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Jim Gaffigan on food, not swearing and food

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When comedian Jim Gaffigan steps onstage, the Indiana native is almost difficult to see. His blond hair, blond beard and mustache, occasional rimless glasses and pale skin make his features give him a "he'd disappear in direct sunlight" kind of visage. But the minute he begins his stand-up routine, he's very in-the-flesh, an everyman who's easy for American audiences to identify with.

In conjunction with appearances on the Late Show with David Letterman and Late Night with Conan O'Brien (Gaffigan and O'Brien created an animated series entitled Pale Force), his 2006 Comedy Central special Beyond the Pale pushed Gaffigan to a level of popularity at which more and more people became familiar with and were drawn to his clean, observational humor. It's a humor that centers on the somewhat banal and often revolves around food.

Gaffigan has built a career around bologna, fruitcake, muffins, peanut butter, bacon, cake ("Cake's a true symbol of gluttony. If you eat a whole pizza, people say, 'Man, you were hungry.' If you eat a whole cake, they say, 'You got a problem. You're addicted to cake.'"), and the foodstuff he's best known for, Hot Pockets ("I'm moving a little slow tonight. I had a Hot Pocket for dinner. I've never eaten a Hot Pocket and then been like afterwards, 'I'm glad I ate that.'"). He pokes fun at American institutions like religion, NASCAR and IHOP, even though he often performs in small-town America, places populated with people who frequent pancake houses and spend hours watching car races. Rather than alienate these audiences, Gaffigan has created an "alter ego" onstage, a high-voiced, middle-aged, softspoken but outspoken Midwestern woman who counters Gaffigan's jabs. She crossly whispers things like, "Hey, buddy, I like the IHOP. If you don't like it, you don't have to go there."

Gaffigan deftly deflects any anger the audience may feel toward him by having "her" say what they might be thinking.

"If someone is like, 'He's doing another bacon joke? Really? I didn't even like the first one,' I can disarm that situation," he said. He said that if he makes it clear he knows he's making fun of something people take seriously, they'll give him a break.

Gaffigan is also aware that by eliminating swearing from his act, he expanded his demographic.

He didn't always focus on such pedestrian material nor did he always present it in a G-rated format. He found that when he did, though, audiences responded positively and he, too, had a better time.

"My stand-up is very Americana. You do what you do. It's not like I had some elaborate plan like, if I get rid of the curse words, I can get the Mormons [on my side]," he said. [It] was literally a function of 'I'm writing jokes about bacon and escalators. Is it necessary to curse?' Not really.

"Any comedian will tell you when you have a curse word in a joke ... it's always an effective tool in comedy. I think Lewis Black and Chris Rock are very funny, and I can't imagine them not cursing," he said.

But, for Gaffigan, "going clean" worked, and though his onstage persona may be a reflection of his real life—at least in regard to food—he's not exactly Casper the Ghost.

"I curse in everyday life, though I try not to do it in front of my kids. But I'm still a pretty sardonic guy. Especially compared to say, Brian Regan. I love Brian, but I did a corporate [gig] where I went on after him, and I just appeared so negative. He's just absolute light, and I'm like a bit of the misanthrope after him," he laughed.

That's hard to believe from a man who refers to bacon bits as the fairy dust of the food community. ("You don't want that baked potato? Brrrriiiiinnnng. Now it's your favorite part of the meal. Not interested in the salad? Bippity-boppity-bacon. I just turned it into an entree.")

Or the man who is not bothered at all that his dig at that microwaveable wonder, the Hot Pocket, has become his signature shtick.

"It's been a real blessing," he said. "Do I need more people in airports pointing at me screaming, 'Hot Pockets!'? No. But, I created something people enjoy ... and recently, the bacon jokes I've been doing have grown in popularity. I don't know if I'll ever do anything that will overtake the Hot Pocket thing, but I think I'm still at the point that I'm grateful."

Several excerpts of Gaffigan's stand-up routines can be found at YouTube.com, and he can be seen in a recurring role on the TBS sitcom, My Boys. His new Sexy Tour is currently traveling the United States, during which he will tape the final stop in Austin, Texas, for another hour-long Comedy Central special.

On this tour, Gaffigan will perform new material, but he's not willing—or dumb enough—to completely sweep the fan-favorite routines that he's become famous for under the rug. Plus, those old routines find ways of making themselves fresh.

"You know, Hot Pockets keeps coming up with new products," he said.

Friday, Sept. 12, 8 p.m., $39.75. Morrison Center, 2201 Cesar Chavez Ln., 208-426-1609, mc.boisestate.edu.