Family Is at the Heart of Comedian Jim Gaffigan

New York Catholic’s show to air on TV Land


The title of comedian Jim Gaffigan’s first book, “Dad Is Fat,” is a testament to the fun and games played in the lower Manhattan Catholic household—a fifth-floor walkup on the Bowery—of the 48-year-old husband and father of five.

The not-so-subtle descriptor for the book published in 2013 was derived from the first complete sentence written by Jack Gaffigan, the second child and oldest son of Gaffigan and wife Jeannie Noth Gaffigan. Young Jack, then 5 years old, had scrawled the words on a dry-erase board.

Gaffigan’s second book, “Food: A Love Story,” is scheduled for release Oct. 21. It’s another serving of his clean comedy, humor he describes as a “romanticizing of laziness” and “confession of gluttony.” Jim and Jeannie will be at a book event and signing at Barnes & Noble at New York's Union Square, 33 E. 17th St., Monday, Oct. 20 at 7 p.m.

The Gaffigans belong to the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral in lower Manhattan, where they were married in 2003 and their children have been baptized. “Dad Is Fat” includes pictures of the family at Old St. Patrick’s and references to the family’s attendance at Sunday Mass. The pastor, Msgr. Donald Sakano, is credited in the book’s acknowledgments.

In a recent interview at a coffee shop on Bleecker Street, the grounded and grateful couple discussed with humor and honesty their love for their family and for the Catholic faith.

“I was the captain of a football team at a Catholic high school,” Gaffigan said. “Before every game, we would say a ‘Hail Mary’; I didn’t know the whole ‘Hail Mary.’”

“Now, Jim leads the family Rosary with our kids,” Jeannie said. “It’s not the full Rosary,” Jim conceded. “We do one decade with our kids,” Jeannie added.

Their children are Marre, 10; Jack, 8; Katie, 5; Michael, 3 and Patrick, 2.

Gaffigan, who grew up in a small town in Indiana, credits his big family upbringing—he’s the youngest of six children—for his comedic debut. Being able to make his siblings laugh was just the beginning. One of the chapters in “Dad Is Fat” is aptly named “Six Kids, Catholic” and includes a charming picture of Gaffigan as an altar boy.

Mrs. Gaffigan, of Madison, Wis., comes from a big family as well. “Being the oldest of nine kids, I changed a lot of diapers growing up,” she said. “There was a period of time where I said I felt like I already had all my kids.”

Then she met Jim. Her “real journey into the faith,” she said, began during the couple’s PreCana classes. “If I was really going to get the sacrament of marriage, what did that mean?” she asked herself. “It didn’t mean marriage in the sense of what the secular world viewed marriage. It was a much deeper covenant with God” and with Jim. "We had an amazing PreCana experience.”

When the Gaffigans’ first child arrived, Mrs. Gaffigan surmised, “This is like a living, breathing manifestation of not only my love for Jim, and our love for each other, but also how merciful God is to have given us this gift. Children are just this amazing gift that we are put in charge of. We have a responsibility.”

Faith has helped the family through some not-so-happy times. Mrs. Gaffigan had four additional pregnancies.

“Every life that we’ve created together, whether they were born or not, has been a gift and a precious experience in our lives,” Mrs. Gaffigan said. “We’ve experienced love for our children long before they were born.”

Although the loss of the four has been a cross to bear, there is a beauty to behold in that “our children are aware that they have these siblings,” Mrs. Gaffigan said. “It’s a real enhancement of spirituality.”

“When people say, ‘You have five kids,’ son Jack “will sometimes say, ‘Well, there’s actually other ones,’” Gaffigan said.

Their third child died the day she was born, in April 2008. “We were able to hold our baby until she fell asleep and didn’t wake up,” Mrs. Gaffigan said, adding, losing little ones “connected me to heaven.”

And in an answer to prayer, their third daughter was born in May 2009, on Mother’s Day. “I think the Blessed Mother was showing me that through great pain, in a very literal way, comes a beautiful gift from God,” Mrs. Gaffigan said.

Both Gaffigans went to Catholic universities: Jim to Georgetown, Mrs. Gaffigan to Marquette.

That God bestowed him with a sense of humor is a gift Gaffigan does not take for granted. “There is something gratifying about being able to change someone’s mood,” he said. “There is something mystical about it.”

He strives to bring light, rather than darkness, to his audience. “You can make someone laugh and then they can feel bad afterward,” Gaffigan said, or “you can make someone laugh and they feel better.”

“Jeannie and I do everything as a collaboration,” Gaffigan said. When they write material about religion, or being Catholic, their aim is to make it appeal to Catholics, as well as to other Christians and non-believers, he said.

TV Land has picked up “The Gaffigan Show,” which will shoot in New York and premiere on TV Land in 2015.

The series, inspired by Gaffigan’s real life, explores one man’s struggle in New York City to find a balance between fatherhood, stand-up comedy and an insatiable appetite.

“We love Jim Gaffigan’s brand of humor,” said Larry W. Jones, president of TV Land, in a statement announcing “The Gaffigan Show.”

“The second we saw this show we knew we wanted it on TV Land. The audience that TV Land is targeting is Gen Xers who are raising families so we love that this show reflects their world. Only funnier.”

“The Gaffigan Show” will also air on Comedy Central, which broadcasts Gaffigan’s stand-up specials.

The comedian also has a large, loyal social media fan base, with more than 2 million followers on Twitter.

Gaffigan’s self-deprecating humor and devotion to his wife and children jump off the pages of his books.

In the first chapter of “Dad Is Fat,” titled “Letter to My Children,” Gaffigan writes: “You may be wondering how I wrote this book. From a very early age, you all instinctively knew I wasn’t that bright of a guy. Probably from all the times you had to correct me when I couldn’t read all the words in ‘The Cat in the Hat.’ … Love, Dad.”