In his latest comedy special, premiering Friday on Amazon, Jim Gaffigan recalls the one time he tried his hand at being cool by staying up past his bedtime to see Drake perform in Sin City. It goes without saying that Gaffigan, of the dad-bod, the comb-over, the gently self-effacing stand-up, isn’t your typical pre-dawn Vegas reveler. Drake’s inebriated fans noticed. “They all looked at me like, ‘Oh my gosh, there’s Drake’s accountant,’” says Gaffigan.
The thing is, Gaffigan doesn’t care. He’s the quintessential dork dad, and he owns it, corny weather jokes, fish stick dinners, and all. He’s not here to dazzle you with his worldliness or edginess or caustic commentary. Instead, he’s the master of subtle observational comedy, put to solid use in the two-part The Pale Tourist, which has him riffing on Canada and Spain, seen through the eyes of someone discovering both places without an agenda. Obviously, this was filmed long before COVID-19 rendered Americans unwelcome in both countries. And yes, it made Gaffigan nostalgic for the Before days, when we weren’t shunned globally.
“Pulling together clips for promotional purposes — I have memories of wandering around Valencia and hitting tourist sites and seeing if I could come up with some material. That type of freedom, it’s going to take a while for us to get back to that,” he says.
Gaffigan talks to Fatherly about his homespun isolation series Dinner with the Gaffigans, resetting screen time limits for his five kids, and how he learned to appreciate Spanish ham.
What inspired your two city-based stand-ups, which are vastly different from the more personal comedy you’ve done before?
Right. It was inspired by — following my last special, Quality Time, I had this tour of Asia set up. Some of it was with family. Some of it was me alone. Over the course of those three weeks, I developed 20-25 minutes of material. The night before my final show in Seoul, Korea, I was like, ‘I should just tape this.’ I did a low-production recording of all this material. I put it on my YouTube. I decided to do Spain, and then Canada. I wasn’t sure. I saw it as a cool writing assignment.
You are a foodie. You like food. In your travels, what food stood out to you?
Stand out as good or bad? Hmmm. How crazy the Spanish are about jamon. I’m not some undercover person. I’m not someone who’s an expert on Spanish culture. The jamon thing is to a level of absurdity. No country has eaten that much ham and for no real reason. I love the taste of ham. In Spain, you go and get different types of the same cut of pork that is cured and aged differently. They approach ham the way the French approach cheese and wine.
It’s nice to see you doing straight-up comedy again, after your Dinner with the Gaffigans videos. How is the family, by the way? Are you still in New York?
We’re outside the city. We rented a house for the summer. Everyone is safe. That’s the important thing. There’s an absurd amount of time you can spend with anyone. Luckily I do have a big family. My kids have siblings to play with.
Did being home with the kids and wife 24/7 expose your weak points, so to speak?
I think everyone kind of cracked. I would say like a month into it. You can hang in there but distance learning and five kids — you remove all the support systems you slowly pieced together for that herculean task — people come undone. I’m not even trying to be cute. But I’m the morning person. I get everyone up. And I’m not a morning person. I make dinner and I am not a chef. I don’t enjoy cooking. You gotta divvy up the responsibilities and still a disproportionate amount of it is on my wife’s shoulders.
The weird thing is, I see it in my children too. I don’t have the habit to grab a napkin. I’m new to it. Making dinner, grilling — I was never a grill guy. I didn’t care about that. I don’t know what I’m doing. I’ll watch the Youtube video but I won’t remember half of it.
What did you learn about yourself as a parent, from being home without break and being around your kids 24/7?
So many things. Your tactic for parenting has to change with every age the child is. It’s always shifting. What works might not work at different times. All these tactics, these well-grounded tactics or approaches to parenting, unravel. Distance learning is nothing like making sure your kids do their homework. The concept of time gets blurred. Your kids are not tired at 8pm. You want them to have some peace and relaxation so you loosen things up on screens. It’s weird.
I’ve learned greater flexibility, maybe. Being somebody who works at night, I used to put some of my kids to bed, go off and do a show, and come back and wrestle down the other ones. Whereas the fact that I never leave and the fact that my children have many more chores and they’re dealing with the pandemic too. If they want to veg out on TikTok, I feel like they should be able too. The concept of a play date or time where they socialize has been shifted to screens. So you have to let them have them.
I went and brought two of my kids to a doctor’s appointment and I came back. My nine year old greeted me. That was the first time he greeted me because I went away. I was only gone for three hours. I used to look forward to those greetings but I haven’t gone anywhere.
You have five kids, so clearly, you’re a pretty experienced dad. What do you treasure the most about fatherhood?
It’s the small moments that I cherish. Those moments where I’m getting one of my kids to sleep. Or making my kids scrambled eggs. Those things that they don’t realize but I realize that’s what they’re going to remember. You can do family trips. You can go to the beach. You can go to Disneyland, hopefully not now.
It’s nice to hold on to the good stuff, small though it may be, during the rough times.
It’s helpful during the pandemic for them to see me doing work. I would just be on my computer. They’ve seen me clean the kitchen. They’ve seen me on the grill. There was this moment where my kids — my two younger ones were like, ‘Dad does the cooking.’ It was just in the vacuum of the pandemic. They remember me as the one who cooks.
My kid is perfect, so I’m purely asking for a friend. How do you not raise spoiled brats, especially if you’re in a privileged situation?
You talk about Dinner with the Gaffigans. That started as we’re all trapped inside and maybe this will provide a break for someone, where there’s some sense of community. There’s something about Dinner with the Gaffigans which is icky — I’m putting my kids and their meal online — but it forces everyone in the family to not think about themselves. Even if they’re putting on an act of behaving, there’s this focus on the fact that we’re helping someone. I’m not answering your question. For an hour a night, my kids are subjected to thinking about helping other people. Whether it’s rubbing off or not, I don’t know. There’s a lot of value in forcing my kids to just engage in service. All the credit for that goes to my wife. I would have ended that a long time ago.
You can watch all of Dinner with the Gaffians on YouTube right here.