Jim Gaffigan talks Domino's, Law & Order, and having the gall to accept serious acting roles
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By now, anyone with a modicum of interest in stand-up comedy is at least remotely familiar with Jim Gaffigan, the Midwestern-bred comedian whose laziness-based humor has tiptoed between highlighting the absurdities of consumerism (see his "Hot Pockets" routine) and rationalizing the pleasures of gluttony (hence eight minutes of bacon jokes). But no less ubiquitous is Jim Gaffigan the actor: While you may not find him on a movie poster or in television previews, Gaffigan's frequently a pleasantly unexpected cameo, whether as "Jim," Murray's best friend on Flight Of The Conchords, the conspiracy theorist Lowell in Away We Go, or as the accused wife-murderer Larry Johnson on an episode of Law & Order. Before his three-night stint at Chicago Theatre from Jan. 29 to 31, The A.V. Club talked to Gaffigan about the strange perceptions some have about his acting career and why Domino's makes him feel like a battered housewife.
The A.V. Club: What is it about food and laziness that keeps you coming back for material?
Jim Gaffigan: It’s interesting because I didn’t set out to do food and laziness material. Comedians kind of write what comes to them. You can give yourself little assignments, but it’s what inspires you. So I feel like with food, it is a passion of mine. It’s where my sensibility rests. I love topics that are universal, and I love stuff that doesn’t alienate people. The laziness I feel is kind of a romance that everyone has of doing nothing. I feel like that’s something shared by even the most motivated person. They have feelings of feeling really lazy and regrets about a day when they’re like, “What was I doing watching Growing Pains?” I love to eat, but it’s not like I went to cooking school or anything. I’ve been doing stand-up for so long, I think 19 years, that I love topics I can also expand on. Once I identify a topic like, say, seafood, which is a big one right now, it’s like there are different kinds of tangents I can go on to build a larger chunk.
AVC: Are there any foods you poke fun at that you secretly enjoy? Like after the set, you’re greeted by a delicious Domino’s bread bowl?
JG: The bread bowl thing is very similar to the Hot Pocket thing, where I just look at it and go, “I cannot believe it.” I have this abusive relationship with Domino’s. They’re the only ones open late. When it’s hot and you have those first couple of bites, it’s okay. Then you’re so mad at yourself, like a battered wife that says, “Why do I go back to him?” So, to answer your question, no. I would say some of the food I talk about that I really enjoy, like cake and bacon, I eat a lot less than I portray in my act. But that stuff that I dislike, it’s pretty sincere.
AVC: You were recently bashing Mountain Dew on your Twitter. How can we trust your judgment on that when everybody knows about your relationship with Sierra Mist?
JG: I think that’s a very valid question, but the whole reality of endorsements for anyone age 12 and up is that they understand that Luke Wilson really doesn’t care about Verizon or AT&T. You watch those commercials and go, “Well, you think he got like 2 million?” It’s not like he has a favorite phone company. It’s like, “So I can get that house in Aspen….” But the Mountain Dew thing was, we were in a hotel and the people were nice enough to give us a basket of stuff, and there were some sodas there—I would say pops but that’s been beaten out of me—and it was 2 a.m., and the name just looked ridiculous. Sierra Mist is a ridiculous name for a soda, too.
AVC: Let’s talk about your acting roles. What is it about your acting style that lends itself so well to Law & Order villains?
JG: [Laughs.] I’ve always wanted to be an actor. I’ve never planned on the acting and the stand-up feeding each other; they’ve always been separate desires. It’s kind of a rite of passage as a New York actor to do Law & Order. It’s a really fun show to do because you know there’s going to be some twists and turns. My wife and I watch it at like 2 a.m. and we always watch the first scene and try and guess the absolute scenario. “That guy’s playing like he’s crazy but he’s not crazy. It’s the grandmother who did it all along.” So it’s kind of a fun game to play.
AVC: Is it difficult to do dramatic roles?
JG: It’s weird when you play a character on Law & Order and you’ll see some article that’s like, “Can you believe this comedian can actually deliver these lines of exposition?” There is this false perception that comedians can never be serious. It’s like from like the era of court jesters. “Gaffigan played a bad guy and he didn’t even juggle!” But the whole perception thing is very odd because when Beyond The Pale was premiering, the perception was that I was a sitcom actor. I remember the USA Today had something like, “Sitcom actor Gaffigan tries his hand at stand-up.” At that point I had been doing stand-up for like 12 years, but the perception was that I was “the silly guy from That '70s Show.” I do love acting, though. I’ve done some indie films and I remember the guy who directed this western sent me a link to this indie film site where they’re like “Can you believe he cast Jim Gaffigan? He didn’t even have any punchlines!” It’s really kind of insane.
AVC: When are we going to see you star in a feature role? Could that kind of movie be made?
JG: Well, it couldn’t be high-energy. I’m sure, if you’re like me, you look at your On Demand movies—every now and then everyone comes to that conclusion: “Well, I’m just going to buy one of these damn movies On Demand”—and you go through it and there’s like 200 of them and you’re like “Nah, I don’t want any of them.” You’ll scroll through like 20 movies where you’re like, “Who is watching these?” So, there are ideas I want to do for movies, but I also live in the wrong city. I feel like I should live in L.A., but I don’t want to. And I’m so spoiled by stand-up where you have this incredible amount of control. You can come up with an idea, edit, rewrite, and go onstage the next night. Whereas in acting, at least for me, they’re like: “They want you to be a guy from Buffalo who’s in the mafia, and your last name is some Sicilian name.” And I’m like “I’ll give it a stab.” And they’re like, “Alright, they ended up going with the Italian guy.” And I’m thinking “Why did I even go in there?” I just have so much more control over the stand-up thing. I love the acting, but I’m not holding my breath.