It’s amazing how fast the brakes can slam on the human brain.
Jim Gaffigan wants to know where he can go to find a meal that’s unique to State College and suddenly I’m fighting the urge to tell him about the really great McDonald’s down on East College Avenue.
It takes me a moment to remember that I’m addressing a man, not the comedic persona with whom he happens to share a name — the same one that appears on the cover of books like “Food: A Love Story,” coincidentally.
Fortunately the next name out of my mouth was “Berkey Creamery” — OK, fine, it was Primanti Bros. — but I found my way there eventually and Gaffigan seems pleased.
Whether Gaffigan actually winds up visiting the Creamery when he brings his “Noble Ape” tour to the Bryce Jordan Center, name-checks it on stage or was just making idle conversation to wind down a pleasant interview is anybody’s guess.
But I’m really wondering if I should have brought up that McDonald’s.
Q: You’ve been doing stand-up comedy for a long time. What keeps it fun? What keeps it fresh for you?
A: I can’t even articulate kind of how rewarding the process is of working on material and developing new material, it’s really fun. It’s a creative process but coming up with a new joke is eerie. Sometimes you’re on the page just kind of horsing around and you come up with something. It’s like a high. I can’t compare it to anything. It’s really rewarding. I’ve been doing stand-up for over 150 years, so the fact that it’s still fun is really exciting to me.
Q: When you’re just fooling around on the page is there a moment where something clicks for you, where you’re like “oh, this works, I see how I can build off this or I see how I can deliver this?” Is there a sense of that?
A: I’ll get a kernel of an idea and I’ll type it in and I’ll sit there and think “wow, why does this gnaw at me or confuse me?” Like for example I have jokes on fashion. It’s how all the models are beautiful, which makes sense in some ways but then again, they’re picking people who would look good in anything. ... It’s an art but we also understand that it’s rather exclusionary and it’s also promoting superficiality. It’s also portraying unrealistic body types, all these negatives. But it’s something that is confusing. ... So it’s just turning that around and saying that if you want to sell me a suit, you know, you should make Michael Moore look good in it. I don’t even know if that’s the joke.
Q: Do you think that your point of view on the world or these issues has changed at all since you’ve started?
A: Oh it’s definitely changed. I mean when I started, I was an atheist who never thought he would get married, never thought he would have kids. Point of view can change but also there are certain aspects of my life that have changed, but my sensibility, comedic sensibility, that can change a little but I think that some of stand-up is transferring how you’re funny in everyday life onto a stage for other people. ... Some of it is transferring that ability but also honing that point of view is an important part of it, too. So here I might have this point of view of this lazy, kind of gluttonous guy who just kind of embraces the id, but it becomes more complex as you get further in. There’s always social commentary. You can sit there and with some comedians it’s more overt and with some comedians it’s more subtle.
Q: You mentioned about being able to get up in front of people, about that kind of a relationship with the audience. You actually kind of incorporate the voice of an audience into your performance. How does that change going from stand-up, going to Broadway and your coming off of a TV show recently?
A: The most obvious difference is unlike the television show or a play, stand-up comedy is a conversation with the audience. It’s kind of a one-sided conversation where one of the participants, the audience, is just laughing. That’s how they get to communicate. They all kind of feed each other, particularly as you’re kind of trying to grow. My wife and I wrote these two seasons of “The Jim Gaffigan Show” and the fact that it was a storytelling process, I’ve already seen that reflected in this new hour, in that the process of telling stories is a valuable thing.
Q: What do you think it is about that kind of narrative ability that audiences respond to in terms of keeping someone engaged and pulling them in?
A: The thing about the narrative that I think people latch onto is the path or the journey — and by the way, I think that gives you allowances with the audience. If you look at my bacon jokes, I use to introduce the idea and then I would cover it from every single aspect, you know, getting all of the meat off of the bone because everything has to be about food. Whereas with a narrative, there isn’t an expectation that you’re covering a topic to its completion. It’s more about what keeps the path clear. If you bring up a story point there has to be a joke, but it’s more important that there’s a joke that that joke be covered from every angle.
Q: Where would you like to go next? What are you interested in discovering or exploring? You seem like a guy, just based on your resume, who wants to keep trying new things.
A: I think that as a creative person sometimes we can get comfortable and so challenging yourself whether it be, I mean there’s no reason to do things you don’t want to do, but to sit there and go “alright, I’m going to write a new hour of stand-up, alright I’m going to try and challenge myself constantly…” I’m trying to challenge myself to discuss things that go beyond just like “I love and I hate,” you know, that’s the challenge for me right now.
IF YOU GO
- What: Jim Gaffigan’s “Noble Ape” tour
- When: 8 p.m. April 8
- Where: The Bryce Jordan Center
- Info: bjc.psu.edu