Q&A: Jim Gaffigan
Jim Gaffigan is well-known for being a “clean” comedian, but the father of five has no shortage of high-grade material that’s yielded 10 comedy albums and his latest Netflix special Cinco. Gaffigan spoke with Las Vegas Magazine’s Matt Kelemen by phone about laughs, life and playing the biggest comedy room on the Strip for the first time when he takes the stage for two nights at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace.
Your earliest special on Netflix is from 2005 and now here we are 12 years later but you’ve kept your focus on your material and managed to make it sound fresh. Is this something you’re cognizant of?
Oh yes. That’s great to hear because I think that it’s not just about churning out material. It’s about making sure that it’s of a certain quality. I mean there’s nothing special if it’s … I like to think that I’m getting better at stand-up. I mean, I love doing it. There’s nothing funner than coming up with a new joke, so I think there’s a relationship that a comedian has with the audience that really kind of goes beyond the conversation that exists. Either people understand and appreciate your point of view or they don’t but I think there’s also an agreement that you’re going to show up with new material. I think comedians and the people that come to the shows, there’s this unwritten agreement like, “You’re going to show up with new stuff, you’re going to deliver the goods, right?”
People’s time is precious.
Since that first Netflix special you’ve had five kids and you don’t seem to be missing any steps. You’re approaching the same topical areas. You’re making them fresh, but you’ve got five kids taking your energy now. Have you just adapted along the way in order to maintain this level?
I tell you I really appreciate you understanding because … there are a couple of things. One is getting better at creating the material and being more efficient. And you know but I can’t underestimate the advantage of having my wife (Jeannie Gaffigan) be my writing partner. I mean now that we have five kids we don’t write together like we used to, but she’s definitely there editing and coming up with tons of ideas. But some of it is just, I think, managing time. You know I made a point of when … I don’t want to suck at parenting but I also love doing stand-up, so a lot of times we’ve been on tour and we bring our kids, so I’m not absent but I also get to do stand-up. And also it’s not just this sprint to release material. It’s wanting it to be of a certain quality.?
You seem to be like really aware of keeping the creative conduit clear, which I think is probably important and I think that’s what could have suffered just from having another additional person coming along every year or two because that’s just that’s a focus and energy, and they need your focus to some degree.
And obviously you found a very compatible partnership. You know, you talk with Jerry Seinfeld on Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee about luck, and I think part of luck is being prepared for opportunity, but you did meet Jeannie. That was fate to bring you there and be able to allow you to have a successful career—and five kids. I think you called it a codependence, but it’s a partnership that I don’t think you could have … I can’t imagine how you’d be right now without being married and having kids.
Yeah, yeah. I really do enjoy it, and there’s an element of just coming up with a joke. It is really fun. And I would say, unlike other creative outlets, if you live in, like, a metropolitan area, you can get out and do stand-up. I mean, I can put my kids to sleep, go out and do a show in my neighborhood in New York City and be back in my house in an hour. You can do it also in L.A. and you can do it in Minneapolis or Vegas, but I literally walk a couple blocks to get on stage.
Is that why you haven’t moved to the suburbs yet?
Well, I like the energy. I like the city environment. I was raised in the suburbs, so I kind of like the city vibe.
How is Cinco doing? What were the metrics and viewer response? What does Netflix tell you?
Netflix doesn’t really reveal how it’s doing, but the feedback from my manager is it’s doing amazing. And then I have the album version coming out. I think it’s doing well. It’s not changing my life like Beyond the Pale did, but I think now there that there are five specials on Netflix I think there are five other things that can lead to it. I don’t know. You know, it’s … I’m certainly not complaining. It’s different having an expectation because you don’t necessarily live in the DVD sales situation that we did a couple of years ago. Right now it’s kind of on Netflix and maybe it’s being watched in England and maybe it’s being watched in Sweden, but I don’t know because Netflix really doesn’t reveal that information.
You have to depend on those specials to promote you, but then you have to get out and you have to have different material like other than what they just heard, but Cinco, it looks like on iTunes today it might have given a bump to some of your older material, because Mr. Universe is No. 4 and Obsessed is No. 5. I don’t know if that was the way it was before.
I feel like my material, it seems like there’s always … the album versions are always kind of on that iTunes list, but I think it’s also the type of comedy that people can listen to in the car with their kids. I think that helps too. Everyone loves Bill Burr, but some of his stuff I don’t know if you want to listen to with a 10-year-old. I mean, I would, because I think he’s brilliant.
I wouldn’t want my 10-year-old to start acting like Bill Burr, which is probably what would happen. I mean, I love Bill Burr, but I wouldn’t want a little Bill Burr with me. Not yet. I’m looking at some of the upcoming things going here like the tour and it looks like you’re kind of hitting some kind of a new high point with your career. Is this the first time you played the Colosseum in Vegas?
So you’re doing two nights, so they were pretty sure that you would sell out the first night. That’s landmark for a comedian, right? I mean, I think Jerry Seinfeld is one of the only comedians who can pull that off.
You know, I feel like performing there is … I mean, that is where Mariah Carey performs, too. It’s one of those things where it’s all kind of a blur. It’s weird. It’s weird doing these larger rooms, not in that is a weird experience. It’s just, you know, it’s not what I expected I’d be doing, but what’s so amazing is I feel like the technology has taken such a leap with, like, screens and stuff like that, where even when I do arenas in other markets, it doesn’t feel like the audience is getting a gypped on the experience. I’m very excited to do that show.
There’s about a half-dozen footprints that go on that stage, and it’s you and Seinfeld and Rod Stewart and Celine Dion and Mariah Carey. There’s nowhere bigger to go from here.
That’s so cool.
“The Noble Ape Tour” goes to Beijing and Tokyo before you come to the Colosseum. What is that like? Do you know the words for “Hot Pocket” in Chinese?
I’m going to China and then Tokyo, but it’s going to be mostly ex-pats. It’s not like The Rolling Stones doing Tokyo or Lady Gaga doing China. It’s me just doing a show because I wanted … you know, three of my kids are studying Mandarin, so I want to go to China, and I have a 12-year-old who loves anime, so we wanted to go to Tokyo. And then I wanted to do a show on top of those, so it’s not like people in Japan were like, “When’s Jim Gaffigan coming here?”
Yeah, it’s like the Brady Bunch, and you got to work on your architecture project in Hawaii, so you bring in the family. You really have a family affair there and being able to kind of adapt your career to your kids’ interests must be like just the ultimate for a comedian.
Yeah, it’s great.
I saw you in The Experimenter, and while I was watching it I thought, “This must be one of his favorite movies that he’s been in so far.” Is that is kind of a fair statement or do you just like working so much that it’s hard to say?
The acting thing is so … you know, I really enjoy it. It’s fun. It’s just so … the process of getting acting roles are just so strange, you know, and I would love to do tons of acting. I wouldn’t stop doing stand-up, but the process of getting an acting job is very weird, and then when you do it the movies come out like a year later. It reminds me of like when people will say, “Hey, will you do that joke you did a couple of years ago?” And I’m like, “I don’t do that anymore.” So is it a strange kind of … I mean it’s not super weird, but it’s like, yeah, you know, like I’ve had different acting roles and I loved all of them but it’s, you know, you’re playing this character and then you do it for some time or a different length of time and then you kind of lose an attachment to it. I had fun doing Chappaquiddick and fun doing this movie Drunk Parent and these animated movies were a blast to do, but even if they were like three months ago it feels like a lifetime.
How long has it been since you have production on the movie about (Muhammad Ali opponent and inspiration for Rocky) Chuck Wepner?
Gosh, I guess we finished, like, I think it was in September. I mean, that was really funny because I was playing, like, a Jersey guy from the ’70s. And so it was it was a real cool experience, and Liev (Schreiber)’s such an amazing actor. It’s just one of those moments where you’re like you feel like a kid. You’re like, “I’m literally playing dress-up. They dyed my hair, and it was just … (away from phone) was it two years ago maybe? It was this year? (laughs) Yeah, I don’t know. It’s all a blur.”
I figured it must been amazing to work with Liev Schreiber. He’s been doing some great work lately. I just watched Spotlight not too long ago and I just can’t imagine the gravitas that goes along with working alongside of an actor like him. I mean, even though it’s kind of all a blur I still imagine it must have been a one of your highlights of your acting experiences.
Yeah, yeah. And he’s an intense guy and so is it’s fun to kind of get to see a pro at level, you know I mean?
How did you get involved with CBS This Morning? I really like your segments on there.
You know that … I don’t know how that started. I mean, I think it came out of … I did a segment on there where they interviewed me. And then they just brought up like, “Hey, do you have any ideas?” Oh, no … I think I was asked, you know, this was about four years ago, I was asked to do one for Father’s Day and actually right now am back from having just recorded one. That’s one of those things where CBS Sunday Morning is … you know, it’s fun to just do anything where it’s just a quality experience. And so that’s what I feel, CBS Sunday Morning just has this level of quality, and it’s fun to have these self-appointed writing assignments.
Well, you know, I think something that’s interesting is when I first heard you do “The Voice.” (Gaffigan often reacts to his own jokes onstage in a semi-whispered voice as if he were in the audience.) I felt there was a hint of Andy Rooney to it.
I feel like when I do it I sound like him. Andy Rooney was very much an observational comedian. He was very much kind of like, “I don’t understand paperclips.” And then he has a point of view about it, and it’s pretty interesting because I feel that way too. It’s the complaint, right?
Yeah, he was an observational comedian and I used to love watching him. I didn’t think that he was an influence on The Voice. I feel like watching Bill Murray in Caddyshack somehow influenced The Voice on some kind of level. But I love that you like the comparison because when I saw CBS This Morning I was like, “This is the new Andy Rooney.” So where do you see the overall arc of your career? Where do you see it going next?
I think that my overall thing is to keep an open mind and also just do the work, whether it be writing stand-up or, you know, doing movies. I understand that I don’t have a lot of control over the outcome, but just kind of keeping my house in order and … I don’t know, I’m pretty happy. I would love to do different things but I do love stand-up. I’d love to do bigger and bolder things, but I also don’t want to you know jinx it by saying, “This is what I want to do.” Maybe it’s because I’m so superstitious.
You don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket and sign on to make a $100 million movie and put the stand-up on hold for two years.
I mean, I’m also definitely not dying to gain more fame. That doesn’t really hold an appeal. I definitely want to continue doing quality and creatively fulfilling stuff. I know that sounds like b.s., but enjoying it is really half the task.
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