When Jim Gaffigan plays the Chicago Theatre this weekend, it will be a homecoming of sorts for the Northwest Indiana native.
His comedy makes no effort to hide his love for the simple things of Midwestern life. He talks openly about his love of food and laziness, which has tuned him into one of the most successful comedians in the business. And then there's the Gaffigan who has lived in New York City since he was 19, been on numerous sitcoms, appeared in a Broadway play and just wrote his first book, "My Dad is Fat," which hits shelves May 7--all while raising five kids.
We talked to him about his Chicago experiences, pizza, and how authors would do as comedians.
(Jim Gaffigan, 7:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Chicago Theatre, $54-$64)
It always surprises me you've never lived in Chicago, since it seems like the most Jim Gaffigan-y city in America.
Right. I was born in Barrington and moved to Northwest Indiana. I would say that I've been floating around Chicago. I mean, Northwest Indiana identifies itself as Chicago. I grew up in Chesterton and Munster. There are jokes that I have that I can only really do in Chicago because of the fact I'm from Indiana. I love telling people in Chicago I'm from Northwest Indiana and they say "Where is that?" and I say "It's 10 minutes away." Northwest Indiana is kind of the stepbrother to Chicago.
You did get to live in fake Chicago on "My Boys." What was that like?
Filming in fake Chicago is like filming in fake wherever. It's very odd. The thing that is interesting about "My Boys" is how many Chicago people worked on the show. There's such a rich comedy produced from Second City that when they do Second City they're in their early 20s, and they identify Chicago as almost a college campus. It is this romantic college experience for them. So a lot of the writers went to Northwestern or Second City.
What was growing up around the city like?
I grew up going into Chicago and trying to convince my friends to go into Chicago. Then I went to school on the East Coast and moved to New York City. So I'm relatively ignorant about Chicago. I still have the 16-year-old suburbanite perspective on Chicago. My brothers and sisters live or have lived in Chicago. I'm the guy who goes back to Chicago and gets the deep dish pizza and the people who live in Chicago look at me like I'm wearing a Statue of Liberty hat. But I don't care, I love the deep dish pizza.
Do you have a favorite Chicago pizza place?
Lately I've been going to Lou Malnati's, but usually it's whatever is closest to my hotel because I'm exhausted. It depends. But they're everywhere. I'm doing this book tour in May and I think there's going to be one in Naperville and Winnetka and the first thought that came to my mind was there is probably a Giordano's there.
Last slice of pizza of your life: New York pizza or Chicago pizza?
Oh, I would say beyond a doubt Chicago pizza. I say that on stage in New York. There is no comparison. I just love the idea of sausage pizza where there is just a whole layer of sausage, a significant layer. I don't stop eating it, either. You eat it until you feel physically uncomfortable. That's how I eat Chicago pizza.
There's also something about the wait involved. It almost feels excruciatingly long. I virtually tackle a waiter. I'm like, "Get me a sausage pizza," and they're like, "OK," and I'm pushing them into the kitchen because I don't want to wait. It takes 45 minutes. I always destroy my mouth on the first bite, burning it. But it is one of those things where I would never eat it during the day and then try to do two shows. I do it late at night when I'm watching Lifetime.
It seems like you've embraced "fat," like you are totally cool with it now.
Being a guy who talks about things where we just want to eat and sleep and things like that, some of that is probably a function of having five kids. I used to eat a lot and work out a lot. But now I don't have time to work out. It's not as if I'm super thin. It's not like I feel comfortable taking my shirt off at the pool anyways. I've got a hot wife, who am I doing it for? It's just a simple pleasure.
I've got to ask you, what were you thinking having five kids? It blows my mind you are still out there performing with five kids.
I'm a very low energy guy. It's really a compliment to my wife, who is an energetic force. I love being a father and having so many kids is great. It's one of those situations where you put the frog in the boiling water and slowing turn up the heat. I didn't have five kids at once. You are so tired it doesn't really matter. Two kids is really hard. After that you are struggling to have time to take a shower. But I wouldn't have it any other way.
Do they have a concept of what you do for a living yet?
Yes. My eight- and seven-year-olds do and my three-year-old are starting to understand. There's an evolution to how they understand. My three-year-old thinks I go on stage and just talk. Around six they think it's just sarcasm, that I go on stage and say dirty words. My eight-year-old kind of gets it. There's still a level of sarcasm in my act she doesn't quite get. There are some jokes she really likes. When I talk about the family, she doesn't understand I'm joking. I don't know if it's an insult to my act, but it's very easy to understand. It's not that hard to grasp.
Your stuff still plays with younger crowds.
I'm grateful for it. I'm an observational guy at heart. My point of view is very clear. That fits into any age group, whether I'm talking about Victoria's Secret or ice cream, you can understand where I'm coming from. You aren't going to make everyone laugh. There was this thing on Reddit where everyone was mad at my camping jokes, which is ridiculous. As clean as I am, there are going to be people who have a problem.
Did you find writing the book enjoyable in the same way you find stand-up?
I wanted it to be a good book. I did a lot of research on the topic of parenting books. I wanted to make it something that I would enjoy, even the single me when I was 16...
Stand-up is all about word economy, but with essays you can't rely on vocal intonation or cadence or facial expression. You have to really paint the picture. My wife and I wrote everything together. And also, I'm an idiot. I didn't want to do the ghostwriter where you sit down and talk to somebody for six hours and then there are books. But I really wanted it to be funny. It very well might be the only book I write, so I want people to look at it and say, "Well, at least his book is funny."
You've done stand-up, TV, movies, Broadway, now a book. Is there anything else you want to tackle?
I'm very lucky to have done the things I have. I never thought I'd do a Broadway play or write a book. But I would love to just keep getting better at stand-up. And not to sound too corny, I just want to be a good father. That's just not something you can suck at and get away with. It's a creative fulfillment thing. It's really fun, it's like heroin, where you are like, "I want to do that again."
Many comedians have written books, but few authors attempt stand-up. We asked Jim Gaffigan how he thought some authors would fare as stand-ups.
Mark Twain: "He would be great. He ended up basically doing stand-up."
Ernest Hemingway: "He seems like a pretty confident guy. I would imagine he would do all right. He was of an era where he was very much a part of the peer group around him. Confidence would carry him."
Stephen King: "He would be an interesting comedian. A very dark, low energy comedian. He would probably be really big in the nerd scene, like a Stephen Wright. Stephen King would obviously be a storyteller and there is humor in there. I met him once. He's very much a function of his lifestyle. When you sit in a room and write for four or five hours a day, it effects who you are. I feel he's a little bit of a loner, which is what comedians are, except we are sitting in a room alone playing video games."
Charles Dickens: "That guy, I bet he would be an amazing stand-up comic. Again, storytelling. I haven't read a Charles Dickens book in 15 years. But he was pretty amazing. I remember reading 'David Copperfield' and thinking, 'That was me.'"
Malcolm Gladwell: "I really like Malcolm Gladwell. I met him at a Halloween party and I was nervous around him," Gaffigan said, adding after RedEye suggests Gladwell was a ladies man: "If you've ever seen a photo of him, he doesn't look like a ladies man. His books have the amount of respect that would have the ladies swooning over him."
Scott Bolohan is a RedEye special contributor.
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