Interview date: 03/20/2009
Run date: 03/27/2009
If you think the name “Jim Gaffigan” sounds familiar but you can’t quite place him, then it’ll probably only take two words to make the lightbulb above your head turn on: Hot Pockets. Yes, Gaffigan’s the tall, pale man who occasionally drifts into a high-pitched voice in the midst of his stand-up routine…and he’s hilarious. If you need proof, just tune into Comedy Central on March 29th to see his new special, “King Baby.” Or check out “My Boys,” which returns to TBS for its third season on March 31st. Bullz-Eye spoke to Gaffigan about both of these things, as well as the price of developing a signature routine, sharing KFC bowls with Patton Oswalt, and the future of “Pale Force.”
Jim Gaffigan: Hey, it’s Jim Gaffigan. Is this Will?
BE: It is!
JG: Will, I’m sorry it took me so long to call you. I had, like, all of these calls back to back, and I never know how to get off the phone call, and I end up being late, and it pushes into another one.
BE: I’m sorry, but I can’t forgive you.
JG: Oh, shit. I had a feeling this was going to happen.
BE: It’s really soured the conversation for me.
JG: Yeah, it’s very awkward.
BE: (Laughs) So I watched your new special, and it’s fantastic.
JG: Oh, really?
BE: And I understand you’ve been signed up as the new spokesperson not only for SpeedStick but also for Waffle House as well.
JG: Yeah! SpeedStick... (Laughs) So you got the DVD, right?
BE: Well, actually, I received a screener of the special from Comedy Central, but then I also received the actual DVD as it’s being released in stores.
JG: Okay, cool.
BE: Which is to say that I’ve also spent a lot of time basking in the special features of the disc. I thought it was awesome that they included three of the “Pale Force” adventures on there.
JG: Yeah! I haven’t gotten a hard version of the DVD yet. I know there were different elements that were going to be on there, because I wanted there to be, like, tons of stuff on there, as far as extras, and hopefully they’d all be good. I know that, whenever I buy a DVD and it says that it has bonus features, some of it feels like, “Well, you just threw all this crap on here, and I don’t even want it!” So I wanted it to be stuff that, hopefully, was good.
BE: Oh, it was great. I’m pretty sure I watched every bonus item on there.
JG: Oh, good!
BE: So here’s my first question: do you remember the exact moment at which you decided to embrace your paleness?
JG: Yeah, that’s a really good question, because…I mean, it’s ironic, because I kind of resented it most of my childhood. I guess it was around “Pale Force” when I was, like, “Oh, my God, I can’t believe it: this paleness is actually a benefit!” You know? I mean, I’d kind of named it “Beyond the Pale,” I’d given that name to the special and the DVD to kind of, like, say, “I’m done with all of these pale jokes.” And then “Pale Force” kind of took on some steam, and it just ended up where the pale thing continued on, and it kind of connected with pale people. So I was just, “Alright, well…”
BE: So is “Pale Force” going to continue onto “The Tonight Show”?
JG: You know, there’s no specific plans. I mean, some of it is…I was working on this hour special, so I didn’t really have an opportunity to do one around the final episode of “Late Night with Conan O’Brien.” But, yeah, we’ll see. I’m sorry to be so vague, but it’s one of those things where it was, like, “Should I fly out and just show one?” And then they’re doing all this stuff during the last week, and I didn’t want to be all, “I want to be on camera!”
BE: So how did “Pale Force” come up in the first place?
JG: Well, I had done numerous appearances on “Conan,” and there came a point where my brother-in-law started coming with me, who’s a cartoonist with “The New Yorker.” There were running jokes where, like, Conan would introduce me as “the palest guy,” and I would comment on him and all this stuff. And my brother-in-law came up with the idea of doing a cartoon, and then wrote a script about it, and we kind of pitched it to them, and they said, “Let’s do it as a lark.” And it kind of turned into this internet show, and it ended up kind of being one of those things where it was a lot of work. So I like it, but… (Laughs) “Pale Force” is…I mean, it’s animation. It’s not like you can just throw it out there. (Hesitates) Shit. I’m getting another call. Hey, would it be okay if I called you back in, like, half an hour?
JG: (Surprised) Really?
BE: Yeah, no problem. I work at home, and I don’t have any other interviews today.
JG: Okay, thanks!
(Writer’s note: Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time. Unfortunately, the half-hour passed, then turned into an hour and a half. I dropped a line to Jim’s publicist to find out how long he was going to be doing interviews today, figuring he was just trying to play catch-up. Once that time period passed, however, I was still in waiting mode. His publicist suggested that I go ahead and try him on his cell phone, so I did…and got his voicemail. So I asked him to call me back, and he did…during the brief window when I left the house to pick up my daughter. Finally, however, we managed to reconnect.)
JG: I am sorry. You wouldn’t believe…I don’t know if you’ve been part of it, but because of my schedule, I’ve had to cancel interviews and move them day after day after day. So I apologize.
BE: Absolutely not a big deal. The only reason I even followed up was to make sure that I wasn’t going to walk out the door right when you called…which, of course, is exactly what I did. But all is forgiven. So I made the sarcastic comment earlier about how you were going to be the new spokesperson for both SpeedStick and Waffle House, neither of which is remotely true, but I’m also guessing you probably won’t be doing ads for the state of West Virginia anytime soon, either.
JG: Well, you know, the amazing thing is…I’m glad you brought that up, actually, because that’s a joke I love, but it’s one of those where…I don’t know. Between you and I, did it work? Is it funny?
BE: I think so.
JG: Okay, good.
BE: But, then, I’m from Virginia, and it’s always fun for us to make fun of West Virginia.
JG: Yeah, and I’m from Indiana, so we’re kind of in the same boat. But I love that joke, but I was terrified that it wasn’t going to work, because I didn’t want it to be about bagging on West Virginia. I wanted it to be about the slogan of “Almost Heaven: West Virginia.” Like, if Kentucky’s slogan was “Almost Heaven: Kentucky,” it would’ve been about that. So blame John Denver, don’t blame me.
BE: I wanted to ask you about your bit on KFC Bowls. Were you aware that Patton Oswalt also has a bit about them?
JG: Yeah, but, y’know, that’s one of my older jokes on the special, and Patton’s…I think they’re dramatically different, anyway.
BE: Oh, they are. I just didn’t know if you’d been aware of his.
JG: Yeah, I was. It was one of those where I’d done mine on “Conan,” and then I saw him do his on the end-of-the-year thing. And his is very funny, but I felt like they were…like, neither of them are our signature joke, so it’s not the end of the world. If you look for topics where there’s overlaps, there’s gonna be topics that overlap for a lot of comedians.
BE: So as I’m watching the special, I couldn’t help but think that you’ve spent a fair amount of time doing guy things. I mean, even though you kind of bag on both bowling and camping, they’re definitely both very much guy things to do.
JG: Yeah, I mean, I’m very much…I’m kind of like a guy who’s missing a little bit of the guy gene. Like, I love steak, but the notion of golfing is the last thing I would want to do. I love women, but I’m also a mama’s boy, and some of my best friends are women. So I’m kinda half guy’s guy. And I like bowling. It’s just one of those things where I can do so many jokes about it because I do know bowling. Somebody once said, “The whitest things in the world are Jim Gaffigan and bowling.” (Laughs) It’s just one of those things that white people like, and I kind of fit in there.
BE: When you mentioned how great it would be if there was only some way to bowl without getting up from the couch, I couldn’t help but think of the fact that my wife and I have played Wii Bowling without ever standing up.
JG: Yeah, and I tried to work in there about how there are bowling games at bars. The fact that they’d make it a video game… (Trails off)
BE: Did you have any routine that was filmed for the special that didn’t end up making the cut, for one reason or another?
JG: You know, I took out a lot of stuff that…I’m so detail-oriented that there’s stuff that I didn’t tape because I knew that there would be this desire to go, “All right, look, it’s 70 minutes, and if we leave that stuff in, it’ll be 80 minutes.” Some of it is travel stuff. I did additional stuff on hotels and traveling, and I didn’t put that in there because…well, y’know, for comedians, talking about traveling is a bit like kryptonite. The DVD is…I feel like the special, everybody would like it, but some of the material on the DVD isn’t necessarily. Like, when I talk about the Apostles, you kinda have to be on my side to get it. In my view, I feel like the Apostle stuff was thrown in because I was having a really good time on the last show, so I did it because my wife and I think it’s hysterical. And somebody who’s been to church or was raising Catholic would probably think it was funny, but outside of that, I don’t know if people would get it.
BE: On that note, I actually laughed really hard when you made the joke about Jesus doing miracles and putting up shelves, because they didn’t really bring up his carpentry skills too much after people started finding out who his dad was.
JG: I had some more religion stuff. Believe it or not, I took out some ketchup jokes and some bacon jokes… (Laughs) …and I took out some religion jokes. There was one after the Catholic / Protestant thing, which was, “I don’t understand why, when it comes to religion, there have to be teams. Why does it have to be the Protestants, the Jews,” and then I point to myself and said, “And the ones that are going to Heaven,” or some variation on that joke. It’s very sarcastic, and if you really know me, you’d think it was funny, but, y’know, I’m very non-political, and I want my material to be universal, but there are still people who go crazy. I have this video on YouTube from this phone conversation that I had with Barack Obama when I was on a radio show, and it’s very non-partisan, I just use it as a promotional tool, and people go crazy! They go, “You’re a Barack Obama guy? I don’t like you now!” But that’s not the point of it! The point is that it’s just a joke! But some people…it’s just weird. As successful as I am, there’s bound to be people that get angry. I did a benefit with all of these really good New York comics who are pretty edgy, and I’m one of the safest. It’s, like, me and Seinfeld and Tom Papa. Very accessible. You could have a 10-year-old in the audience. So we’re doing this benefit, and it’s a bunch of New York comics, and I went on first, and they were kind of like, “Oh. Oh.” To some of my material. And I’m, like, “Man, if you guys have a problem with me, you’re gonna have a big problem for the rest of the night.” I don’t know if you know who Judy Gold is, but she’s really funny, and she’s kind of in your face. She came on next, and I just loved that they would be freaked out about me!
BE: I had a couple of “My Boys” question for you.
BE: The first time I saw the show, I didn’t really know anyone else in the cast, so when I saw your name, it felt like, “Aaaaaand Jim Gaffigan as Andy!” But it’s really a great ensemble. How was it coming into the group? It seemed like it gelled pretty quickly.
JG: Yeah, I mean, it’s really a great group of people, and…you know, I have a lot of mixed emotions with “My Boys.” It’s a great group of people, but there is a part of me that…well, it’s hard for a comedian, when you usually write and perform and more or less direct yourself. I’ve done many movies and TV shows, but there’s part of me that has the desire to have a little bit more control over it. I mean, I like being a hired gun in certain situations, but there’s a part of me that wants to have a bit more control. And having done guest spots on “Flight of the Conchords,” where it really is that kind of free and easy feel, there’s the natural appeal of that. I love acting. I have a part in this new Sam Mendes movie, and there’s something really appealing about being part of an ensemble, but there’s also a part of me that really wants to do my own thing. If that makes sense.
BE: It does. But I presume you have the freedom to do at least a little bit of ad-libbing on “My Boys.”
JG: There’s some. Television’s very much a writer’s medium, as it probably should be, but if you’re not the writer, then as the performer, you defer to that. It’s just kind of how it’s constructed. Is there some leeway? Yeah. But I also don’t want to come across as a jerk.
BE: How did your wife feel about Andy’s work-wife saga on the show?
JG: You know, she plays my wife on the show…
BE: Oh, I know!
JG: Well, “My Boys,” for me and my family, is, in a lot of ways, an excuse for us to get to L.A. for two months in the dead of winter. (Laughs)
BE: You mentioned appearing on “Flight of the Conchords.” How did you fall into your role on that show? Were you just a fan of theirs, or did they approach you?
JG: You know, I definitely had a big interest in doing “Flight of the Conchords.” Jermaine and Bret, I think, are really funny guys, and I love the whole tone of the show. But the guy who directed my special directed some of the episodes, he recommended me, and it kind of went from there.
BE: Well, if there’s one thing that you have in common with that show, it’s the music, because the tunes on “Pale Force” are downright insidious in their catchiness.
JG: Yeah, and that’s all Patrick Noth, and he’s an amazing musician and composer, whatever the terminology is. It’s literally one of those things where we would turn to him and say, “We need the music for this,” and he would come right back with it.
BE: I just have a couple more for you, but I wanted to ask about this new viral video of yours, “Hot Pockets Revenge.” It’s awesome…and, I suspect, at least somewhat inspired by real-life events.
JG: You know, that’s literally a day old, so I’m glad that you saw it. Did I bring it up earlier?
BE: No, I did a search for your name on YouTube, and it was one of the first things that came up.
JG: Oh, great! Well, you know, the Hot Pockets thing overall is a blessing. For a comedian to kind of catch onto something right as something’s catching on in our culture, a lot of it is luck, and you hope the joke is funny. With the Hot Pockets thing, I got very lucky with the timing. The influence of Hot Pockets, the consumption of them, has so helped people’s awareness of me. But then there is kind of the other side, where it’s, like, “Do I need more people in the airport yelling ‘Hot Pockets’ at me?” Probably not. But to answer your question, that viral video was definitely inspired by some experiences that I’ve had, but it’s also one of those things where…my friend Todd Glass, he totally gets the idea of it, and it’s really funny.
BE: The first time somebody brought you a Hot Pockets box, did you think, “Uh-oh, what have I started?”
JG: No, I was thrilled! I’m still very…it’s very flattering that anyone even notices you, you know? I’ve been doing stand-up for ten years in relative obscurity, and I’m very grateful that I get the opportunity to do these meet-and-greets afterwards.
BE: Yeah, I remember in the special features where you were talking about that, and in the clip where you’re interacting with the fans, it was amazing how happy you seemed to be. A lot of people really just go through the motions with those things.
JG: Yeah, I mean, I kind of consider myself…I mean, I try to have my comedy be accessible, and if people are paying $30 to see me in a theater and they want to have their picture taken with me, it’s not the end of the world, you know what I mean? It’s one of those things where I’m not the only comic who does it. A lot of comics do it. If I’m doing a 4,000-seat venue, it might be a little bit of a different task, but it’s all good.
BE: You’ve turned up on a couple of the “Law & Order” series, and I was talking to Joe Lo Truglio (from “The State”), and he said that it’s a situation where, if you want to be taken seriously as an actor in New York City, you pretty much have to do “Law & Order.”
JG: Yes. It’s kind of a rite of passage, I guess, in New York. I mean, I’m a huge “Law & Order” fan, so I’ve done numerous episodes, and I just loved it. It’s just fun. And I haven’t watched one in awhile, but…I don’t know if you’ve seen the “Pale Force” “Law & Order” episode?
BE: Actually, I haven’t!
JG: I think it’s pretty funny, not that there haven’t been plenty of parodies. But, anyway, it’s definitely one of those things where the show’s been around so long that you know the different characters and the nuances of the actors, and it’s just a blast.
BE: I know you appeared on two different episodes of “Criminal Intent,” four years apart. Were you concerned that someone might remember you from the first time around and be thrown out of their suspension of disbelief? “Hey, wait, that’s not his name…!”
JG: (Laughs) I don’t know! You see numerous New York actors turn up more than once. If you’re a real “Law & Order” fan, then…well, it’s probably a sign that you’re watching too much “Law & Order” if you notice! But I’d love to go back to do another one. I wish I could do more, but it’s just an availability thing.
BE: What’s your favorite project that you’ve worked on that didn’t get the love you deserved?
JG: Well, I think “The Great and Wonderful” was a great movie. There are a couple of movies that I was fortunate enough to be in. I thought “Stephanie Daley” was great. We went to Sundance, we had a screening, and we all thought, “Wow, this is good!” But it never went anywhere. But Amber Tamblyn was amazing in it. Some of it is…there’s momentum to certain movies. And luck. Particularly with the smaller ones. I don’t know, I feel like this Sam Mendes movie might get some traction, but we’ll see.
BE: That’s “Away We Go”?
JG: Yeah, and that was really fun. That’s with Allison Janney. I play her husband.
BE: And, lastly, were you thrilled to find that you’d appeared in a movie that had won quite a few Razzies? I’m speaking, of course, of “The Love Guru.”
JG: (Innocently) Oh, did it…?
BE: (Laughs) Yes, it did.
JG: You know, it’s interesting, because being this journeyman actor where you do small parts in things…I mean, I worked one day on “Super Troopers,” and people still say, “How ya doin’, Meow?” And they bring me DVDs to sign at shows. And I literally worked on that movie for, like, four hours! (Laughs) It’s really interesting to get even some of the credit for the success of that movie. And with “The Love Guru,” I worked on that movie for one day, I’m a huge Mike Myers fan, and there was Stephen Colbert, and…y’know, I never saw the final product. I never really seek out seeing myself in stuff. It was interesting to see the E-mails or these Facebook messages saying, “You were good. I didn’t like the movie, but…” (Laughs) I mean, if people are going out of their way to say something like that, you have to figure you’re heading for a trainwreck.
BE: Okay, Jim, I appreciate you getting back with me.JG: Hey, thank you, Will…and, again, I’m sorry about earlier!