In 11 Questions, The A.V. Club asks interesting people 11 interesting questions—and then asks them to suggest one for our next interviewee.
2017 is shaping up to be a banner year for Jim Gaffigan. His new stand-up special, Jim Gaffigan: Cinco, just dropped on Netflix, and he was recently named one of Forbes’ highest grossing comedians in the world. He’s also nabbed a part in the third season of FX’s spectacular series Fargo and is set to pop up in six different full-length movies due out in 2017, including Drunk Parents, The Bleeder, The Guardian Brothers, and Chappaquiddick. Everything’s coming up Gaffigan, which is why The A.V. Club decided to call on him to kick off our 2017 run of the 11 Questions feature. As you’d expect, he took the brand new questions in stride.
1. If you could spend the rest of your life inside one movie or TV show, what would it be and why?
Jim Gaffigan: I guess It’s A Wonderful Life. I know it’s an idealized existence there, but I feel like there was kind of this small-town, clear delineation between right and wrong, and you knew who the bad people were.
Adventure Time would be fun. You wouldn’t be bored there.
I think that kind of explains my psychosis or neurosis.
The A.V. Club: Why Adventure Time?
JG: Because nothing is predictable in that environment, and there’s a certain sarcasm. The ridiculousness and idiocy of life is embraced and examined. It nurtures the childhood perspective in everyone. My kids love Adventure Time, and that’s the only reason I know about it. But you watch it, and you’re like, all right, these are some sick people that I would totally be friends with.
AVC: In that same vein, I think I would say Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. It’s that kind of exciting, totally weird world where anything goes.
JG: There are different parts of us. You want to feel safe but you want to also feel challenged.
2. Do you have a favorite swear word or phrase? How often do you use it and in what circumstances?
JG: I don’t curse on stage, but I feel like I curse more because I have kids and in front of my kids. Not intentionally.
I think I like “shit.” In conversations with my wife, I’ll be like, “I did some shows, and I came up with some good shit.” If something’s bad, “it’s just shit.” It’s the laziest, most uncreative word. Like when you don’t want to turn on your brain, you can just say “shit.” No one’s going to be offended.
Obviously, there are differences between Brits and Americans with the C-word, but even “fuck” seems really caustic. I told my son, who’s 11, “Look, I don’t care if you curse—it’s other people that care.” So we tried that experiment, and he just cursed all the time. And I was like, “All right, now I care that you curse.” You try to have this idealized view, and it’s like, “I don’t care.” But it’s just going to cause chaos. We have younger kids, and they’re just mimicking everything their brother does.
3. How did you spend your last birthday?
JG: You know, I really don’t care about birthdays. It’s something where even as a kid, I never really felt comfortable when someone would sing to me. It’s also something where my wife doesn’t care about birthdays, so we share that. I respect people that do care about them, though. It’s their own thing. But for my last birthday, I performed in Houston, and it was the night of that guy shooting cops. So we were in Houston, and I was going out to dinner with my manager afterwards, and my wife was like, “You can’t go out to dinner!” Anyway, that’s what I remember. The guy from Twenty One Pilots came to my show and I knew that my 12-year-old would be impressed with me, and also I enjoy their music, too. So that was my last birthday.
AVC: As an adult, birthdays are weird. Patton Oswalt has that whole famous bit about it, but you shouldn’t get to make a big deal out of every birthday. You get one every five or 10 years. Otherwise, it’s just another day.
JG: He really covers it well. But then again, I have friends that really care about their birthdays. “We’re going roller skating!”
I’m a weirdo that goes on stage to make strangers laugh, but if I wasn’t working, I would just want to be with my wife and kids. I don’t even think I’d want to go out to dinner. I want to control the attention that I get in some ways.
4. What’s the worst professional advice you’ve ever received?
JG: I think the worst professional advice I received was this kind of unspoken message of “sit back and wait your turn,” or “sit back and wait and let other people do things.” Jeannie [Gaffigan, his wife] and I had a lot of fun working on our show, but prior to that… there’s this message to comedians in particular, that you shouldn’t write it, and a television writer should write it. And that’s a prevailing conventional wisdom that I think is really wrong. That’s not to say that television writers aren’t great, but I think that the belief that some comedy writer’s going to be able to capture your voice is naive.
AVC: Did you guys write it alone, or did you have other people helping you out at all?
JG: We had people coming in to consult. I think there’s this tendency to kind of hope someone else will do it for you, and in the end, you just have to do it yourself. Some people don’t want to do it, and some people do get lucky, but I think that you’ve got to do everything yourself. You definitely need tons of help, but you can’t delegate.
5. If you were a medical doctor, what kind of doctor would you be, and why?
JG: Well, I’ve joked about this, but I think that I would be an anesthesiologist. I don’t like the pressure of someone dying on me. They’re like, “All right, I need to get you high, but not too high,” and I like the fact that they get to sit during surgery. My childhood best friend is an anesthesiologist. It’s the least amount of human interaction for a doctor. I don’t think you can get that burned out on it.
AVC: It doesn’t seem to be as stressful as other medical jobs. Unless you’re in the ER, you work on a schedule.
JG: It’s interesting, because I think being a doctor is really hard, and it’s really this thankless, never-ending job. It’s not even that you get done with a project. There are always sick people.
6. What’s your perfect Sunday?
JG: It’s definitely spending time with my kids. I would say that it wouldn’t be freezing like it is now. It would probably be sleeping in, having breakfast with my kids, and taking them to the park. This is an unrealistic thing, but after I played with them in the park, I would work on a movie from 4 to 10 p.m., and then I would do a spot of stand-up at 10:30, and then I would go home, and I would watch Netflix with my wife for an hour and a half. That would be perfect.
7. What do you get snobby about?
JG: I’ve stayed in so many hotel rooms that I’m shocked if, when I stay in a hotel room, the hotel phone isn’t on the desk. Then I’m like, “This isn’t a real hotel room.” If there’s not outlets next to the desk, or if they have an iPhone adapter for an iPhone 4, that’s when I’m sitting there annoyed. I understand that it’s ridiculous, but that’s just me spending way too much time in hotels. For me, hotels, with having five kids, it’s like, look, some people like to go to a fancy W hotel. I like to stay in a hotel where it’s a dome of silence. I can sit in my room and do nothing. Boutique hotels are great, but they get too cute. Some hotels have shoe polish. It’s like, come on, this isn’t 1960. No one’s polishing their shoes.
8. What book have you read the most?
I used to take such pride in reading a book a week. Some of those Malcolm Gladwell books, I was always reading them. And then I was touring with my book in a lot of bookstores, I would buy a book, but I wouldn’t finish half of them. I have friends who have written books, and I’ve read half of those. I haven’t finished a book in 10 years.
My wife gave me Silence. She read that book, and was like, “You’ve got to read this,” and I haven’t even opened it. I’m just being honest. I’m not proud of it.
I feel guilty if I’m not reading books, but I read scripts of movies or things that I know I’m committed to that I’m going to do the project. I tell myself, “I’m going to read this script like six times,” and I only read it the initial time.
I have this new Netflix special, so a panic overtakes you, where up until the launch date you have that much time to come up with a new hour. There’s this sprint. I love writing stand-up, too. But once that special comes out, all 72 minutes of material just stops being considered new. So there’s that drive, too. I love writing stand-up so much and tinkering and looking for ideas.
AVC: Well, you’ve got a lot of projects going on, too. You’re in Fargo, and you’re in a bunch of movies. You’ve got to read all that stuff, too.
JG: It’s a great problem to have.
When you have five little kids, you’re not going to open Mindy Kaling’s latest book. You’re playing with your kids.
9. What are you afraid of?
JG: I’m afraid of a couple things. I’m afraid of getting caught up in other people’s expectations, because I feel like that’s an ongoing battle. Stand-up is so rewarding, and I enjoy the acting opportunities I’ve had, but the only time I really feel bad is when I feel like I have this manufactured belief that I should be doing something else or there should be some type of recognition. On an intellectual level, I know it’s stupid. So getting caught up in other people’s expectations is one.
The other thing I’m afraid of is not taking advantage of opportunities. I feel like these are kind of gifts. I think in my mind I wouldn’t eat unhealthy. I would be more productive. When I have auditions, I should be completely off-book, but I’m not most of the time. It’s all about the rocking-chair test. If you’re in a rocking chair looking back on your life, are you going to sit there and go, why didn’t I do that? And, obviously, as a parent, you don’t want to screw that up.
This year, as a family, we’re going on more international trips. Some of it is like, for the past five years, we’ve been writing books or doing TV shows. So it’s like we’ve got to do it now, because I don’t know what my life is going to be like in a year. “Even if I can’t go with you because of Fargo, you should go. Go and do this.”
It’s weird. You can get kind of caught up in this web of chasing these elusive, stupid things. Award shows are really silly. I’m very happy for the people that win the awards, and I can say they’re really silly, but I would love to get one. So I also know wasting time on that is pointless.
AVC: I talked to Jen Kirkman recently and she said that instead of making a resolution, she made a list of goals and a list of wishes. So, a goal might be “write a stand-up special,” but a wish would be “have an acclaimed stand-up special.” We’re blessed to do the things we do, and that anyone pays attention is just gravy.
JG: I also feel like, even in this crazy world of Trump getting elected and these things that really kind of caught me off-guard, I feel like I understand less than I did. I feel like as a country we understand less than we did two months ago, but I feel that way about more things. Again, I don’t have any judgment of it, but people’s fascination with The Bachelorette and The Bachelor. I understand a guilty pleasure, but it seems like I just don’t understand that.
I don’t understand the fashion industry and the appeal of it. I understand that there are some people who think it’s important to them, and they’re designers, they’re artists, but there seems to be a disproportionate amount of our culture that’s caught up in that and the red carpet stuff. It seems like there’s a disproportionate amount of attention placed on that. There should be people that are interested in the red carpet, and there should be people that are interested in The Bachelorette, but it seems like it’s unbalanced. I understand some people would like it, but my entire Twitter feed, it seems like everyone loves it. It’s another thing I don’t have in common with people.
10. Who are you a big fan of that we wouldn’t necessarily guess?
JG: This is one of those questions where it’s such a great opportunity, and I’m like, “all right, who is someone that I’m a big fan of?”
I think Amy Adams is an amazing actress. I saw her in Arrival and Nocturnal Animals, and she’s the shit. I haven’t seen Moonlight or some other movies, but I thought her performance in Nocturnal Animals, wow! Again, maybe people do acknowledge that she was really good, but I think that she’s somebody that people would not know. I wouldn’t say I’m a huge fan of hers, but watching those two movies, I was like, “She is a great American actor.”
11. What advice would you give to your younger self?
JG: It shifts. First, I would say that stand-up comedy in the end, unlike the rest of the entertainment industry, is a meritocracy. There’s a certain level of undeniability you can work toward. But I think that there’s part of me that feels like maybe I should have been more social. In doing the television show, which was great, I think that I would have said, “Be more assertive with what you want to do,” earlier, because even if I had failed, it would have been an incredible learning experience. I think that’s when I was kind of like, “I don’t know, what do you guys think I should do?” when I was writing my own stand-up. I’ve always been somebody that it takes me longer to learn things, but once I learn them… I’m like a quarterback that plays best in the fourth quarter.
I would also say don’t get caught up in other people’s expectations. Don’t take anything for granted, either. I love my career, but I feel like you’ve got to babysit a lot of aspects of things. Assuming that things will be handled properly is just naive. But I think that’s anyone’s life, right? Even if you’re running a construction site, it doesn’t matter if you’ve been doing it for 20 years, you’re still going to be blindsided by someone’s incompetence or indifference.
AVC: The last question is not for you. It’s for the next person who does this interview. What do you want to ask them, not knowing who it is?
JG: How would you fix the divisiveness that exists in this country?