Millions of TV viewers have seen Jim Gaffigan this week. He appeared in a Super Bowl ad for Sierra Mist, while Comedy Central has aired his latest special, "Beyond the Pale," several times in the past couple of weeks. A full-length DVD hit stores in early February with 26 minutes not seen on Comedy Central and several hilarious bonus features, including a sketch involving "comedy coach Arty Hittle" explaining the secrets of breaking into stand-up. Which makes watching Gaffigan’s first stand-up gig, from Jan. 27, 1991 (also on the DVD), even more illuminating.
"People say, ‘Is that really your first time?’ You could tell I was nervous, though, right?" he asked me.
Gaffigan felt out of his element at last month’s Sundance Film Festival, where he appeared in "Stephanie Daley" with Tilda Swinton and Timothy Hutton. "I’d never been there before," he said. "It was an experience in itself. Everyone thought I was (Philip Seymour) Hoffman." We can see the slight resemblance. "This business is about getting too much respect or getting none. I think being confused for Phil Hoffman was getting both," Gaffigan told me. "I’m a married guy, anyway, so it’s not like I was going to capitalize in a creepy way. So it was mostly awkward."
Also awkward: Trying to describe his role in M. Night Shyamalan’s 2006 film, Lady in the Water, particularly because months later, the film opened without his part making it onscreen!
For most of his career, though, Gaffigan has bounced between movie roles, sitcoms (Ed, That 70s Show, Welcome to New York) and stand-up. "It’s weird, some of the blurbs people have when they’re announcing your shows," he said. "Being an actor and a comedian, someitmes people don’t know I do the other thing. USA Today, the TV critic said…Jim Gaffigan has had bad luck in sitcoms and now he’s trying his hand at stand-up. I’ve done Conan 16 times. Not like he should be watching Comedy Central like everyone else, but he is the TV critic. That’s what you do. It’s like a TV critic not knowing about Cheers."
Wonder if that critic has seen any of the Sierra Mist spots. "Those ads are fun, because we get a script and it’s funny and then we do the script. But then Michael Ian Black and I get to play," he said.
Onstage, Gaffigan is even funnier, using both his inside and outside voices to comment on many things — even if in "Beyond the Pale," most of those things tend to revolve around food. Even the McRib. "You know, there’s an Internet campaign to save it," he said. "There should be an X-Files episode on the McRib. It’s like a Cinnabon. You have like one a decade and that’s good enough. Any time they can take a meat product and shape it like it has bones in it, it has got to be good!"