Comedians are a very specific breed that tend to fall into one of two very specific categories. One: You have that comic that has really hit it big with the masses, who come out in droves to see them anywhere they play. Fellow comedians perhaps may enjoy them but really they are an audience comic. Two: You have the comedians who are well-enough admired by audiences, but really it is their fellow comics that go around touting them as a “genius” and of “God-like” stature. Then occasionally, you’ll get that rare bird who mastered the art of both. Someone who’s not for one side or the other, but is for everyone. A bird they call Gaffigan.
Jim Gaffigan’s newest special, Noble Ape, covers a variety of topics discussing everything from a trip to the M&M store in London to the cleanliness of Japanese toilets, with anecdotes about his first colonoscopy and opening for the Pope mixed in. It’s the typical observations that we all have come to know and love, and that have put him in a top tier all his own. So distinctive is his comedic voice, if you were to read one of his jokes on paper, you’d know instinctively “That’s Gaffigan!”
However, this special also marks some uncharted territory for Jim Gaffigan. You get a deeper, more unique understanding of who he is and how he operates. All of this stemming from something that nearly had him hanging the microphone back on the stand for good.
Last Spring, his wife Jeannie discovered she had a brain tumor the size of a pear. The tumor was removed and she is doing fine, Gaffigan assures the audience. So fine is she now doing that she co-wrote and directed Noble Ape. (How’s THAT for a swift recovery?) You imagine that this is handled as delicately as walking on eggshells. But like everything else, his approach has you sitting there in sheer wonderment, trying to figure out how something so life-threatening can be facilitated into such funny stand-up material.
We recently spoke to Jim Gaffigan on the phone from Los Angeles (where he had presented on the ESPY’s the night prior, and was about to go tape an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live!) about the special, the way he went about distributing it, his acting roles, and the future of the stand-up special.
I really enjoyed the special. It seems that you didn’t ease into the personal and heavy stuff, but opted to go right into it within the first few minutes. What made you want to go into discussing it right out of the gate?
Some of approaching it right from the get-go was in touring. Once I got back on the road, it was the elephant in the room. So I kind of had to discuss it from the get-go. And so it was just also biographical stuff that I feel like the beginning of shows should be more kind of engaging on a personal level. I knew that many of the people in the audience when I was touring knew about my wife, so I wanted them to know that she’s okay and talk about it. So it seemed rather introductory.
Seeing how personal and open comedians come across to an audience, I’m assuming you’d have a large amount of people coming up to you checking in during that hard time.
Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. By the way, through this whole experience, the outpouring of support on social media was really inspiring. That really wasn’t easy. Yeah, when I would walk around in different cities afterwards, because you never know who knows, people were very supportive.
I imagine it must have been pretty personally rewarding, not to mention cathartic, to get all of this stuff off of your chest as well and just putting them out in the open.
Yeah, I think writing and organizing the thoughts and also capturing that time period and those emotions, I liked the fact that I was chronicling it. I’m still in touch with those feelings I had, but there’s some details of it… If I saw it in the theater, I edited it, obviously… But you go a couple of months away from the material, and you kind of forget it. So it was good to watch it and it brought back some memories.
Do you feel like there’s anything in your life that could happen that would be too personal for you to talk about onstage?
I’m somebody who exists in a lot of doubt, but things that I’m sure about, I feel like I can discuss. But some of the things that I’m unsure about are my doubt. But you know, I wouldn’t discuss things that I feel might change or I might not have all of the information to formulate my opinion. I think that’s some of why I don’t really engage in some of the topical stuff is because my feelings on it might evolve.
In the special, you also talk about touring and doing some shows overseas and bringing your family with you on the road. How is that experience being on the road with your kids, which seems like it’d be a bit different than touring solo?
I bring my kids and some of it is because I do love doing stand-up, and I really don’t want to be away from them that long. It’s pretty taxing but it’s also rather fun, being in different cities with your kids. And it kind of motivates you to go out and see the local attractions or go to the museum. It’s great because I want to spend time with my kids but I also want to do stand-up, so it all kind of works out.
Let’s talk about the distribution of the special, it was released on many different platforms simultaneously. How did all of that come to be?
I was going to do the special, and through my agent and manager, an offer came in from Netflix, an offer came in from Showtime, an offer came in from different platforms. What was appealing about this offer was having had my last 2 specials on Netflix and having to stagger the album’s release… In the end, comedians I think want people to see their special. I mean, I love Netflix, and I’ve also had 5 specials on Netflix, so I was like “I don’t know if I NEED to do another one there.” But I liked the idea that people could watch it On Demand, they could get it on iTunes, they could get it on Amazon or Xbox. The fact that it was accessible just about everywhere was really appealing to me.
In addition to being released on multiple platforms, the special was also released in a select amount of theaters. Was having a “concert film” that has been done on a big scale in the past, something that you had always wanted to do?
No, that was something that was kind of in the deal, but that wasn’t something that I always aspired to have. It had been discussed on previous specials, and I was reluctant to do it. In this scenario, it was going to be in select cities. Some of it’s not for us to decide how and when people consume some of this content. Some people are going to want to see it in the theaters, some people are going to want to rent it On Demand, some people are going to want to listen to it on Google Play or whatever the hell that is. Everywhere to rent or buy. So that had some appeal. But it wasn’t like putting it in a theater was a goal of mine. It was something that I never even contemplated honestly.
Speaking of all the different avenues available, how do you see the stand-up special evolving? Do you think it’s going to keep evolving?
I think it’s changed so much during just my career. My first two specials Beyond the Pale and King Baby I was fortunate that was at the peak of when Comedy Central was on in every dorm room. Now I’m sure in every dorm room there’s gaming. And then Netflix has been incredibly good to me. But I’m sure there will be different platforms that we can’t even contemplate. But it’s also interesting, because when I started stand-up, George Carlin was doing a special every year, but that was because he had been a legend. But now there is an appetite for stand-up comedy that didn’t exist 25 years ago or didn’t even exist 10 years ago where as long as it’s fresh and it’s authentic, people will want to check out a special.
Between Chappaquiddick and You Can Choose Your Family, you’ve done a lot of acting this year. Was acting something you always wanted to go into?
I’ve always enjoyed acting, and I’ve been pursuing it for 30 years. I feel like some of the opportunities are just arriving. And so people are like “Why are you doing all of these dramatic films?” And I’m like, “It’s not like I was turning them down before. I always wanted to do them. But it’s great.” I love kind of climbing into a character and obviously you kind of find out how you are like that character. But it’s really cool. It’s a different skill set than stand up but I really enjoy it.
With the upcoming unveiling of the National Comedy Center in Jamestown, NY, you actually are going to have a hologram of yourself displayed there. What was the experience like bringing that to fruition??
It was surreal. I mean, I got the thing over email. I had done a couple of interviews for them, so I was kind of like “This has got to be some kind of joke or something. There’s got to be some confusion here that I don’t understand.” But yeah, I haven’t seen the final product, but I definitely shot it, and we’ll see how it turns out.
Jim Gaffigan’s latest special, Noble Ape is out via Comedy Dynamics and can be found On Demand, on iTunes, as well as on a variety of other streaming services. Tour dates can also be found on his website.