Maybe you know him as the Hot Pocket comedian. Or as the guy who has popped up in everything from Going the Distance to Portlandia to Law & Order. But now, with last year’s release of his first book, Dad Is Fat (a perfect last-minute Father’s Day gift, by the way), you can know Jim Gaffigan as a New York Times best-selling author. We sat down with the pale comic for a quick discussion on parenthood, standup and… condiments.
“Standup is very rewarding. I don’t think anyone who makes a living doing standup is really allowed to complain about anything.”
Congrats on the book! What’s the best reason for guys to pick it up?
Well, hopefully it’s funny. I definitely wanted it to be a book that I would want to read. And I’m an observational comedian, so it’s something that, whether you have kids or not, it should be funny, you know? It’s a book about how being a father is really still a mystery to me. I mean, I love it, but I have no idea what I’m doing.
What’s harder, writing a book or your first two years of standup?
I would say the first two years of standup. You know, standup is all about getting an idea across in the shortest possible phraseology, and writing an essay is all about clarity and setting a scene and finishing it off, so writing an essay and a book of essays is difficult. But those first two years of standup, you’re just kind of shooting in the dark, really.
In the book, you write about living with your wife and five kids in a two-bedroom apartment. Is it at least a large two-bedroom apartment?
It’s not, really. It’s probably 1,100 square feet. But it’s very much a temporary thing. It’s not like I want to raise my kids their entire lives in that apartment. But when your wife’s pregnant, the last thing she wants to do is pack up and move. But I think we definitely have to move. My kids are getting big. I mean, you can barely walk three steps without walking into someone at this point.
Jim’s book is so funny, people crack up just watching him hold it.
Speaking of your wife, she’s a babe. With all due respect, what’s the secret to scoring a woman who’s out of your league?
I wish I understood. You know, I’m married to a woman that, when I’m with her and people find out that she’s my wife, there’s usually an audible “Wow.” Which is flattering but it’s also kind of insulting. It’s not like I am the hunchback of Notre Dame. I also got married before the Hot Pocket thing even took off. I mean, I was a working comedian, but I don’t think it was success that attracted her. I think I had some confidence. But I don’t know. Maybe we’ll find out she’s blind or something.
For someone thinking about doing standup, what’s your advice?
Well, write as much as you can. But also: perform in front of like-minded people. There’s this mythology that you’re supposed to deal with the hardest rooms you can face. But finding people with a similar sensibility makes a lot of sense. So, if you’re in college, do a show in front of other college students initially. And if you’re in your 20s and you live in a bohemian part of the city, find a coffee shop there. You know? There’s no sense in immediately trying to make people you have nothing in common with laugh.
Just to make ourselves feel better: have you ever bombed onstage? If so, how did you handle it?
Oh, I’ve bombed many times. I mean, it’s definitely been a while. But now, even when there’s disappointing shows, I have developed a detached reaction to it, where I can kind of move on. But yeah, there were plenty of bombings that occurred. And believe me, they were very instructive and good motivators.
Little-known fact: Jim provided his own wardrobe for his Portlandia appearance.
You’ve also appeared in a lot of TV shows and films. Got a favorite?
They’re all kind of fun. Flight of the Conchords and Portlandia were exceptionally fun because they were very improv-based. And so as a comedian, that’s really fun. I mean, I love doing dramas and stuff like that. I did a play on Broadway and that was amazing. But that’s some heavy lifting. That’s like running a marathon. As opposed to doing Flight of the Conchords or Portlandia. That’s like taking a swim with some friends.
Is there one role that you didn’t get that you really wished you would have?
Well, I’m pretty happy with my life. But I tested for the lead of The Office. And I tested for Will Arnett’s role on Arrested Development. But I don’t know, it’s weird. Standup is very rewarding. I don’t think anyone who makes a living doing standup is really allowed to complain about anything. Because not only are we doing what we love, but we get creative fulfillment pretty much on a nightly basis. And you can control how productive or unproductive you are. Whereas with acting, you know, acting is like stripping but you don’t get any of the dollar bills. I have a lot of respect for actors because it’s a pretty humiliating process.
Any parting words of wisdom?
Mustard’s pretty good on a hamburger. I think that people forget that.