Jeannie Gaffigan on How to Be Catholic, Funny and Evangelize Effectively
The second season of The Jim Gaffigan Show begins next month on Father’s Day.
Jeannie Gaffigan is co-creator and executive producer of The Jim Gaffigan Show, which is named after and stars her husband. The show premiered on TV Land last summer and is set to return for its second season on Father’s Day, June 19 at 10pm.
Gaffigan, who has previously collaborated with her husband on his stand-up comedy tours and comedy albums, and a recent commencement address, spoke with Register correspondent Stephen Beale about the role faith plays in their family’s life and in their comedy.
For readers who may not have seen your show, briefly describe what it is about and what you are trying to achieve with it.
Our goal is to write what you know. There’s always been a-fish-out-of-water quality to our family, because we have a large family. We have five kids, and we live in an apartment in New York City, and my husband’s a stand-up comedian. So we live in the heart of the secular world, and we are very open about going to church, and we’re Catholic and [share] that we do all the rituals and the sacraments and that we have faith in our life.
We openly admit that we believe in God, and, in our industry, our geographical location, that’s kind of weird. But within that concept, we’ve sort of found that, across the spectrum, a lot of people relate to feeling like a fish out of water in whatever world they’re in.
[The characters of the show are] surrounded by the real world. The real-world people are different. There’s the perpetual bachelor. He’s the perpetual adolescent who can’t grow up and can’t settle down and has a different girlfriend every episode, and his story is [he’s] Jim’s best friend. And then Jeannie’s best friend came out as gay in his adult years.
No one is finger-wagging at anyone. With the world we live in, what we do is we live our lives, and we’re open about what we do. We’re happy, and we have a lot of joy in our children and in our faith and in our marriage. We’re not turning around and telling everyone if you don’t live this way you’re bad. Be good, and the good will spread, rather than casting judgment on other people.
A lot of humor is about self-deprecation. Our style is to illuminate our own flaws. So these people who are at the center of this story, which are Jim and Jeannie and the family, are very flawed human beings. A lot of the episodes will be about exploring that flaw within us — what is that thing that is blocking us from being perfect? What is that thing inside of us that we can’t deal with, and how can we bring it out and deal with it on the show and grow?
How can humor be used as a way to evangelize? How is this illustrated on your show?
The worst way to evangelize is to go into certain situations where you’re trying to push something down somebody’s throat. By being open about the flaws of our characters [on our show] and not pointing out that we’re not going to be friends with this person because we don’t approve of [his or her] lifestyle, I think that’s where people can be attracted to this [concept of] these people [and how they live as a Catholic family] and want to find out more about them.
Pope Francis speaks about this a lot: about how we’ve just come down so hard as a Church on other people, but we’re not fixing ourselves. All we’re doing is: We’re just sitting there and saying, “These people are wrong; these people are wrong; these people are wrong,” instead of fixing ourselves and becoming stronger in ourselves in order to be a good example. That’s going through the side door instead of the front door, when it comes to spreading the Gospel.
Your husband describes your devotion to your faith by calling you a “Shiite Catholic.” Tell us about your personal faith journey.
The more I find out about my faith, the more I realize what a bad Catholic I am. (I) barely have time to balance, between running the show and having five kids. I wish I was a Shiite Catholic. Jim knows that ever since we got married, I was like “This is a forever thing.” I also think all children are a blessing from God. I really believe in my Catholic faith. That’s how I see the world — it’s all through my faith.
Tell us about how you strike that balance on your show between being funny without crossing that line into irreverence.
We have to discuss it. And we have to be discerning about what to do and what not to do. We always have to make sure that we’re conscious of [it]; but at the same time, somebody’s always going to get offended. There’s never going to be a situation where somebody’s not offended by something. And we have to be aware that we can’t just not do anything ... because someone’s going to get offended.
What kind of feedback have you gotten from Catholics, so far, about your show?
I have gotten so much positive feedback that it’s been overwhelming. I think that people are so used to just being the butt of everyone’s joke for so long that they’re so happy that here’s a show that shows this element to these people’s lives. And they’re not making the priest a thief or a child molester or disparaging the mother. People are so refreshed by showing a Catholic family that’s not crazy or damaging or telling other people how to live their lives.
What do you think is behind this moment we’re seeing, where Catholic comedians seem to be more open about their faith?
I think the Catholic Church hit a real low point, and I think that it’s a terrible thing that people cleared out and left and [that] people disparaged the Catholic Church. But in the long run, there’s only one way to go from there. So it’s like there was a big purging of the bad [the priests and others involved in the sex-abuse scandal] and now [that] everything is brought to the light, people are kind of getting back on board and being like, “I want to be part of this new wave of ‘It’s okay to be Catholic and to do it the Catholic way, because it’s not going to make you into, like, some kind of evil character that’s just sitting there judging everybody.’”
Be open to not judging people and providing people with a great example of love and of humor; and make it a fun place to be, instead of this scary, secret-filled institution. It’s cleaning out the closets, and it’s opening up the doors and the fresh air, and sunshine is coming in.
Stephen Beale writes from Providence, Rhode Island.