommended the Vic. It was one of the first theaters I ever performed in and I think I just got really lucky.

Q: What is your favorite place to eat in Chicago?

A: That’s a tough one. Obviously there are amazing restaurants in Chicago. I will definitely go for the classics. I’ll have deep dish. Sausage. I’ll have hot dogs. I’ll have an Italian beef. The real question is what won’t I eat when I go to Chicago?


Rockford: Tuesday, August 4 at 7:00 p.m. at the B.M.O. Harris Bank Center, 300 Elm Street.

Chicago: Thursday, August 6 at 8:00 p.m. at FirstMerit Bank Pavilion on Northerly Island, 1300 S. Linn White Dr.


The Jim Gaffigan Show airs Wednesdays on TV Land at 9:30 p.m. CST. You can also watch the show on VOD. For more information:

This interview is also published in The Chicago Tribune RedEye.

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