Faith and Comedy

by Laura McLaughlin

 

Catholic comedian Jim Gaffigan is now the star of his own TV series, The Jim Gaffigan Show, which is largely based on his life and even includes one of his sons in the cast of children. Gaffigan is able to create comedy out of the everyday stuff of life- food, family outings, food, child rearing, food, religion, and food- in spectacular fashion. Both in reality and in the show, he and his wife, Jeannie, live in a two-bedroom apartment in Manhattan with their five children. Much of his humor is centered around his struggle as a lazy, gluttonous father of five, thankfully supported by his “wonder-woman” wife who has given birth to all of her children at home. He paraphrases people’s reactions to his lifestyle with a patronizing, “Well that’s one way to live your life.”

The show navigates the paradoxes of living in a place often indirectly, and sometimes directly, hostile to “religious freaks” like the Gaffigan hoard with the humor of people used to being open about their faith. In one episode, Jim imagines what would happen if a picture of him, a fan, and a very large Bible ended up on the Internet. It sparks controversy that lands Jim on the Jon Stewart show where he downplays his commitment to religion and blames having a Bible on his “Shiite Catholic” wife, subsequently angering religious conservatives. Before he can explain why he wanted to put the Bible in a garbage bag, everyone from Keith Olbermann to Nancy Grace to Rachel Maddow to Glenn Beck is claiming Jim is preachy, bigoted, anti gay, Muslim, and Jew, and cheating on his wife with their gay friend Daniel. The modern comedian’s fix is summed up perfectly by Gaffigan when he begins to be heckled in a club for his perceived religious views and he helplessly says that all the wants to talk about are avocados. His character is often paranoid about being “outed” as a Christian. He defends himself against his openly Catholic wife, who says that Jesus had to carry his cross in public to save humanity, by pointing out that he didn’t have to walk with it through 21st century Manhattan.

 

Gaffigan’s character is less than comfortable with his Catholicism as a public figure in the secular entertainment industry and is concerned with avoiding the “culture wars” while navigating his wife’s insistence on observing every tenant of Catholicism. When a fellow comedian is livid that the priest in the audience whom Jim’s wife had insisted he bring to the comedy club ruined his performance, Jim pretends not to know him. Later, his wife forces Jim to bring Father Nicholas to The Tonight Show. Jim worries that he will be “audience poison” because he thinks people feel uncomfortable laughing at anything seemingly inappropriate in front of a priest. Instead, Father Nicholas accidently ends up on stage and steals Jim’s time slot on the show when he is so popular with the audience.

 

The Jim Gaffigan Show is a witty, honest, and uniquely Catholic sitcom that capitalizes on the awkwardness of being openly religious in today’s society. Jim and Jeannie Gaffigan work as a team and maintain a high level of creative control over the show, which they originally planned on airing on a different major network. However, they wanted to avoid the bureaucracy and changes involved, such as changing the priest to a non-denominational minister and their family size from seven to four, and brought their original pilot to TV Land. Jim has been reported saying that his faith “informs the comedy,” which has apparently worked out well for him considering that he opened for Pope Francis in Philadelphia this past weekend. When asked by Conan why he was picked, Jim joked that he “felt like they asked me because I was like the only comedian who admitted they believed in God or something,” which may in fact set him apart from many in the entertainment industry.

 

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