The Jim Gaffigan Show feels like a family business. It stars comedian Jim Gaffigan as a fictionalized version of himself — a food- and nap-loving devoted father of five, who is raising his brood of fair-haired kids in a two-bedroom apartment in New York City.
Gaffigan also writes and produces the scorchingly funny series with his wife and writing partner Jeannie, and while the three of us chat on the phone, they’re joined by their 3-year-old Michael (child No. 4), who entertains us before departing with a charmingly lisped “Thanks! Thanks! Thanks! Thank you!”
Clearly, performing is in the youngster’s blood, and while I’d like to say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, it’s more apropos to say the ham doesn’t fall far from the bacon. And I’m sure Jim — the best-selling author of books Dad Is Fat and Food: A Love Story — would droolingly agree.
“Jim’s point of view is the id of us all,” says Jeannie. “Because everyone has the secret desire to eat more bacon than they give you in a restaurant. For Jim, it’s just saying it, and we’re laughing because we relate to it.”
“I love playing a smart dumb guy,” Jim admits. “There’s a little bit of what Homer Simpson does, really.” When asked how he differs from his performing personas, he explains, “I would say that Real-Life Jim is smarter than Standup Jim, and Standup Jim is smarter than The Jim Gaffigan Show Jim.”
While Jim is playing a heightened and fictionalized version of himself on the show, Jeannie is keeping her talents behind the scenes, a decision that was made to ensure that their vision for the show remained intact. “Who’s going to police the police?” she ponders.
“The point of view of the entire show, from wardrobe to casting to locations, is all Jim and Jeannie. We’re grateful for that,” Jim says. And Jeannie adds, “It’s not going to be about money anymore. It’s going to be about creative fulfillment.”
“Jeannie and I have been on this long journey with this idea of this show, this autobiographical thing about our lives,” he says. “But really when it comes down to it, we wanted to do a show that we would want to watch.”
And since the duo calls the shots, one of their most provocative and most buzz-garnering decisions was to release an episode of the show on the comedian’s website two months before it premieres on TV Land. “We wanted to post an episode to show that — in a crude way — that it’s not junk,” says Jim. “Hopefully when it comes up in early July at a barbecue or whatever, and someone is like, ‘The Jim Gaffigan Show,’ if they’re in a crowd of four people, one of them might have seen it.”
After being available for less than two weeks, the episode, titled “The Bible Story,” in which Jim worries about being “outed” as a Catholic, has been viewed more than 250,000 times. “This episode is a pretty off-the-wall episode,” says Jeannie. “You’d think that a comedy might not get into doing something like that, or at least until the end of their season, or maybe even later seasons.” But Gaffigan has been made famous by boldly admitting to things that other comedians may hide, such as a love for McDonald’s fast food.
If Gaffigan is the least cool — and most honest — comedian in any room, surrounding him on the show are incredible actors who are his character’s polar opposites.
Adam Goldberg plays Jim’s cynical comic friend Dave, who views Jim’s “normal” lifestyle of a wife and children with the same mild revulsion of someone watching sausage get made. “We know that when Jim and Adam work together, there’s just going to be this magic that happens,” says Jeannie. Michael Ian Black plays Jeannie’s gay best friend Daniel, who is also Jim’s biggest critic. “Michael Ian Black’s character is very similar to a mother-in-law character,” laughs Jim. “The husband is never good enough for the wife.” Jeannie says of Gaffigan and Black’s working friendship, which goes back over 20 years, “Michael can make Jim crack up, and you have to do the scene five times because Michael, he just comes up with these really funny one-liners that no one has ever heard before.”
When Jim was looking for someone to portray the onscreen version of his wife, he found her in actress Ashley Williams, who impressed him with her Jeannie-like energy, her giant mom-like backpack and her goofy charm. “Ashley Williams could come at Jim — my character — with a machine gun and people would find it adorable. That’s very rare in an actress,” he says.
The Wall Street Journal once called Gaffigan “the king of (clean) comedy,” and it’s true — his witty observational humor doesn’t have to use profanity, vulgarity or insults to get a laugh. But Jim and Jeannie remind us that The Jim Gaffigan Show isn’t Jim’s standup routine and is chock-full of fantastic cameos including Chris Rock, Jon Stewart and even Steve Buscemi, so don’t expect Jim’s friends to play by his family-friendly rules.
“It’s an adult show; it’s adult-themed,” says Jeannie. “Not adult like dirty, but adult like Jim’s friend telling him that he needs to get a vasectomy. Things like that. You don’t think of it as that adult-themed, but even when we were writing, my 8-year-old said, ‘What’s a vasectomy?’ And I said, ‘Oh, it’s just some operation that some men have so they don’t have babies anymore.’ And he said, ‘But men don’t have babies.’”
Touché. Add fact-checker to the list of adorable roles in the Gaffigan family business.
The Jim Gaffigan Show > TV Land > Wednesdays at 10pm ET/PT beginning July 15