Jim Gaffigan Values Fear, Longs for Naps and Dreams of Deep-Dish
Few stories capture the anxiety of aging out of childhood like Peter Pan. Jim Gaffigan, who wore a white beard to play Mr. Smee, the long-suffering associate of Jude Law’s Captain Hook in the new film “Peter Pan & Wendy,” finds the story to be much more important for adults than kids. Even one, like him, who makes his living talking to strangers about how much he enjoys eating at McDonald’s.
“Wendy not wanting to grow up — I understand that, and I’m very close with people that really identify with the whole Peter Pan complex,” the stand-up comedian said in a phone interview earlier this month. “Most comedians don’t want to grow up.”
“Peter Pan & Wendy,” directed by David Lowery, hits Disney+ on April 28. Gaffigan, who lives in New York with his wife — the writer and producer Jeannie Gaffigan — and their five children, talked about the material he gets from his offspring, how he keeps them away from his pizza and why gardening feels like writing. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
It’s very important for me to have consistent access to a feeling of creative fulfillment. As a stand-up comedian, it can be coming up with a new line or a whole new topic. Or it can be writing a CBS “Sunday Morning” commentary. It’s nice if it’s embraced, but you did it for yourself. That creative fulfillment is something I can’t imagine my life without. It is so much more important than accolades or monetary gain.
In a strange way, gardening is similar to writing and acting in that every day you know what the task is, but the outcome can be different. So, you might know that you’ll be able to grow some cucumbers, but what you do to facilitate that or to help it can be different every day. You have some control, but not all control. The trial and error of gardening and the meditative time you spend doing it is really calming, and it reminds me of writing stand-up and building a character for a movie.
Napping is not that rare among comedians because of the necessity to peak at a certain time. In my late 20s and early 30s, I was getting up early to audition for commercials, then I would have stand-up shows at night, and I felt a lot of guilt about napping. I remember hearing about Ronald Reagan napping, and it was presented as not a thing of weakness, but almost like a retirement thing. I’ve evolved to appreciate the value of it. It’s a nice way of saying: I quit for this part of the day.
The amount of material that my five children have provided me is not the reason I have five kids, but I know that the crisis of each one of their lives — and I say that with affection, because I care — is going to provide insights, lessons and, hopefully, material.
I have a long-distance love affair with Chicago deep-dish pizza. It’s got to be the sausage deep-dish. They’re all good, but Lou Malnati’s delivers and we’ve done that many times. What’s confusing about Chicago deep-dish pizza is that there’s way too much of it. No one needs to ever eat more than a piece, but you end up eating more than a piece. And I’m ridiculously selfish with it. I will make sure there’s other pizza that will be given to my children so that I can eat the deep-dish, because I’m not going to waste that on a kid.
I like the Staples OptiFlow pen. What’s amazing about this pen is that they work great, then they eventually explode in your hand. I use it for editing. I don’t know how people can write with a black pen. If you’ve printed out something and you put black notes on, you’re going to miss those. It has to be in blue.
Saint Agur Blue Cheese
Before we had kids, my wife and I would get a bottle of red wine and, because we thought we were fancy, we would try different cheeses, like Saint Agur Blue. It’s an amazing, creamy blue cheese that has stayed with me.
Right now I’m reading “Talking to Strangers.” I like that, in all his books, he presents information, presents a theory, but there isn’t one conclusion to it. And there is an efficiency to getting to the facts. He doesn’t do a long preamble. I’m not a podcast guy, but I think his books provide me with the intellectual stimulation that a lot of people get from podcasts.
After a show, I’ll often reward myself by going to a steakhouse. I’ve been to a lot of different places — The Palm, Ruth’s Chris, Elway’s in Denver. I like the fact that there’s some formality at a steakhouse, but it’s not over-the-top. It’s as nice as I want things. It’s dark, you have your privacy, you can have a good conversation. I just love the whole vibe of a steakhouse.
People ask if I get nervous before I go onstage. I wouldn’t say I’m nervous, but if there wasn’t a dose of fear, there wouldn’t be the reward. I value the fear of performing. I think it’s exciting. There’s always the possibility that, for a comedian, people won’t laugh, or, if you’re part of an acting project, that people will say it’s the worst thing ever. But it’s that kind of fear and risk that is exciting.