Comedian JIM GAFFIGAN appeals to kids and adults with his silly brand of stand-up. But he’s taking a more mature approach in his new film, It’s Kind of a Funny Story.Jim Gaffigan is stumbling over his words. The 44-year-old stand-up comedian and actor, known for cable TV specials like Beyond the Pale and King Baby, is calling from his New York home, apologizing for having a cold, while one of his three children is making noise in the background.
But his stuttering isn’t because of the cold or the kids. Gaffigan’s merely running out of ways to downplay his impressive, mounting résumé, which includes dozens of hilarious appearances with late-night hosts such as David Letterman and Conan O’Brien; a seasons-long run on the TBS comedy My Boys, along with appearances on shows such as The Flight of the Conchords and Bored to Death; roles in recent big-ticket films, including last month’s Going the Distance and this month’s It’s Kind of a Funny Story; and a stand-up act that sells out theaters for two- and three-night stints.
Humble as he is, Gaffi gan eventually accepts the fact that he can’t deny his success, so he shifts into more comfortable territory: He pokes fun at it. “If people see me and say, ‘Yeah, that guy!’ — well, I’m a 240-pound guy who’s balding,” he says. “I don’t think I’m more memorable [than other actors]. I just think I’m goofier looking.”
Really, his response — and his knack for such harmless, witty observations — is why more fans recognize Gaffigan now than ever before. When he’s onstage, which is year-round, he manages to make mundane topics like decorative pillows and free bread at restaurants side-splittingly funny. His frequent employment of giddy voices and feigned excitement only add to the appeal.
“Sometimes people bring a 6-year-old [to a show] who loves my Hot Pocket and bacon jokes,” Gaffigan says, acknowledging his family-friendly reputation. “I’m not doing my stand-up for them, but a little kid will wrap his head around something and love it.”
While he hasn’t used swearwords in his act for years, Gaffigan’s approach is deceptively adult. Beyond quips about Hot Pockets lie pointed ruminations about religion, relationships and family life. His recent film work reflects his adult perspective, particularly Funny Story, a coming-of-age dramedy about a teenager who checks himself into an adult mental ward. With its cast of brilliant comedic minds, including Gaffigan and Zach Galifianakis, what could have been a melancholy shoot didn’t wind up a sad production. “When you’re working in the right environment, you decide, ‘We’re going to have some fun,’ which is how Funny Story was,” Gaffigan says. “It’s an interesting, dark story.”
With even more jobs under his belt, like a large role in next year’s Salvation Boulevard alongside Greg Kinnear, Pierce Brosnan and Ed Harris (“All these big muckety-mucks,” Gaffigan says), his comfort level with being a well-known, goofy-looking star is growing. So why all the stumbles and stutters when he talks about it? Gaffigan just doesn’t want anybody getting the wrong idea. He insists that his acting is simply “a break from stand-up” and praises his wife, Jeannie — his longtime joke-writing collaborator — and his three children, who often give him inspiration. They’re not just contributors to his jokes, he says; they’re the best part of his career.
“The entertainment industry, if you let it go to your head, becomes a perception game,” Gaffigan says. “I want to keep my priorities of my wife and kids ahead of [the rest].”
NEVER TOO BUSY TO BE LAZY
Between stand-up gigs, films and family life, Jim Gaffigan still makes time for the important stuff: slacking off. The man who jokes that he prefers “the easy way in life” offers his tips so that you can too.
Skip gift shopping, courtesy of American Way: “[Flight attendants] always make this announcement: ‘Feel free to take the magazine with you.’ I’m like, ‘Great! Now I know what I’m getting my dad for Christmas.’ ”
Have kids: “They’re a decent yard-work crew.”
Wear black: “It’s easier than going to the gym. If there were another color that was a little more thinning than black, I don’t think anyone would work out again.”
Microwave your holiday meals: “They make a Thanksgiving-turkey Hot Pocket now, right?"