Jim Gaffigan is a busy man. Along with a role on the TV show "My Boys," Gaffigan has done a series of commercials for Sierra Mist, starred in a hit Comedy Central show "Beyond the Pale," and does all of the voice work on the online cartoon "Pale Force." And if that wasn't enough, he's also doing publicity for "No Sleep Till Madison," a quirky indie film about one extremely obsessed hockey fan, that he shot five years ago. Bullz-Eye chatted with Gaffigan about "Madison," having four jobs, and how the makers of Hot Pockets secretly love him.
Bullz-Eye: Did you really begin doing press at 8:20 this morning?
Jim Gaffigan: Yeah, they did.
BE: So they're taking this "No Sleep ‘Til Madison" thing quite literally?
JG: Yes, it's no joke. And I'm somebody who likes to get up at 1:30. That would be good, in my view.
BE: That's why I'm talking to you now. They pitched 8:20 to me, and I said, "That's just not happening."
JG: Yeah, that's a little early.
BE: This movie came out in 2002, right?
BE: So, why are you doing press for it now?
JG: I guess it's getting re-distributed, or there's a second push, or something. It's kind of a funny, offbeat movie, and they just wanted to get some more momentum behind it, I guess. I'm sure the producers saw an opportunity to make some more money. I should know the specifics – maybe it got more distribution or something like that.
BE: Your character in the movie is, um, kind of a jerk.
JG: Yeah! But it's fun to play someone really flawed, you know? And I think a lot of men have a problem with…it's a big step going from selfish to understanding the value of not being a child.
BE: Did you get involved in the project because you knew someone who was working on it, or did you just do it for the big indie movie paycheck?
JG: I really responded to the script, but I worked with the writer/director Erik Moe on a series of commercials for Energizer – they're actually on my web site – where I played a guy that wanted to be the Energizer bunny, this delusional, crazy guy. And those were a blast (to make), and they never aired. So I knew that Erik got my sensibility, and he's this Midwestern guy that gets the passion that people feel for hockey and high school football.
BE: On the "Pale Force" cartoons, how much does it hurt to do the Conan O'Brien voice?
JG: You know, it's not that bad. His voice is this voice that (does quick impression of it) is like this manatee voice that I had. It's funny how voice acting can be exhausting. I know that sounds ridiculous, just sitting in a room…
BE: No, that's why I asked the question. It sounds like it literally hurts your voice to do the Conan impression.
JG: It doesn't hurt that bad. It's just doing the variation of them, of doing his and then doing Eartha Kitt, and then an exaggeration of mine, but "Pale Force" is just a blast to do. It's good that you know about it. Some people have no idea. I'll do interviews and people will say, "What is this Pale Farce?"
BE: I've been getting bits from publicists for months on it, so I've seen a couple of them.
BE: And how do you resist making Dakota Fanning into a cyborg?
JG: Yes! Animation is really fun, because there are so many layers where you can add humor in. My stand-up is like…I try to hit people with a joke or a laugh as often as I can. And I feel that animation has that opportunity also. It's not just going for some big, huge laugh. You can get a lot of singles instead of just going for a big home run. I think it's great to write that way.
BE: Are we going to be hearing you in a Pixar movie soon?
JG: I wish! But it's not up to me. It's not like I'm turning any of them down.
BE: They know voice talent, but they also know people that are funny, getting Patton Oswalt, Ellen Degeneres, Denis Leary. They have a lot of comedians in their movies.
JG: Yeah. There is no doubt that Pixar does it well. My daughter's three and my son's one and a half, so those two "Toy Story" movies I've seen, no kidding, like, 50 times. But they're great movies. In the entertainment industry, you need someone to become familiar with you. You can't just chase them, you look like a lunatic. There are plenty of my friends who are comedians and writers, and they look at me baffled at the pursuit of the acting career. When you go in an audition, it's really an insane pursuit. Half the time you walk in the room, and they've got an offer out to someone, or you don't look right for the role, or…there are innumerable reasons why you won't get an acting job.
BE: Isn't there a story about Lewis Black having to audition for a Lewis Black character?
JG: Yeah. I think I auditioned for that same character. I was like, "Well, this was written for Lewis. Why am I going to spend two hours to prepare to go in?" Even with "No Sleep Til Madison," Erik had the script and he wanted me to play Owen, and the week before (shooting), they're like, "Can you put yourself on tape?" The reason you want to get known is not because you desire to be on the cover of "Rolling Stone," but so people are familiar enough with you that you don't have to spend all these hours auditioning for something when you might not be what they're looking for anyway. I don't know if that makes sense.
BE: No, it does.
JG: I have a friend who has a great movie that he's shooting in August, and he sent me the script, it's a great script and a great character. I was like, "Yeah, I'm in! I'll start growing a beard now!" And then a week later there's this other role, and I said, "Who's in this other role?" They said, "We haven't cast anyone for that yet. Do you want to throw yourself on tape?" I said, "I don't know if I have the time." This is an indie set, there's a shot in hell that it'll get out of the director's closet in the end. And then he said, "Would you put yourself on tape for the role I offered you a week ago?" I'm like, "I don't know if I even have time to do this movie," and then they ended up offering me an even smaller role. And I said, "I can't spend five days in the desert to have three lines." So it's weird. I don't know why I'm unloading on you, but my point is that the pursuit of acting roles is really insane.
BE: You're currently doing movies, TV commercials, TV shows, online cartoons and standup comedy. I have two questions for you: which one is your day job, and when do you sleep?
JG: I totally wanted it to be like that. It is a lot of work. Stand-up is a very solitary kind of writing. I come up with a lot of the ideas with my wife, but to answer your question, it's good because if you talk to anyone who's written a screenplay, it takes forever for anyone to read it. I've had script deals that have been in the process (of development) for, like, three years, so it's good to have a lot of different things (to keep you busy). There are weeks of panic, where I don't know how I'm going to pull it all off, but it's fun also to have different things because if I just did stand-up, the travel alone…I'd become a heroin addict. And then the audition process is such that, if I relied on acting…I have friends that are just actors, and they have to take roles that they really don't want to do so that they can pay the rent. So it's good to have a couple balls in the air.
BE: I went through your filmography on IMDb, and I saw that you had a bit part in "Three Kings."
BE: Did you witness any of the fights between George Clooney and David O. Russell?
"... if I just did stand-up, the travel alone…I'd become a heroin addict." BE: I was on a helicopter with a couple other people, and we were about to take off, so I only saw the after-affect, where they were being torn apart. But there's something to be said for, you know, you get in the desert with 800 men, there's gonna be a fight, you know what I mean? I've never seen that before or since, but working on "Three Kings" was amazing. I had a scene in there, but I had the benefit – and I say this sarcastically – of being cut out of a lot of movies. I was in "Road Trip," I had a really good scene. It's on the bonus features of the DVD, but that comes with the gig.
BE: Hey, Kevin Costner was cut out of "The Big Chill."
JG: Yeah. But it's all good.
BE: Let's talk comedy for a second. Ron White told me he was a big fan of yours. Who are some of your favorites currently working the circuit?
JG: I grew up a Jonathan Winters fan, and was a big (David) Letterman fan. Stand-up is a strange thing, because there are a lot of things I respect about different people, but it's also something that I do, so it's not like I would go to Comedy Central to watch stand-up. When I started off, I was a huge Dave Attell fan, but then I would find myself being similar to him. But to answer your question, I think Brian Regan's really funny. I think Ricky Gervais is…it's a good world that we live in that he can get to the level that he's in with his unique kind of sensibility, that dry awkwardness. I've also been a huge Bill Murray fan.
BE: Well, I know we're running short on time…
JG: But also, if the question's phrased like, "Ron White's a fan of yours," but I don't mention Ron White. People like Ron, and Dave Chappelle, and Louis C.K., the ability to tell a story, keep it engaging and keeping it funny the entire way, is something that I look at with amazement. Someone who can work the crowd like Ian Bagg, whom you've probably never heard of.
BE: I haven't.
JG: It's really amazing. Dave Attell, he's really dirty, but when it comes to good old fashioned jokesmithery, if that's even a word, there's no one better than Attell. And Brian Regan, for making the mundane funny, and there are probably five people that I'm not thinking of just because I haven't been to the offbeat, alternative places in L.A. in a while. Surreal people like Todd Glass, who you might not have heard of either.
BE: I'm afraid I haven't.
JG: You don't necessarily want to drive across the country with Todd Glass, but he is somebody who's on all the time, and really funny on. And people who can make topical stuff funny, like Lewis Black or Greg Giraldo, that's a real gift.
BE: I wasn't planning on selling you out, by the way. "He didn't say anything about Ron White."
JG: When it comes to stand-up, all these guys are my peers and my friends. I always get nervous not listing someone. I've been very lucky. I kicked around for 15 years, had been on "Conan" and "Letterman" tons of times. And then my hour-long special on Comedy Central really cut through. I feel very fortunate.
BE: I have a theory that the makers of Hot Pockets actually love you.
JG: I believe that, too.
BE: Have you heard from them with regard to your routine about their product?
JG: They came to a show of mine in Denver. The Hot Pockets people have to know that they're not making caviar. It's this easy thing for a college student or a single person to consume, or you give it to a 12-year-old when you're working 15 hours a day. They know it's not caviar, and they know they're not in competition with the salads, from a health perspective, so I don't think they really care. I worked in advertising, and every time I mention it, I feel like I'm driving sales. I do a meet-and-greet after every show, and people will bring Hot Pocket boxes or Cinnabun containers for me to sign. Some of the people are like, "I don't even eat Hot Pockets. I just wanted to get this box and have it in my office." So I think I'm helping them, and I actually think they know it, too.
BE: I didn't know if you had gotten a Christmas card or anything from them.
JG: No. Well, they did send me this Hot Pockets doll.
BE: They made a doll?
JG: Yeah, it's this stuffed animal, like a Hot Pocket with arms and legs.
BE: Please tell me there's a picture of that on your web site.
JG: I don't think there is. My wife throws out stuffed animals after they get dirty, so it could be gone, but it's pretty funny.
BE: That's awesome. Well, I appreciate you taking the time to talk with us.
JG: Sure, thanks for doing the interview.
BE: Best of luck with the movie, and I hope to see you in a Pixar movie sometime soon.
JG: Yeah, that would be great, seriously.