Jim Gaffigan is on a roll. And if you know anything about his comedy, you could take that statement one of two ways. The affable Gaffigan has made a career out of food-related jokes, getting laughs about everything from Hot Pockets to McDonald’s. And this year, Gaffigan, who already has an extensive acting résumé to go along with his stand-up, published his first book, Dad Is Fat. He spoke to the Weekly about why he loves Vegas audiences, why Twitter is so valuable and why he doesn’t get political in his comedy. He also asked us where he could take his family to eat.
Your food humor really connects with audiences. What do you think fuels America’s obsession with over-the-top creations like pasta bread bowls? Well, we’re programmed to seek bigger and better, right? We’re trying to meet that high that we got with that one burger, the perfect burger, or that perfect pasta sandwich—I mean, the perfect bowl of pasta. We’re combining desire with convenience constantly. I don’t know if it’s uniquely American. It’s kind of human, right? It’s also a luxury, an attainable luxury, comfort food, right? You don’t have to be a millionaire to afford a great hot dog.
Las Vegas is one of the premier dining destinations in the world. Any places you plan on hitting while you’re here? I’m going to be there for, like, a day, and I’m going to be there with my kids, and I’m doing the show. So it’s a little bit overwhelming. I think of Vegas—’cause I know there’s some burger place I’m supposed to go to there—but I think it’s a place to go for fine dining, right? A place where you go spend a couple hundred dollars and get an amazing meal. So I don’t know if I’m going to have the opportunity to do that when I’m with my kids.
It’s funny, because whenever I do any city I always ask reporters where I should eat. It’s kind of like the drug addict finding out where the dealers are in this city. I sometimes try to hold myself back from it. If you were in Vegas for 20 hours and you had five kids in tow, where would you eat?
Well, this might give you some new material: Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar and Grill at Harrah’s, where you can get a fried bologna sandwich. Oh really? Oh, that’s funny! Yeah, I’m gonna write that on my calendar here.
You’ve shied away from politics in your act. Was that intentional, or was it just the way your stand-up evolved? I’ve been doing comedy for 23 years, and I attempted to do it at times, and … the material is not evergreen. It has a very short shelf life. All topical material does. It’s like an avocado. It’s ripe for a moment. Second of all … I don’t want the responsibility of being so informed on all these topics. Third, I want to almost be arrested from that. We’re a very divided country, and I think that there’s people that do it well, and I think there’s something about political humor where it can divide a room, and I think there’s enough things dividing us.
I love how you worked food into your analogy. Yes, it’s all about food!
You’ve done a lot of TV and movie work, and, most recently, appeared on Broadway. What gives you more satisfaction—stand-up or acting? Well, they’re two completely different things. This might sound kind of corny, but it really comes down to creative fulfillment. Because if I was solely doing stand-up, I would think there would be a fatigue. But having different outlets like acting or doing a play or writing a book … I think in the entertainment industry it’s very important to keep some semblance of control over your creative fulfillment, because I think when you rely on other people, getting acting jobs or getting acknowledged on some things, that’s when people get angry and frustrated.
You released a book this year. How long had you been wanting to write a book? And why now? I was offered to do a book six years ago, and I said no, because I knew that some people just kind of write a book and get a check, and I definitely didn’t want to do that. I wanted it to be a book that I could look to and say, that’s good.
Let me step back a bit. I kind of aspire to have my act appeal to everyone in the room. That’s not to say it pleases everyone in the room. Or that I’m even trying to please everyone in the room. But I want it to be accessible to everyone in the room. So therefore, I always talk about being a father, ever since I’ve been a father. But I did it in small doses, not letting it get beyond five or 10 minutes. And so I found that I was almost sort of censoring these ideas on parenting. And then with Twitter I had an outlet for that. Through Twitter I could put some of these observations out there, and I found after a year or two that I had enough material of topics on essays that I wanted to write about parenting.
Every comedian will tell you they have one idea, and they’re just not appropriate for jokes. I have an essay in the book about candy, about 15 pages, and kids’ relationship with candy. I think it’s great material, but I don’t know if it would work as stand-up. So therefore, do I not do it? Twitter really gives an outlet, even for small ideas that I imagine will not end up as stand-up material.
So Twitter fueled the desire to do this? Twitter has given me an outlet on it. On Twitter, you don’t have to be laugh-out-loud funny, you just have to be amusing. But those amusing ideas can lead into a stand-up chunk or just a line.
What do you enjoy most about performing in Las Vegas? There’s a certain attitude from everyone when they’re seeing a show in Las Vegas. There’s a relaxation that even people who live in Vegas seem to enjoy, ’cause I don’t think that people who live in Vegas are in casinos all the time. I joke around that every night in Vegas feels like New Year’s Eve. Unfortunately, every morning feels like New Year’s Day. So there’s something about the attitude that everyone in the casino or theater shares—that they’re having fun, that they’re a celebrity that night, and the opportunities for entertainment are endless. I know that sounds corny. Most people in Vegas I find are mostly in a good mood. I know the cliché is that people should be sad because they’ve lost money gambling, but that’s not what I’ve encountered.
You graduated from a business school and were active in sports in high school and college. None of this suggests a future in stand-up comedy or acting. At what point did you realize that this was what you wanted to do? I think I was late to figure out what I wanted to do. I was very much someone who was comfortable with other people telling me what would make happy, and so in the late ’80s, my father was a banker and was the first one to go to college, so he was a success in that his parents lived through the Depression. Success was wearing a coat and tie, so I was kind of programmed to believe that. And there was no negativity with show business, but it just seemed unattainable. I came from a small town in Indiana, so performers in Las Vegas were like Sammy Davis Jr., and it wasn’t a realistic pursuit. It would be the equivalent of saying I wanted to be an astronaut.
It was such a strange journey. I graduated college, studying finance, and I had this job where I was living in Tampa and would travel occasionally. It was the job that everyone wanted. It was either that or Wall Street, and it really wasn’t fulfilling for me. I moved to New York to work in advertising, but I secretly kind of wanted to do stand-up.
I was someone who did improv to deal with a fear of public speaking, and someone dared me to do stand-up, and the first night was just incredibly empowering. When I started stand-up, it was the end of a comedy boom in the ’80s and early ’90s. There wasn’t an expectation that there was going to be a living from it.
Jim Gaffigan July 12, 10 p.m., $76-$87. Mirage, 792-7777.