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The Catalyst interview: Jim Gaffigan

Bill DeYoung



Jim Gaffigan will tape his 10th Netflix special next week in Tampa. Photo: Alan Gastelum/Wiki Commons.

Comedian Jim Gaffigan, one of the most popular standups in America, will be in Tampa Feb. 9, 10 and 11, performing at Morsani Hall in the David A. Straz Center. Four shows total, including two back-to-back on Saturday the 11th.

This in itself is not so unusual; Gaffigan is on tour pretty much year-round, and comes to the bay area with some regularity. His shows nearly always sell out.

What’s extraordinary about this time, and the reason there are multiple performances, is that the concerts are being filmed for Gaffigan’s 10th Netflix special.

We spoke with the father of five about his reasons for shooting the show here, his thoughts on comedy, success and failure, and about his film acting career – interestingly Gaffigan tends to choose dramatic roles, like Chappaquiddick, Tesla and Collide.

Come Feb. 24, he’ll be onscreen and on-demand in the sci-fi comedy/drama Linoleum, as the host of a failing children’s science show who builds a rocket ship in his garage.

Said the Hollywood Reporter: “Linoleum is in many ways a small movie, concerned with not much more than this limited circle of people trying to figure out how to understand their own lives  … but the emotional punch it packs has the weight of entire lifetimes behind it.”


St. Pete Catalyst: Why do you like to make movies?

Jim Gaffigan: It’s similar to standup. There’s a certain endorphin rush or creative fulfillment you get from coming up with a new joke. Which is my favorite thing on earth, right? Coming up with a new joke and it working onstage. Sometimes it might just be one line.

But I really also enjoy acting. And acting in comedies is fun, but it’s not as rewarding as playing someone different, or finding that version of that person in myself.

It’s a different thing. It’s kind of like “How can you love the NFL, and also enjoy Formula One?” They’re completely different, but they provide that same kind of excitement.

Are you bringing the kids for this Florida trip?

Honestly, since I’m taping the special, I hope I’m not bringing them. That’s not to say that there isn’t, you know, affection for my children. But when you’re taping a special you want to hit on all cylinders and stuff like that.

Your tour started in early January –  is that how you get a running start, so that when you get to the Tampa dates, you’ll be ready to go?

Well, Chapelle could announce he’s shooting tomorrow, and it would be fine. You want the show to be all “A” material; you also want it fresh. It’s weird, because you want it to be special, you want it to be undeniable, and in a way you also want to pick the right place to shoot the special.

Some of why I wanted to do Tampa is because there’s something about western Florida that’s kind of almost midwestern. I think there’s a lot of midwestern transplants. And it has that city element, but also it wouldn’t be weird if you ran into somebody that lived deep in the suburbs or on a farm.

How can famous, and presumably wealthy, comedians continue to find new moments of humor in the everyday lives of the rest of us? You’re not just one of us schmoes any more – why do you still make me laugh?

Comedians get a lot out of developing this material, and the interaction. People will say “You make me so happy,” but us hearing the laughter is really exciting. No one goes into comedy for the money. Particularly when I started, there was no expectation that you were going to do theaters. Essentially, [George] Carlin was doing that, and there was no expectation that you would even do a special. Things have changed so dramatically.

I think the thing with comedians is: They kind of have to do it. A real comedian has no alternative motive, except for getting the endorphin rush of laughs.

But how do you keep in touch with the everyman?

There are certain parts of life and you’re not escaping any of it. If you’ve got kids, if you’re present in their lives, you’re not escaping anything! There’s no kind of situation or environment that you can put yourself in where your kids are not on screens too much.

I think some of it is kind of the culture of where you’re from. I grew up in a small town in Indiana, whereas my kids have grown up in New York City. So it might be different for them. Does that make sense?

You’re still the same guy, I think you’re saying?

Believe me, I’ve thought about this. There are people from the Midwest that … it seems like it doesn’t matter where they’re from. Like, Johnny Depp is from Kentucky, but you wouldn’t know that. I’m not trying to say that as a criticism to him, he’s Hollywood royalty.

Whereas … even when I’m at some fancy event, I’m still kind of the guy that doesn’t belong. No one’s ever come to my shows to see what kind of clothes I’m wearing, or for me to name-drop people I’m hanging out with

There’s a certain authenticity, I think, that’s pretty important. I think it’s the disaster of having five kids that keeps me very grounded.

I wondered what a comic’s deep-seated disaster scenario is? You’ve got all this new material, you’re revving up, going on the road, taping a special … what if it’s not funny? You get out there and all they want is “Hot Pockets” jokes?

I don’t write a whole new hour and go out with it. When I record in Tampa, I have shows the next week. From the get-go, on the shows that next week, I will be trying newer stuff. Whereas I’m in complete polish mode through all of January. Tweaking jokes here and there.

But when I get to the weekend after Tampa, that’s when, for five minutes in the set, I’m trying something new. It’s one of those things where it’s never brand new. It’s never a whole brand new thing.

It evolves, is what you’re saying. But do things still flop?

Yes. Well, everybody has a bag of tricks to kind of survive. But no risk, no reward, right? So do jokes not work? Is my performance off on jokes? Yes – but a complete, utter disaster? No. That doesn’t happen.

It’s kind of stacked for me, right? It’s a theater setting, it’s a beautiful theater, people are paying to see me. It’s not “Let’s just go to the Improv and see what show’s going on.” They know who they’re seeing.

The fact that they know my point of view, my sensibility, is a big advantage. And it’s kind of like talking to a friend. Now, there’s no guarantees – but you can’t have the exact same conversation with a good friend, you have to challenge that friend, and the conversation has to evolve.

Straz Center tickets are here.

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