Gaffigan gives audiences food for thought

Comedian fulfills appetites for jokes about what's on their plates

  • Jim Gaffigan performs at 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. Nov. 20 at the Lyric Opera House, 140 W. Mount Royal Ave. Tickets are $33.75-$43.75. Call 410-547-7328 or go to ticketmaster.com.
Jim Gaffigan performs at 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. Nov. 20 at the Lyric… (Handout photo )
November 19, 2009|By Sam Sessa | sam.sessa@baltsun.com | Baltimore Sun reporter

When comedian Jim Gaffigan needs inspiration for his stand-up routine, he looks to the low end of American life.

Gaffigan loves to romanticize about lying on the sofa, eating unhealthy food like Hot Pockets and piles of bacon, or making a late-night Waffle House run. He plays the stereotypical American - whiny and ultra-lazy - like few other comedians. That could be why so many Americans relate to Gaffigan, who will perform two shows at the Lyric Opera House on Friday night.

"I'm an observational guy," Gaffigan said. "I like to take topics that are mundane or everyday and make them funny."

Food has played a prominent role in Gaffigan's routine for years. His 2003 album "The Last Supper" is mostly about two things: food and Jesus. His three albums since then have all featured bits about food. Gaffigan's routine about Hot Pockets ("They should just come with a roll of toilet paper") quickly became one of his most famous.

When Gaffigan began writing material for his latest album and DVD, "King Baby," he said he promised himself he wouldn't talk about food. Then he came up with a sketch about bacon: "You want to know how good bacon is? To improve other food, they wrap bacon in it."

The act was too good for Gaffigan to resist.

"I didn't want to censor myself," Gaffigan said. "If it was funny, it was funny. If I was considered 'the food guy,' I didn't really care. You have no control over it."

Gaffigan caved altogether and ended up putting tons of food-related material into "King Baby," from bologna to ketchup. "King Baby" (the same title is used for the CD and DVD) was released in March.

With bacon fever sweeping across the country, inspiring thousands of bacon-themed products, now is a good time to be a bacon-loving comedian, Gaffigan said.

"Every time there's a new bacon-scented envelope, I get 50 e-mails or messages or tweets about it," he said. "It's the same whenever there's a new Hot Pocket. ... It's very flattering."

An Indiana native, the 43-year-old Gaffigan now lives in New York City with his wife, Jeannie, and their three children. After the kids go to bed, Gaffigan and Jeannie sit down and toss around ideas for his routine.

They are working on a piece about narcissism and how demanding and spoiled people can be. Gaffigan also posts one-liners on his Twitter page, and sometimes he can build a sketch around them.

"For me, coming up with a new joke is just the best high you'll ever get," Gaffigan said. "It's amazing."

Lately, Gaffigan and his wife have been cranking out loads of new material. Friday night's show will last about an hour and a half. About an hour of that will be new material, Gaffigan said.

Deciding how much new and old material to put in a show is always a balancing act, Gaffigan said.

"People want to see some old stuff," he said. "They're like, 'I drove an hour and a half to hear that damn Hot Pocket joke.' But they also want to hear new stuff. And I've been able to come up with a lot of new stuff."

Much of that new material involves seafood, which Gaffigan hopes will be a natural fit in Baltimore.

"I have tons of jokes about crabs, and I'm coming to Maryland, where the crab is the state bird," he said.

With his perpetual 5 o'clock shadow, pale skin and doughy frame, Gaffigan looks much like the perpetual slacker he portrays on stage. This persona could be rooted in reality, but Gaffigan is quite the workhorse.

Gaffigan has released seven comedy albums since 2001 and has appeared as a character actor in movies (such as "Super Troopers") and TV shows (such as "Law & Order"). He worked with "Tonight Show" host Conan O'Brien on an animated series called "Pale Force." Most recently, Gaffigan played a character named Lowell in the comedy-drama " Away We Go."

Character roles force Gaffigan to be brutally honest with himself, he said.

"You'll get a script and it says, 'The ugly guy walks in the room,' and you're like, 'All right, this is the part I'm auditioning for,' " he said. "You have to face that reality when you're a character actor."

Since much of Gaffigan's routine is a running commentary on American life, he's leery of performing abroad too much, he said. Besides, people in Great Britain tend to look down their noses at Americans, he said.

"I'm too American for England," he said. "You'll go out after a British guy who's just ripped into America for 10 minutes. I'll go on stage and be like, 'We're not that bad.' "

Gaffigan hesitates to use curse words or get too obscene in his routines. It wouldn't fit his "colloquial" style, he said.

In turn, Gaffigan's audience is usually composed of a wide range of people, he said.

"I think I'm perceived as a Midwestern, white-bread guy," Gaffigan said. "People don't know my political leanings. In the audience, there's always the lesbian couple sitting next to the Mormon family."

Using common themes such as laziness and junk food has given him broad appeal, Gaffigan said.

"It's holding up a mirror to our culture," he said. "We all want to sit on the couch. We all want to eat these things that are going to kill us."

If you go
Jim Gaffigan performs at 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. Friday at the Lyric Opera House, 140 W. Mount Royal Ave. Tickets are $33.75-$43.75. Call 410-547-7328 or go to ticketmaster.com.

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