What Food Goes Well With Comedy?
Jim Gaffigan can tell you – and does in this Q&A
By Russ Espinoza,
12:30PM, Fri. Oct. 17, 2014
Jim Gaffigan has a reputation as a "clean" comic, but is he really that spotless? The Chronicle gets the popular stand-up, who returns to Austin on Oct. 23, to come clean on his cleanliness. And there's a continuation of the discussion about food begun here, inspired by the release of his new book, Food: A Love Story.
Austin Chronicle: You’ve always kept your comedy clean, and you’re well-known for doing so to great effect. But, in your mind, what’s the most off-color bit in the Jim Gaffigan archives?
Jim Gaffigan: Well, you know, I have some pretty filthy stuff from back in the day. But it’s weird, because the whole “clean” thing is, you know, it’s true: I don’t work necessarily blue or curse in my act, but some of that is driven by the fact that the topics I’m discussing, it’s unnecessary. Is it really necessary to curse if you’re discussing donuts or camping, you know? Also, I think comedians get a lot of credit and criticism for the type of comedy they would do anyway. I curse in everyday life, and some of my favorite comedians are filthy, but, you know, I’m from a small town in Indiana, so I’m not necessarily somebody who’s gonna feel comfortable going onstage and being ridiculously filthy. So it’s kind of like, I think (being described as a clean comedian) is always flattering, but I’m also a little nervous: It’s not like I’m a saint. Sometimes I joke around when people say “Why are you clean?” and I say, “Because Jesus wants me to be.” You know, it’s really kind of just how my comedy comes out. It’s not some kind of social agenda or anything, you know what I mean?
AC: Going way back to your beginnings as a comic, what was your earliest material about, and looking back, would you say it was any good?
JG: That’s interesting. My first stand-up set, which is actually on my Beyond the Pale DVD, I don’t think my stand-up was that bad. You know, I evolved from this observational guy, and then I went three years where I explored different styles of stand-up. The first five or six years I tried being more high-energy, and then I started to be more political, and then I ended up going back to my initial style – which was maybe offbeat observational from a personal point of view. But I would say it was okay: It wasn’t great; it certainly wasn’t as complex as what I’m doing now – not that I’m doing anything that’s really complex. But, I think that stand-up is, you know, when you start you’re in the process of finding your point of view and also transferring what makes you funny with your friends onto stage, and how that appeals to a larger group of strangers, right? So, I think that finding your point of view’s a really important thing.
For me, it was mostly finding comfort on the stage. I don’t come from a performance background: I wasn’t an actor or in a band. So, it was getting to the point where I felt comfortable onstage, and – among any other thing that I learned – it was dealing with stage fright, initially, you know, for the first couple years.
AC: What’s the best meal you’ve ever enjoyed with a fellow comic?
JG: Well, I developed and started in New York, and so eating with comedians: There’s a lot of pizza that you eat with comedians in New York City; but I’ve eaten a lot of hummus – I would say a lot of Middle Eastern hummus of falafel, or shawarma. And then, also, late-night hanging out after shows we used to go to these Polish and Ukrainian restaurants, so I ate a lot of pierogis, or potato pancakes. So it’s weird: I associate hanging out with comedians with eating either like, you know, Middle Eastern-Israeli food, or, you know, Ukrainian-Polish food.
AC: You spoke fondly of a trip to Iceland you made recently during an appearance on Craig Ferguson's show in early May. What foods or dishes have you discovered in your travels abroad that seemed gross to you at the outset, but turned out to be really delicious?
JG: This is an interesting question, because there are a lot of different aspects. I should set this up by saying, I talk about this a little bit in Food: A Love Story: I’m an “eater,” not a “foodie.” That’s not to say that I don’t have respect for foodies and their culinary escapades, but I’m kind of somebody who’s looking for the closest, best meal. I’ll try things: like when I was in Iceland, I had one of the better hot dogs I’ve had; and I tried sheep’s head in Iceland and some insane stuff. But that was mostly just the curiosity side of me. But I don’t know if I would sit there and go, “I gotta get back to Iceland for a hot dog.” I’m also not bored with good quality food, so I don’t need cranberry sauce on my steak. I just need a good steak.
But I love different countries’ attitude towards food, and understanding that. And just generally, like having been in Europe and other countries, like, how a different culture embraces breakfast – I find it fascinating. You go to a Northern European country, and at breakfast sometimes they’ll just have deli meat. There won’t even be bread – it’s like it was catered by some guy in a frat. You know, the Japanese eat a lot of fish and rice in the morning, which seems maybe odd, but I definitely find it very curious. It’s just funny how we just have a different association with food.
Jim Gaffigan performs Thursday, Oct. 23, at Bass Concert Hall, 2350 Robert Dedman Dr. For more information, visit www.texasperformingarts.org.