Jim Gaffigan, you’ve come a long way, dude! From his Indiana roots, this New York Times bestselling author—must read: Dad is Fat—and smart “schlub” with a Georgetown University education now has a television series. TV Land’s The Jim Gaffigan Show, co-produced and co-written by Gaffigan’s wife, Jeannie, will premiere at 10 pm on July 15th.
The show is essentially a humorously fictionalized autobiographical series, following Gaffigan’s life as a stand-up comedian and father of five, co-starring Ashley Williams, Adam Goldberg and Michael Ian Black, among a slew of celebrity guests.
We caught up with Gaffigan while he was doing promotion for his new series— including a spot on Discovery’s Shark Week—to talk family, comedy and chain saws.
“You could say it’s difficult to work with kids but it’s a difficult task, generally, to ask a two-year-old or four-year-old to sit anywhere—whether you’re asking them to sit for a scene or to sit on a plane to fly back to visit Grandma.”
How did The Jim Gaffigan Show come about, especially on TV Land, a network known for airing classic TV comedies?
My wife, Jeannie, and I have been working together for a dozen years, and we’ve been writing stand-up…We had this TV series idea and it went through three years with network television NBC and two years at CBS. We believed in the show and knew it was good, but it didn’t fit the kind of network framework of what a half-hour comedy should be like. So we were approached by TV Land…[and] the agreement of having it re-air on Comedy Central the next night came up.
It’s obviously an adult-themed show but how would you describe it?
Jeannie and I set out to do a TV show that we would watch…But describing it as a half-hour comedy about a father of five doesn’t really explain the show. For me, it’s about keeping it grounded in reality, so the humor comes out of real situations that people can relate to, hopefully.
As you are a real father of five living in New York with your family, how much does the show take from your real life?
All these stories are inspired by real things or situations that happened to Jeannie and me. They’re definitely kind of adjusted for humor, but I would say, we made a point of having all these stories be kind of relevant and important to us, so that we could feel passionate about the topics.
The exteriors look like real scenes on New York’s streets, how key was it to have scenes we recognize from the lower east side and more?
The locations are really important for telling the story. Living in New York, and then watching shows that are set in New York, it’s really important that the locations be authentic.
Your apartment in the show looks like an actual New York apartment, were you also going for that reality?
That’s an apartment that’s built in a production studio and it mirrors an exact replica of our apartment that we had when we wrote our book, Dad is Fat. So they came and measured that apartment and replicated it for the series, which is pretty amazing, very authentic—so much so, my mother-in-law was like, “How did they get those cameras up those five flights of stairs?”
Tell us about Adam Goldberg who plays Jim’s sort of cynical comic pal, Dave.
He is like my opposite, but I love him. Jeannie and I wanted the character that Adam plays to represent a different viewpoint. There are people who are married, others are single, there are a lot of different viewpoints, and some guys are not into having children. Writing for Adam/Dave, I understand that viewpoint and think it’s important for this series to appeal to different people.
According to Jim: Gaffigan on set with his real-life wife, Jeannie.
And how about Michael Ian Black playing Jeannie’s gay best friend, Daniel?
We knew that we wanted the character of Daniel to serve a couple of different purposes: as a kind of mother-in-law character that feels nobody is good enough for Jeannie, and we also wanted him to exemplify all these amazing gay men that Jeannie seems like a magnet to…Plus, Michael Ian Black is just so funny and sharp…You put him in a scene and he’s going to make it uniquely his.
How challenging was it to find an actress (Ashley Williams) to play fictional Jeannie?
We were looking for someone who could balance out the fact that Jim is this kind of sluggish guy who has five kids. So we wanted people to not feel sorry for the Jeannie character, thinking, Oh, my gosh, this guy’s not doing anything. So the thing about Ashley Williams when auditioning her, I would describe it how I initially pitched it to the networks: “Ashley Williams could come at my character Jim with a chainsaw and people would still say, ‘She’s adorable.’ ”
How challenging is it to work with young kids or child actors?
Look, I have kids, but acting is often a rather long, boring challenge anyway! You could say it’s difficult to work with kids but it’s a difficult task, generally, to ask a two-year-old or four-year-old to sit anywhere—whether you’re asking them to sit for a scene or to sit on a plane to fly back to visit Grandma. It’s a strange task to ask them.
In one episode, the character Jeannie says, “Get up, you’re being ridiculous! Go to the club, do a set, you’ll feel much better.” What does that real comedy platform offer you?
There’s something very immediate about stand up unlike other creative outlets. There’s nothing better than coming up with a joke and getting a response, it’s very empowering. And, sometimes when you’re on stage doing stand up, it can just kind of come to you, and it’s amazing.
How do you compare Real-Life Jim to Standup Jim to TV show Jim?
I would say that “real-life” Jim is hopefully smarter than “standup” Jim, and “standup” Jim is smarter than The Jim Gaffigan Show Jim…so it’s probably a difference of a few IQ points.