(Article from Dec. 21, 2017)
Funnyman Jim Gaffigan had the best worst year ever. One of those kinds of years that drops you to your knees and forces you to take stock of your personal inventory. He wasn’t alone. Gaffigan’s wife, comedian and screenwriter Jeannie, underwent a lifesaving surgery to remove a tumor from the base of her brain stem.
Together, the couple inched through Jeannie’s arduous recovery, finding comfort in familiarity; spending time with their children and writing through the pain. It was a slow crawl back to good health but as her condition improved, new material began to take shape.
“It was one of those things that during the process my wife and I by default, wrote material. It helped us get through the process for sure and she is on the road back to full recovery,” says Gaffigan, just five days before Christmas. “At this point, it’s just chaos. We have the tree up here but soon we head down to Florida. We usually go to Milwaukee where my wife is from but this year we’re hoping for some warm weather.”
Gaffigan chronicles his experiences during his wife’s difficult medical journey along – tumor humor, if you will – with his signature observations on life, fatherhood and food in his current stand-up show “Noble Ape” stopping Dec. 30 at the Jacksonville Memorial Arena. He is generous with his personal life, spinning the everyman details of parenting and family into relatable comedy gold. He avoids any mention of politics, preferring to remain “politically agnostic” in his act.
“Looking back to January and February, I was thinking ‘am I going to be able to stay out of this discussion?’ But what I found is that people want a break from it. It consumes so much of our days that there is a fatigue that comes from discussing the drama that we all know about. There’s other people that can do that. Leave it to the political analysts,” he says.
Closing out a year framed by perspective and perseverance is apropos as Gaffigan takes a dramatic turn into serious acting. He has a pool of film projects in various stages of development as he plows through his massive arena tour with dates in China, Japan, England, Denmark, Sweden, Iceland Norway, Finland, Paris and Canada.
“We never set out to do arenas. It wasn’t something we pursued. It was more of an opportunity that arose,” Gaffigan says of Noble Ape. “This is different than the five specials on Netflix. I really feel like this is my best yet. It’s something that I’ve really enjoyed working on. I’ve been at this a long time and I feel like I’m getting better at it. With my wife’s health scare, I’m grateful to have the opportunity to perform. I was looking at a scenario where I was a single dad of five kids.”
Gaffigan has enjoyed critical success in his years performing his stand-up shows, penning two New York Times best sellers Dad is Fat and Food: A Love Story, serving as co-writer and co-producer of The Jim Gaffigan Show on TV Land alongside his wife Jeannie. The transition to film came gradually then suddenly.
“I’ve always loved acting. The opportunities haven’t necessarily been there, but it is something I’ve always wanted to do. It just happened that these dramatic roles lined up at the right time. I’ve been auditioning for 27 years,” he says, unable to pinpoint the defining moment that propelled him into a cast among Kata Mara, Bruce Dern, Ed Helms and Jason Clarke in the upcoming release Chappaquiddick. “I wish I knew. I think some of it is luck and timing and other work I’ve done proving to people that I can act. The entertainment industry is not always logical or fair. I’ve been kicking around long enough to know it’s not easy. In some ways, I’m not questioning it.”
Scheduled for a spring release, Chappaquiddick tells the story of Senator Ted Kennedy, played by Clarke, and the tragic 1968 car accident that took the life of Mary Jo Kopechne, a campaign strategist played by Mara. Gaffigan is District Attorney Paul Markham, who was on the island of Chappaquiddick at the time of the accident and assisted Kennedy with the cover up.
The film was shot in the fall of 2016 and premiered at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival to rave reviews. For Gaffigan, the time lapse created a chasm that forced him to walk back into the moment to recapture the muscle memory associated with the project.
“When it premiered at the film festival, I was like ‘what is the story about? Who is my character?’ Maybe it’s a commentary on my memory. You do all these things and you have no control over what they use or how they use it. But it’s something you’ve lived in so it’s familiar,” says Gaffigan. “What’s amazing about acting is you’re in a total communication moment. With comedy, we either make people laugh or don’t. You’re the writer, producer and director. It’s a different skillset. It’s equally rewarding, just strange.”
Gaffigan recently filmed the comedy You Can Choose Your Family in which he plays a seemingly normal father whose home life is turned upside down when his 17-year-old son discovers that his dad has a second family. Production is slated to begin on the dramatic thriller Them That Follow featuring Gaffigan as Zeke, the pious, steadfast husband of the matriarch of a small, Appalachian community where believers handle poisonous snakes to prove their devotion to God.
He also stars with Alec Baldwin and Salma Hayek in the comedy Drunk Parents, voices the leading role of Peng in the animated Duck Duck Goose, opening April 20, and is confirmed as starring in Super Troopers 2 and All the Animals Come Out at Night. Gaffigan is still dusting off last year’s shrapnel, but among the broken bits are tiny flecks of gold. He is embracing it all with gratitude, branching out into new endeavors while finding comfort in the familiar world of stand-up comedy.
Says Gaffigan, “You never know what the next opportunity is going to be, but I can’t imagine not doing stand-up. I’m good.”