Curiocity: Q&A With Jim Gaffigan On Parenting, ‘Dad Is Fat’
Sure, kids may say the darndest things but only a comedian would turn those adorable and somewhat humbling quotes into the title of his new book.
Jim Gaffigan, best known for his hilarious, observational stand-up and his numerous TV cameos, is also juggling five kids, all under the age of nine, in a small New York apartment — it’s the perfect setting for comedy.
In his new book, “Dad Is Fat,” Gaffigan talks about everything from being an uncool parent to faking astonishment over a child’s “art” to negotiating with his little “terrorists” when it comes to bedtime.
The result is a hysterical, refreshingly real look inside the mind of a parent, without the judgmental tips or the holier-than-thou attitude.
We talked with Gaffigan about the new book, his comedic kids and the joys of parenting before his book signing this Friday at the Mall of America.
So you have five kids in a two-bedroom apartment. How was it possible for you and your wife to write a book?
Yeah, well, that’s a real interesting question, right? The other question is “when did we have time to, right?” Some of it, it was a juggling match. A lot of it occurred late at night and I mentioned in the forward, my wife even was rewriting some essay and this image of my wife rewriting essays while she was breastfeeding is pretty amazing. But, you know, it was a lot of late nights but we’re kind of late-night people. I mean, you know the irony of writing a book about parenting is that it consumes so much time it makes you a bad parent. But it was really fun.
Your son, or as you say “former son,” wrote the sentence that inspired the title of this book. What is the back story of that humbling message he wrote?
Yes. You know, sarcasm and humor is very much a currency here in our household and my son had jokingly called me fat before and you know, I’m not thin so it’s not like he is making it up. From the mouth of babes, right? But it was the first … you know, little kids learn very simple words initially in their writing and my son was working on a dry erase board and the first sentence, complete sentence, that he wrote was, “Dad is fat.” Then, of course, I put him up for adoption.
Was he also responsible for the drawing at the beginning of the book or was that your daughter?
The drawing was my daughter, my other former daughter. So yeah, it’s fun that we could mix in some of those drawings because there is something about the kids’ drawings, how they chronicle your life as you go on as a parent. They’re just amazing. You want to cherish them. So it’s fun that a lot of them could get in that book. There’s always an unintentional mistake. Like, the fact that the skiing picture, they’re skiing uphill for some reason.
I’m also curious with so many kids, including a small baby, what’s dinner at your house like? I’m picturing a “Father Knows Best” scene with a perfectly made feast and all the children sitting quietly in their chairs with their hands folded.
Yeah no, it could not be further from that. I talk about it a little bit but there is a certain amount of … I don’t know if you have any kids but you know, our son is not even 2, Michael, and he’s gotten to the point where he doesn’t want to sit in a highchair anymore but that doesn’t mean that he can necessarily sit up straight for any amount of time. So he gets moved to another chair. There’s chaos around this rather small table of four kids in chairs, two adults in chairs and a baby in a highchair. But like the chaos of the food, I mean, it looks like a scene from “Game of Thrones.”
You talk a little about the time before you had kids and the differences between those who have kids and those that do not. Knowing what you know now, is there anything that you wish you could’ve told yourself, pre-kids?
Well I think that, I spent most of my adult life without kids and I think that, this is going to sound corny, but I think that our society mis-characterizes having children as somehow giving up on life. I think that’s a myth that I find baffling at this point but I probably believed it in my 20s. If I have a kid, then my life is over. I think kids make your life much richer and you know, I say in the book, each of my five kids have made me a better human being and based on that, I only need another 34 to be a decent guy. So I don’t know. It’s an enormous sacrifice but I do think that in the end, as a dad, I mean, that’s really the whole point. When I’m on my death bed, I’m not going to sit there and think how many weeks was my book on the New York Times bestsellers list, I’m going to think how bad did I fail as a parent or did I not screw up too bad?
What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned about yourself after having kids?
I think that there’s been different versions of me every three years or so. I think I’m growing into the role. I think I’m far more patient. I was surprised, I wrote so many essays, I was surprised how often I lied, I was surprised by the absence of authority a father has, as the vice president, but I don’t know I think I was mostly surprised by how rewarding the everyday of being a dad is. I knew it would be terrifying but there’s this strange and tangible reward to it that I think is impossible to articulate to people who don’t have kids. Otherwise it just sounds like you’re some brainwashed cult member.
What do your kids think about the book?
I think they like it. It inspired my two older kids to, they both wanted to write a book and the hidden benefit I think is a greater emphasis put the value of reading and creating. You know, I’m a comedian so I have this strange job where I just disappear and go on stage and talk. But they saw this book that their mom and dad worked on and that there was this end result. So I think that was a real positive influence.
Who do your kids think is funnier – you or your wife?
I don’t know. I think there’s a strange equality with humor in our family. It’s not like I’m the funniest or my wife’s the funniest, there’s this strange equality on who’s funny and who we kind of, you know, if my 4-year-old says something really funny we all kind of enjoy it, but it’s not, hopefully not, a pressure to be funny or some kind of unconscious ranking on who’s funniest.
I loved the book chat video you did with your kids. That was great. Would you ever want them to follow in your footsteps, if that’s what they wanted?
I consider myself incredibly lucky, honestly, in all aspects in my life. But also when it comes to the entertainment industry. I feel very lucky, not only that I can do what I enjoy for a living but also that I can make some money in it. I guess in the end I just want them to be happy and have a passion so if they wanted to do that. But my fear is just that there’s this, you know, Disney Channel look like, “Oh yeah, I’ll do that.” I certainly don’t want them to be subjected to the amount of rejection that I have to deal with but, you know, they’re young. We’re not putting them on auditions or anything like that.
What’s the strangest feedback someone has given you about your book?
I would say, I find it really encouraging, not necessarily surprising but I love the fact that I see on Twitter that people without kids, or college, or high school students enjoy the book. Obviously that was a desired result but I thought that the subject matter was such that it wouldn’t hold the allure of a 16-year-old girl or a 45-year-old single guy but it did, which is really cool.
On the book tour, you also do a Q&A with the audience. Have you had any bizarre questions through that?
Yeah, there’s definitely, I mean, that’s a big surprise of this. I’ve probably done about 10 book events and they’re really fun. They’re strange, kind of, town hall press conferences that you hold and maybe it’s the fact that it’s a book event, opposed to a stand-up show. There’s a civility there. But it’s really kind of fun. There’s kids there asking questions and then there’s people that ask questions. It’s obviously very flattering that people are even buying my book but there’s something kind of fun about it.
What’s the weirdest question you’ve gotten so far?
Well one kid asked me what I thought of “Space Jam” the movie. They’re usually from, you know, the 8-year-old that’s there. Like, “What would the world be like without bacon? Can you describe a world without bacon?” It’s fun.
What was your response to that question?
I said it’d be a sad, lonely place.
A lot of people know you for your food humor. When it comes to your stand-up, just wondering, have you ever gotten any kickbacks from McDonald’s or Hot Pockets? Or do people ever send you bacon?
I should. I should get stuff. I mean, I did a tweet about Ben & Jerry’s once. It was a tweet about how I bought ice cream for my kids but then I ended up eating it and the people at Ben & Jerry’s sent me some ice cream and they were like, “Here, share this with your kids.” Occasionally tweets will get some stuff. Like I did a tweet saying … I can’t even think what it was I’m so delirious … oh, Tesla. I was doing some CNBC show and they had a Tesla out there and so I took a photo in front of it and was like, “Hey Tesla, can I have one of these?” But other than that, the food thing is … maybe people will give me McDonald’s gift certificates or they’ll maybe make me brownies or cupcakes or stuff like that. There’s definitely a food overlap that people will have a similar passion for a food item that I discuss.
Beyond the stand-up, you’ve also done a ton of guest roles on TV shows. One of my favorites you’ve done was Doug, the man who left the door open when he did his business on Sex and the City. If you could choose any show in the history of television to guest star on, what would it be?
Gosh, oh that’s a good question. Um, I don’t know. Maybe The Dick Van Dyke Show. I remember growing up watching reruns of that after school. I remember whether he was home or whether he was at work, it just seemed like they were having fun. There are tons of shows. I loved The West Wing when it was on. I would’ve loved to have been on that. And then, you know, Game of Thrones, I would love to be on that. But I wouldn’t want to be outside in that cold. You know those actors that are in Iceland filming that are like, “Wait, those other guys in that other storyline are in Croatia? Wait a minute, they’re in Ireland?”
You will be returning to the Midwest this week and visiting our lovely Mall of America on Friday. Are you bringing the kids along? Are they able to join you on your book tours?
(Long pause) Sorry I’m eating while I’m having this conversation because I’m that professional. You know, not on the book tour because unfortunately my older kids are still in school. But we’re doing a big bus tour on the west coast where the kids will come with us and we’ll have a babysitter. I’ve done those a couple of times and those are amazing. Even if my kids were out (of school), I don’t know if we would’ve done it because on this book tour, we’re trying to do two events a day. So I’ll be doing Des Moines at lunch and then I’ll be at the Mall of America at 7 p.m. It’s one thing when we do stand-up and we can think of a day activity for the kids or get them in the hotel pool. But with this schedule, they’d just be sitting on the bus, which is never a good idea with a 4-year-old. They don’t understand just, “sit down.”
Have you been to the Mall of America before?
I haven’t! I’m excited. And the whole Rotunda? Whenever I hear that I’m like, “You know, I’m not that fat.” So it’ll be interesting.
Anything else we should know about the event?
No, I don’t think so. You know, the book events are really fun. So if people want me to sign their copy or they want to ask me a weird question, the Mall of America is where to be.
Jim Gaffigan will sign copies of his book, and hold a Q&A session, at 7 p.m. Friday, June 14 at the Mall of America Rotunda. For more information about the event, click here.