Jim Gaffigan has had one hell of a year.
In April, his wife and writing partner, Jeannie Gaffigan, discovered she had an apple-sized tumor wrapped around her brain stem. For a time, Jim – and the couple’s five children – feared for the worst, and Jim considered quitting stand-up comedy. Though he’s a top-billed, internationally touring comedian, family is his priority. If the worst came to pass, he would stay home in New York City.
Yet Jeannie had surgery to remove the tumor and is recovering. It’s been a slow, arduous process, but life seems to be leveling out.
“She’s doing great,” Jim says from his home, right before hitting the road for his Noble Ape Tour. He brings his straightforward brand of observational comedy to Raleigh’s PNC Arena on Thursday, Nov. 9.
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“It’s not like getting over pneumonia, where you eventually get over it,” he said. “She’s an incredibly energetic and resourceful person. She’s not 100 percent herself, but her 90 percent is me at 140.”
The couple went public about Jeannie’s brain tumor a few weeks after her surgery. Jeannie had been ignoring her symptoms, chalking up her recurring headaches to the stress any parent experiences. She wanted to encourage others to stop ignoring their symptoms and get them checked out. In her case, doing so had been life-saving.
“It’s real life,” Jim Gaffigan says. “It really kind of gets you. It puts things in perspective.”
Now, not only is Jim Gaffigan back on the road, but he’ll be talking about his wife’s close call in his routine. Some of these jokes came from Jeannie – remember, they’re writing partners – and he feels it can be therapeutic to talk about the tragedies and crises all humans face rather than be in denial.
Gaffigan talked about his tour and his wife’s health and recovery, as well as whether he can continue to tour with his five-kid family, as he’s done in the past.
Besides touring, Gaffigan co-stars in “Chappaquiddick,” a film about Ted Kennedy’s 1969 car accident that killed 28-year-old campaign specialist Mary Jo Kopechne. The movie is scheduled to be in theaters April 6.
Here are excerpts.
Q: In “Chappaquiddick” you’re playing a living person, Paul Markham. Did you meet with him and study him?
A: I didn’t. I definitely studied him and studied some background on him. The fact that he’s still alive – I don’t want to be disrespectful, but I also know that Paul Markham that was in the script is probably not identical to the Paul Markham of real life. My character was somebody who had finally gained entry to the Kennedy clique, for lack of a better term, and then he was a participant or a victim of part of the Chappaquiddick cover-up.
The character I was playing was kind of capturing how enamored we all were in that age with the Kennedy family. Each character served a different purpose in the movie. Obviously, Jason Clarke was amazing (as Ted Kennedy), but mine was kind of so thrilled to be in the inner circle and then, oh no, I’m in the inner circle.
Q: I know you do drama, but why did you go with such a heavy historical film?
A: I love acting and I love a good character, and the Chappaquiddick story was something that I had known about my entire life, outside of the fact that I’d talked to the director, and knowing that his approach to the film was to kind of present questions rather than to present a point-of-view on it.
The movie really serves to ask people to see a glimpse of the pressure that Ted was dealing with, to see a glimpse of this entitlement that they could cover it up. It wasn’t a hit piece, it wasn’t an apology, it was kind of presenting questions about Chappaquiddick and the Kennedys, which I thought was fascinating because that’s something that I’ve always been fascinated with.
Look, I’m an Irish Catholic guy from the Midwest, but the Kennedys were a really important name and obviously still are from a historical standpoint.
Q: For the Noble Ape Tour, you’re doing completely new bits from your previous comedy specials. What are some things you’re riffing on?
A: I’ve had a pretty crazy year. My wife, in April, it was discovered she had a brain tumor, so I spent a couple of months just dealing with that. Through the help of my wife, I spend a good portion of the show discussing that and discussing the fears and the anxieties. Everyone has these kind of tragedies in their lives, and finding the humor in those situations is pretty important.
There was a time when my wife was in surgery and recovering from this where I didn’t know if I was going to able to continue to do stand-up comedy the way I am, you know? We have five young children, and I was certainly not interested in outsourcing the parenting responsibility. If I was doing it solo, I couldn’t really disappear for even three days on a weekend twice a month. You can’t really do that with five kids. I have kind of a newfound appreciation for the opportunity to do stand-up the way I’m doing it.
Everyone has these kind of tragedies in their lives, and finding the humor in those situations is pretty important.
Q: I read an AV Club interview where you mention Jeannie coming out of her operation and saying, “Hey, write this one down.” How much of the new routine was written together?
A: The collaboration that Jeannie and I have had over my career has changed in so many different ways. Obviously (it has changed) with the number of children we have.
In this hour, I would say she definitely had some significant influence. In the recovery process, I didn’t want to come home and say, “All right! Enough of everything! Let’s have a writing session.” We’re always finding constructive ways to collaborate.
I did shows in New York (in October) and then I might go out to Long Island and do two shows. We’ve done some traveling this summer when Jeannie’s come, but it’s weird. Brain tumor or not, it’s always a balancing act for the collaboration. It’s a pretty integral part, whether it be from editing or from performance stuff.
Q: You went public very quickly about her tumor. Was that a tough decision?
A: It was totally Jeannie’s call. She wanted to bring it up. She wanted to do the People Magazine interview. I was happy to do whatever she wanted. In some ways I think she was inspired to educate people that if you do have a headache, it’s not just because you’re exhausted from having children.
It’s a very individual thing. I feel as though the relationship Jeannie and I have with being public is something we’re always kind of navigating. We never want to go full Kardashian; we have no interest in doing a reality show. That being said, we live in a very strangely voyeuristic and exhibitionist culture. When social media first started, I wouldn’t post any pictures of my children. My children are my priority, so (now) showing one of my kids in his Halloween costume and him being excited, that is what life’s all about. I’m more excited about doing that than being at some premiere for some Hollywood event.
Q: Will you be able to take to the road again with the entire family?
A: Spring break, I’m going to Australia (next) year, with my family.
The tour bus thing across America on spring break (and) during the summer – yeah, it’s great, but it’s different when they’re all under the age of 10 and they find sleeping on a bus and swimming at a Holiday Inn Express exciting. As they get older, I have to kind of factor in all those things.
I’m doing an arena when I come to town. It’s like, if you asked me three years ago if I was going to do that, I’d be like, “Probably not.” So I don’t know. Maybe the tour bus thing will be the perfect thing for us all to do, you know what I mean?
What: Jim Gaffigan: Noble Ape Tour
When: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 9
Where: PNC Arena, 1400 Edwards Mill Road, Raleigh
Cost: $31 to $168
Info: ticketmaster.com or jimgaffigan.com/tour-dates