Jim Gaffigan explains Pale Force

Jim Gaffigan debuted the second season of his cartoon superhero farce, Pale Force, on Monday night’s Late Night with Conan O’Brien. For those of you who haven’t caught on, Gaffigan helps out, introducing the concept each time he’s on the show, saying how he and Conan "play superheroes who fight crime with our paleness and shoot lasers out of our nipples." And Conan always points out, as he did Monday, "I think I came across as weak and sniveling in some episodes — wait, all episodes!" And each time, they show the first part of an episode, end with a cliffhanger and send viewers online to see what happens next.

Here is a sample clip from the first season:

Gaffigan and I talked earlier today about how this bizarre Emmy-nominated cartoon came to be.

"It’s the idea of Paul Noth. He’s a cartoonist for The New Yorker. It was his idea. He had come to a couple of tapings when I was on Conan and it just kind of, he came up with the idea and we pitched it to the Conan people and did a sample one."

Was it a hard sell?
"it’s kind of rare for them to take an idea, let alone one that costs a bunch of money to produce, but they liked it, and it kind of snowballed. We got 20 episodes for the first season and 20 episodes for the second season."

So how much does it cost?
"Well, I don’t know if I’m supposed to reveal that. We do it in a very cost-efficient way, compared to how they’re doing King of the Hill, it’s a lot cheaper. Paul does a boatload of the animation work. He directs the animation, he draws all the characerts, I do all the voices. Paul’s brother, Patrick Noth does all the music. Jeannie, my wife, is in on every writers’ meeting. It’s a tiny self-contained group."

"Paul had done a small piece of animation that I have on my dvd, which was essentially me talking to the camera when I’m in my underwear. He had been fishing around looking for other things to do."

I know Conan claims to have nothing to do with it, but does he give you guys any input?
"We discuss what the panel is going to be, but it’s self-contained. They approved the first script or two, but they’re busy doing a daily show, and they know that we kind of know what we’re doing and we’re not going to cross the line and not come in with some horrible racist thing and we’re not going to go after one of their sponsors or anything…The formula is pretty much: Make fun of pale people, glorify me, and most importantly, humiliate Conan. That’s kind of the nub of what it all is."

Was that supposed to be Carson Daly pushing NBC honcho Jeff Zucker around in a wheelchair in this week’s episode?
"It is Carson, but it’s not like a slam on Carson. Theres also the whole NBC element with Zucker being Old Man Potter in the wheelchair. We were trying to think of who would be the guy who’d be pushing the wheelchair. I’d done Carson’s show tons of times, I thought it would be interesting choice."

Agreed. A very interesting selection. So how does Pale Force fit in with your stand-up and other comedy projects?
"What I love about doing Pale Force and doing animation. I never grew up thinking (raising to his comedic higher-pitched subconscious voice) ‘I want to do my own animation show!’ I love acting. But I love how in animation you can layer in so many jokes and commentary. It is something that you can go back and fix…You can change what somebody’s holding. We try to be mindful of the fact, that we don’t have the luxury of South Park where they can just redo something over and over if they like, because it is this skeleton crew."

New episodes debut once a week, but Gaffigan said he shows up on Conan about once a month to promote Pale Force.

As for how it fits in with his comedic style…
"My stand-up is very much an observational kind of silliness. Pale Force is great because it allows me to explore social commentary and snarkiness that I have in my everyday life. Some of the things that we in the country are embracing or getting obessesed by, I find hysterical."

This week’s episode has a "Dancing With The Stars" scene, for example.
"We have an episode coming up that’s about reality shows and these game show phemonena are out of control. It’s a reality game of ‘So You Think You’re Pale’…You can be a social satirist in some of this stuff. My stand-up persona is a guy who’s obsessed with cake and bacon. I don’t really aspire to do mean stuff, but if we can suddently have a commentary of — things will come up — whether it’ll be Charlie Rose, or just the superficiality of society, it’s kind of fun."

Do you put Pale Force out on your MySpace or multiple Facebook profiles to make sure people know what’s going on?
"They were going to put all last season on iTunes, but NBC had some falling out with itunes, the monopoly there, I think they pushed back too hard. The awareness thing…there’s probably some of them that occasionally sneak onto YouTube. The reason NBC wanted to do two seasons was to drive people to go to nbc.com, which kind of hampers the viral aspect of it. There’s still a lot of people who don’t know what Pale Force is. I’ll do meet-and-greets after the show and if I see someone who’s pale I’ll bring it up, and I’ll be suprrised if they don’t know about it."

If you think Jim Gaffigan is on MySpace and Facebook as much or maybe more often than you, you’re probably right.

How often are you online during the day updating your profiles?
"During the day? It depends. If I’m putting some shows on sale, I might go on there and you know, do a bulletin blog thing. Or a note on Facebook. And then some of it is a distraction from writing, you know what I mean? I’ve got to write. But I have to see if anyone hit my honesty box. There’s no sensible reason for me to spend as much time on there as I do, but it’s all good."

Do you feel like you need to choose between MySpace and Facebook?
"I’m sure I should get rid of one of them. But I like to think I take care of both of them. It seems like Facebook is a little easier, and you feel less inclined to respond to someone sending you a pina colada…obviously you can reach a lot more people on MySpace…The thing that’s so incredible about them both, if you’re an indie band or a comedian, letting people know you’re going to be in Philly (where he’ll be on Saturday) is half the task…How do you let them know you’re coming? So MySpace and Facebook are perfect for that."

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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