Jim Gaffigan 4, Lady Gaga 3

by Alison Bonaguro

Special to the Tribune

Published January 29, 2010


Bits of bacon are like the fairy dust of the food community. At least, they are when you see the world through comedian Jim Gaffigan's eyes.

And through him, you can also see how the apostles must've looked like a homeless football team. How a snooze button is a good way to start your day off with a little procrastination. How you need to take a nap halfway through a Cinnabon. How Jesus might have actually been a bad carpenter. And how moving a futon is like moving an 800-pound taco full of hatred.

Then there's the whole Hot Pockets bit, when Gaffigan pokes fun at the boiling lava-hot Pop-Tart full of nasty meat and its three-note jingle. It's all part of Gaffigan's dead-on look at the mundane-but-true, and what has him selling out show after show all over the country.

But Chicago is practically Gaffigan's hometown (he was raised in Chesterton, Ind.). So he knows what a coup his four-show run is at the Chicago Theatre this weekend.

"My teenage life was all about planning to go do something in Chicago," Gaffigan said. "We'd be like, 'Let's go in for the Taste of Chicago.' But then we'd have a mini crisis when we found out it was like $20 to park." He also remembers Indiana as being the furthest thing from funny, saying that the closest thing it had to the entertainment industry was the local marching band.

But fast forward to 1999, and an invitation to perform on the "Late Show With David Letterman," and things changed quickly for that Indiana kid.

"It would stop those awkward conversations. Because when you tell someone you're a comedian, the first thing they ask is, 'Oh yeah? Well, have you been on Letterman?' So once I could say yes, they'd realize I wasn't lying," he said. "And you'd see them backpedal out of that pool of judgment."

Since being on "Letterman" validated his career choice, he has fine-tuned his show. One overhaul he made was to take out the expletives. "Stylistically, it's just not necessary," he said. "Do you really need to curse when you're talking about bacon?"

Gaffigan also reasoned that using a swear word too often in a show is just bad writing. "It's like putting 'aforementioned' twice in one paragraph," he said. So what does he do in lieu of f-bombs and dirty talk? "I'm an eccentric observationalist. I learned that from George Carlin and Brian Regan. You take a topic and tear it to shreds. You go to the edge."

But when he goes to the edge, it's not all that edgy. He graduated from Georgetown University, then worked as a litigation consultant assigned with calculating legal fees ("I was horrible at it," he admitted), so he has the education to give his show polish without sounding like a smarter-than-thou intellectual. But he's hardly a dumbed-down redneck, either. He's somewhere in the middle, where he lives with that "other" voice. The one he uses to mimic a disapproving audience member, saying things like, "He's weird. He's going to hell. Hey, I like NASCAR, fella." Those gentle asides are something he has done all his life. "It's an effective tool to disarm people, or apologize, or talk for the other person," Gaffigan explained.

As for his Chicago stay, he knows how iconic the Chicago Theatre is, saying that even the marquee is something he has known all his life. He recorded his hit show for Comedy Central, "Beyond the Pale," there in 2006, and it sold more than 150,000 DVDs and 170,000 CDs. And being asked to play four shows there in one weekend is one more than Lady Gaga (before she moved to the 'burbs). "I'm always going head to head with her," joked Gaffigan. "My goal has always been to beat Lady Gaga."

Gaga benchmarks aside, Gaffigan knows he defied the odds by making a living talking about being lazy and loving food.

"When you're young, you tend to think, 'Sure, I'd love to write for Sports Illustrated or be a football coach,' but I also didn't want to live in a van," he said. "I didn't go into comedy for the money; I just wanted to do what I wanted to do. And I got lucky. I know that now."


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