Jim Gaffigan has conjured laughter from audiences in myriad ways — through movies, TV shows and even a book (“Dad is Fat”) — but the 47-year-old Indiana native is best known for his stand-up comedy, which he brings to a Duluth stage Friday night.
Gaffigan spoke with the News Tribune via telephone on the eve of his White Bread Tour show at the DECC Symphony Hall, covering topics that included the Midwest, acting auditions — he has a CBS pilot, “Gaffigan,” that mirrors his real life as a husband and father of five living in a two-bedroom apartment in Manhattan, N.Y. — Netflix, family and his trademark paleness.
News Tribune: You’re going coast to coast with these shows. Is this the depression leg of the tour (Bismarck, N.D.; Duluth and Green Bay)?
Jim Gaffigan: No, not at all. My wife is from Wisconsin, so I had an elaborate plan. I’d been planning to do Green Bay for a while; I’d never done it. I’ve done Duluth once before, and I had a great time. So I was like, “We’ll do Duluth and Green Bay. We’ll visit her family and my family.” Next week I’m in western Indiana, which is pretty much where I’m from.
DNT: With stand-up, movies, TV and writing a book, does doing all of them keep you from getting sick of any one thing?
JG: Most definitely; it’s interesting because I’ve been dealing with some kind of iteration of this question for a while. I love acting, but I hate the process of trying to get acting jobs. It’s like stripping, but you don’t get the dollars. But stand-up is something where you have to peak at 10 o’clock at night, which is not conducive to a healthy lifestyle. And when you have kids, there’s something about stand-up where you peak so late at night it’s not conducive to a productive day. And I’m more of an afternoon person, anyway.
DNT: As an outsider, my perception has been that once you become known and established as an actor, you’re approached for roles. Is that the case?
JG: First of all, I’m grateful to get auditions. I mostly turn down auditions at this point. It’s kind of a complex answer. There’s this perception that actors, once you get a certain job, the offers just come in. That happens for someone like Tom Cruise. Otherwise, you pretty much have to audition; it’s such a perception game. Once you do one role, even if you’re successful in acting, then you have to prove you can do some other role.
DNT: Has the Netflix influence (of streaming content) had an impact on your comedy reach?
JG: I was just wasting time on Twitter before I called you, and there’s something about “Mr. Universe” (Gaffigan’s latest comedy special) being available on Netflix that I think makes a difference. It isn’t in every household, obviously, but I think it has had a big impact. The interesting thing is that hour specials of stand-up — I’m doing for creative reasons. It’s fun to create a new hour of stand-up. But when it’s on Netflix, Comedy Central or HBO, it’s like a mini-infomercial for your comic sensibility. I’m watching “Mad Men” on Netflix now. People might see something they otherwise had not seen. I wouldn’t have made the commitment to “Mad Men” if I had to buy it on iTunes. So people might say: “Let’s watch this Jim Gaffigan special.” But we kind of forget not everyone has Netflix. You can get my special on my website for $5. It’s on Netflix, and a monthly subscription to that is $7.99. It’s nice to have multiple places where people can get your stuff.
DNT: Do you still have time to do open mics?
JG: Yes. I’m always working on new material. I did two shows last night. But the shows where I live in New York, I don’t think of them as open mics. There are shows that might have newer comics, but I’m not caught up in the status of the show. I perform about six nights a week. I usually take Sunday off. As a parent, I try to do stuff where I’m there for the whole bedtime thing. I’ll put the younger ones to bed, go do a show and sometimes come back for the others’ bedtimes. There’s a club about five blocks from where I live.
DNT: Where did your “audience-member voice” originate? Was that something you created onstage?
JG: That’s something that has been part of my personality for a long time. Like as a teenager I would talk for someone else I was in the presence of as a way of disarming them. I had done it with some success pretty early in my stand-up. Some of it was an effective way to keep talking. I’m a slow-talking Midwesterner living in New York. Comedy clubs have changed; it used to be much more combative, and thank God it’s not — it was stupid. If I stopped talking, some knucklehead would say something. If I talk in place of the knucklehead, they don’t get a chance to say anything.
DNT: Is anything in the family life not fair game?
JG: I’m not someone who says “everything’s fair game.” I think there’s something dishonest about that. There’s plenty of things that aren’t, but I can’t think of one right now. This is like a whole other conversation, but censorship is a real interesting thing. Because I know stand-up has a rich tradition in it.
DNT: Sometimes it sounds like a backhanded compliment when people say you’re funny even though you don’t swear onstage.
JG: Someone will say that to me while I’m in the grocery store. “What do you want me to say? Get me some (emphasis on the expletive) lettuce!” It’s just a perception business. There’s nothing malicious about it. They have to formulate something. I’m so busy, I really don’t care. Because I don’t swear isn’t the reason people are coming to see me. They could go to a church service and no one’s gonna curse there. Some of it is just that we have to manufacture story lines. … Bill Cosby is a clean comedian. Jerry Seinfeld is a clean comedian. Insults and flattery are things you shouldn’t give too much weight to.
DNT: Who would win in a pale-off between you and Conan O’Brien?
JG: I think I would. He’s pretty pale. When I think of Conan, I just think of a surprisingly pale guy. He’s a surprisingly pale guy, but he’s got a layer of makeup. I think he’s more-well-adjusted with his paleness. People will come up to me and want to take pictures and compare arms. I’m pretty pale, but he’s pretty pale, too.
Go see it
- What: Jim Gaffigan’s White Bread Tour
- When: 7 p.m. Friday (doors open at 6 p.m.)
- Where: DECC Symphony Hall, 350 Harbor Drive, Duluth
- Tickets: Starting at $39.75; DECC ticket office, ticketmaster.com
- Tip: Plan to arrive early as traffic will be heavy with the Tall Ships Duluth festival nearby