Jim Gaffigan didn’t plan on becoming a “clean” comic — it just came naturally. “I think the fact that I come from small towns in the Midwest, where you would only curse if you stubbed your toe, influenced my stand-up,” Jim, 54, exclusively tells Closer.
The youngest of six kids, Jim didn’t set out to have a big family with wife Jeannie Gaffigan, 50, either. “There was a romantic notion surrounding it, but I didn’t even know I was going to get married!” he says with a laugh. “I didn’t think I would be the guy with five kids, but they just kept coming, and each one is very special.”
Career-wise, the proud dad has been busier than ever: He plays a drug dealer in the indie crime drama Most Wanted and does stand-up based on his experiences in Canada and Spain in Amazon Prime’s The Pale Tourist. “I love doing stand-up and comedic roles,” he says, “but building a character that’s complex in a dramatic role is something I truly love.”
Keep scrolling below for Closer Weekly‘s exclusive Q&A interview with Jim Gaffigan!
How have you been doing, Jim?
Oh, it’s pretty absurd, right? We’ve gone beyond being sick of each other, so we’re doing all right. I think it’s all about being vigilant, reminding yourself that this is a pandemic. We spent the first three months in our New York City apartment, then we rented a house so my kids could get outside and social distance. We’re lucky. Otherwise, which day is what? What time is when? I don’t know … The weird thing is, when you’ve got five kids, you don’t have time to watch Tiger King.
Your new film Most Wanted is so different from your other roles. What interested you in the project?
I thought there might be a mistake, because the character I was offered was a two-timing drug dealer. But I was also excited because he had so much complexity. It’s based on a true story about a guy who’s framed by my character and some police as a drug king.
You’ll also be playing former Toronto mayor Rob Ford, who was embroiled in a substance abuse scandal, in a limited AMC series.
It’ll be a serio-comedic/dramatic role chronicling his rise and ultimately his passing. Rob Ford is a fascinating guy that some people love and a lot of people hate.
How did you come up with the concept for your new Pale Tourist comedy specials?
The idea was, I was going to be a tourist and do a special about different places I visit. It started after I’d done a tour of Asia and had all this material about Asia. The quality of that production wasn’t ideal, so I put it on YouTube. But the Spanish and Canadian ones are real specials, and they’re great.
You just did a show at a drive-in theater in New Jersey. What was that like?
It was the first time I’d performed in four months. I’ve been doing CBS Sunday Morning commentaries, but stand-up comedy requires a crowd — it’s very much a conversation between the performer and the audience. It was surreal to perform to a thousand cars — we essentially created a traffic jam — but it was good!
Do you prefer acting or stand-up?
I like to do both. Stand-up is such a nocturnal, nomadic existence that it’s nice to have an acting job where you stay put in a place. [But] acting is insane — the inconsistency in your opportunity to even do it is baffling to me.
Any role you’ve done that’s a favorite?
I’ve enjoyed all of my roles in the past couple of years, but with a couple of bad decisions, I could find myself in a similar situation [to the ride-share driver who becomes a criminal] in American Dreamer. So that one felt close, and it was a pretty insane journey.
What was your favorite experience?
Doing a scene with Viola Davis and Allison Janney in Troop Zero, there was a part of me that was like, “What am I doing here with these Oscar winners?” But there’s no sense of “making it” in the entertainment industry. It’s all such a strange journey.
How did your Midwest roots shape you?
It was a huge influence. When I moved to New York City in the early ’90s, it was very ethnocentric; everyone’s like, “What are you, Italian?” I quickly learned that I was white bread [laughs], something I didn’t realize when I was growing up. And where I’m from, cursing just indicates that you can’t think of a creative word.
Did any childhood moment set you on your path?
When I was around 8, we went to Chicken Unlimited, kind of a knockoff KFC. My mom asked what I wanted to be when I grew up and I said an actor. I unintentionally made her laugh, so I knew there was something there, like a foreshadowing.
You’ve talked hilariously about your kids, Marre, 16, Jack, 14, Katie, 11, Michael, 9, and Patrick, 7. Have they affected the career choices you’ve made?
Oh yes, there’s stuff that I’ve turned down, like a movie role that shoots in Alaska for six weeks, but I’d only have five lines. One great thing about this quarantine was that I had to be home. That had a lot of benefits.
What was it like to play yourself with five kids on 2015–’16’s The Jim Gaffigan Show?
It was fascinating, and a strange box to put yourself in. All the episodes were written by my wife and I, and even though it was fictitious, it was a reflection of who we are. So I couldn’t portray my wife as crazy!
You’ve been married to Jeannie for 17 years. How did it affect your family when she had surgery to remove a benign brain tumor in 2017?
We’re really fortunate with how things turned out. But there was an expectation that even if she survived, my career would essentially be over; traveling, doing movies would not be something I’d be able to do. So when things did work out relatively positively, I had a greater appreciation for [everything].
Glad to hear she’s better. You’ve made many jokes about your weight and eating Hot Pockets. Are you healthy now, too?
Nothing comparable to a brain tumor, but being a parent of five children is going to kill anyone! [Laughs]
Any advice you’d give on being happy?
Wow, just being knowledgable about the chaos [around us]. Remembering, “Oh yeah, that’s right, we should be at our wit’s end.” I say that jokingly, but in a way we probably all are going crazy. How arrogant of us to think that quarantining and living through a pandemic isn’t going to drive someone bonkers!
— Reporting by Diana Cooper