Millionaire Jim Gaffigan keeps his comedy grounded

For the father of five (he has two girls and three boys, ages six, seven, nine, 13 and 14), that often means comedic bits about children and marriage. The multiple Grammy nominee and Emmy winner treads lightly, however, to avoid alienating fans who do not have children.

“If I talked about the chaos of my life, it might be interesting to people who are dealing with the first few years of being a parent, but at what cost?” Gaffigan, 52, said in an interview from his home in Manhattan.

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“I remember the 26-year-old me, who was just not interested in hearing about that stuff.

“I still have respect for the 26-year-old me, who would be like: ‘I can’t get a date — what is this person talking about?’ ”

Becoming a parent was a “tidal wave of change,” Gaffigan said, but he didn’t want his standup to just be about that. Instead, he recorded his observations in a book, Dad is Fat, which spent 17 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list.

His popular late-night-talk-show appearances broke Gaffigan to a wider audience, but the concert arena is where he shines. He came in at No. 8 on Forbes’ list of the highest-paid comedians of 2018, with $17.5 million US earned, and remains one of the top touring comics of the modern era. He is one of only a handful of comics to sell out Madison Square Garden.

Gaffigan, who makes his Victoria debut on Friday, might play the everyman on stage, but he’s more cultured than he lets on. He’s also more thoughtful, for someone who often pokes fun at his weight and appearance.

As he takes on more projects designed to showcase his skills, from op-ed columns for CBS Sunday Morning to dramatic roles in recent films, the reveal has become part of the fun, he admitted.

“Everyone who goes to the show assumes we have the same values,” said Gaffigan, originally from Indiana.

“ ‘Oh, this guy definitely thinks you should eat steak every day.’ You want to be completely authentic, and it is autobiographical, but I’m also very aware that some of my audience members are 15. Some are 26 and some are 60.

“It’s one thing to do a topic that is not universal to everyone, because that is very authentic. But you don’t want exclude anyone. It’s like comedians not bringing up that they fly in first-class. You have to keep it grounded and realistic.”

It has been argued that Gaffigan’s very public persona — that of someone who likes food dearly, especially the microwaved pizza pop he calls a “hot pocket” — is well curated, something Gaffigan does not deny. The comic, who played college football for Georgetown University from 1985 to 1987, played Colonel Sanders in commercials for KFC in 2016, which only added to his legend. He has branched out of late, however, adding to his resumé with a series of roles and projects that would have been considered outside his wheelhouse years ago.

He will have appeared in seven films by the end of the year, in addition to starring in Amazon’s first standup comedy special, due later this year. Quality Time, recorded live in Minneapolis on March 9, was directed by his wife and frequent collaborator, Jeannie Gaffigan.

“It sounds corny, but the buzz of creative fulfilment is real. Even if it is writing a commentary for CBS Sunday Morning, they are a snippet, but there is a sense of accomplishment there for me. As a comedian, it’s more gratifying. Doing well on a show is rewarding, but it’s the creating something that is so fun. The nuance of a character in a film, it’s a different creative outlet. And the sense of accomplishment is enormous.”

Though he’s a self-avowed “news junkie,” politics rarely creeps into his standup sets. The ability to both entice and alienate audience members is the bread and butter of comics such as Doug Stanhope and Joe Rogan, but Gaffigan takes a subtler approach. He likes to find a sweet spot that makes his audience think without sending them to the exits.

“During the presidential election, I was wondering where the type of comedy I do was going to land in this thing.

“I knew there was going to be an appetite for a Stephen Colbert or a Seth Meyers, but what I quickly realized was that people need a cathartic relaxation from the chaos of our news world. I’m not avoiding it, but even when I had jokes that touched on it, [I got the feeling] people just wanted an hour where they did not have to think about what is going on in the world.

“I don’t want to be complicit or delusional, but we’re adults and we’re laughing about something else entirely — the other part of human behaviour that is silly, as opposed to scary or upsetting.”

Topical comedy also has a short shelf life, Gaffigan said — especially in the modern era. “I’d see friends go on stage in New York, which is mostly liberal, and there was such a fatigue around [political humour]. People would look at the ceiling,” he said.

“I enjoy consuming it, because it is so fast-paced, and there are so many storylines. But I also know laughing at humans, and our general behaviour — stupidity — those are ancient observations.”

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