Author Interviews
4:51 am
Sat May 4, 2013

'Fat' Dad Jim Gaffigan On Kids, Comedy And Apartment Living

Originally published on Sat May 4, 2013 10:53 am

Jim Gaffigan is outnumbered. The comedian and actor lives with his wife, Jeannie Noth Gaffigan, and five children — that's not a typo — in a two-bedroom apartment in lower Manhattan.

It's a neighborhood that quite proudly abounds with hipsters, swingers, adults-only shops, men in high heels, and people who mutter to themselves on the street. But nothing may attract more surprise in the neighborhood than a Midwestern couple and their five children.

Jim Gaffigan is a widely acclaimed and traveled comedian — or, as his son once put it, "a stand-up chameleon" — who may be best-known for his routines about American food, like the misery that comes with eating Hot Pockets.

He's now written a book, the title of which comes from one of his children: Dad Is Fat. And it's about the challenge, complexity and pleasure of raising a large family in a small apartment.

"I've had people say, 'What, do you own an oil company? I mean, why would you subject yourself to that?' And I always just tell them I'm creating my own nationality," he tells NPR's Scott Simon. "But it's absurd. Living in New York is difficult enough, and attempting to raise five kids that don't end up heroin addicts on the Bowery is pretty ambitious."


Interview Highlights

On ending up with five children in Manhattan

"I'm a comedian, which is the opposite of a lifestyle that equips you to be a parent. So I, you know, married Jeannie, and she loved children, and I loved her, and I was terrified of it. Ten years ago I couldn't get a date, and now my apartment's crawling with babies — I don't know what happened.

"In an urban setting, when you live in an apartment building, you hear everything. But if you could imagine living under five little kids, it's a crisis ... we're now on our third set of downstairs neighbors, but when our two preceding neighbors were moving, they asked us to hide the fact that we had children from prospective buyers, and the only polite thing to do, really, is to hide your existence so you can trick the next set of downstairs neighbors. But there's been moments where we've had to hide our children in a bedroom, and it feels like a scene from Sound of Music, you know."

On the comedic potential of having children

"Babies should be classified as an antidepressant. It's pretty hard to be in a bad mood around a 5-month-old baby. That's not to say that when they're screaming it's a delight, but — you see the creativity that is kind of inherent, that, you know, growing up kind of squashes a lot, and the point of view of a comedian is just to look at the world differently, and I think that children have that. There's something about being a parent that has, I think, made me a better comedian.

"[Getting five kids into bed] is like dealing with terrorists. You have to cajole them, and you have to negotiate ... it's really the opposite of a hostage situation — instead of trying to get people out of there, you're trying to keep them in there: I'll give you whatever you want! What do you want, a helicopter to Cuba? Anything, just stay in there and don't hurt anyone."

On planning family outings

"I'm not really sure how Moses did it. I'm sure he was like, I wanted to leave for the Promised Land two weeks ago, and I can't get everyone to put their sandals on. So if you're taking your kids even someplace where they would want to go, you could say, 'Let's get ice cream,' and they still will just sit there, as if they were unsure what ice cream is. You have to dress them, and then there's always a shoe that's missing, and then when you're about to leave, of course that's when you have to change a diaper. And if it's during the winter, you might as well just not do it, because the gloves and mittens — you know, it'll be spring anyway."

On being the youngest of six

"[It] really only prepares you to be parented by really exhausted parents. It doesn't necessarily prepare you to be a parent of any sort. But, you know, my parents' generation, there was a different approach, I think specifically for fatherhood. They brought home the bacon, which did not mean actually buying the bacon or bringing it home, or even cooking the bacon — they just ate the bacon ... my father did nothing, and he didn't feel guilty at all. And I right now, I have a winter sling for a baby and a summer sling, and I still feel guilty."

On whether he'll ever move to the suburbs

"I understand the value of a yard. I understand the value of a kid just coming home covered in dirt because he was playing in mud. But that can also be accomplished — and there's a lot of values of living in a city environment. The people that I meet that grew up in a city, whether it's New York or Boston, I like them. They're well-adjusted. They're not freaked out by two men holding hands. They're not freaked out by socio- or economic or cultural differences, and that's, I think, an important gift to give children."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Jim Gaffigan is outnumbered. The comedian and actor lives with his wife, Jeannie Noth Gaffigan, and five children - five; that's not a typo - in a two-bedroom apartment in lower Manhattan. It's a neighborhood that proudly abounds with hipsters, swingers, adults-only shops, men in high heels and people who mutter to themselves on the street. But nothing may attract more surprise in the neighborhood than a Midwestern couple and their five children. Jim Gaffigan, of course, is a widely-acclaimed and traveled comedian - or, as a son once put, it a stand up chameleon - who may be best-known for his routines about American food, including Hot Pockets.

JIM GAFFIGAN: I've never eaten a Hot Pocket and then afterwards been I'm glad I ate that. I'm always like, I'm gonna die.

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: He's now written a book, the title of which comes from one of his children: "Dad is Fat." And it's about the challenge, complexity and pleasure of raising a large family in a small apartment. Jim Gaffigan joins us from New York. Thanks so much for being with us.

GAFFIGAN: Well, thank you for having me, Scott. Appreciate it.

SIMON: So, five kids. Do a lot of people in New York look at you and ask are you orthodox or something?

GAFFIGAN: Yeah. Well, there's definitely, you know, I've had people say, what, do you own an oil company? I mean, why would you subject yourself to that? And I would just tell them I'm creating my own nationality. But it's absurd. Living in New York is difficult enough and attempting to raise five kids that don't end up heroin addicts on the Bowery is pretty ambitious.

SIMON: I feel the need, by the way, to mention your children's names: Jack, Katie, Michael, Patrick, Maury. What's the age range again?

GAFFIGAN: Eight, seven, three, one and a half and five months.

SIMON: How did it happen? I mean, I think I know at one level how did it happen but, you know, time and time again, how did it happen?

GAFFIGAN: Well, you know, we all - that our parents had this belief - I mean, there's a small minority that was like always wanted to have kids, always felt like they would be a great parent. And the rest of us were like, well, I'd like to have kids, I like the romantic notion of it but, you know, I'm a comedian, which is the opposite of a lifestyle that equips you to be a parent. So I, you know, married Jeannie, and she loved children, and I loved her, and I was terrified of it. Ten years ago I couldn't get a date, and now my apartment's crawling with babies. I don't know what happened.

SIMON: Well, quite apart, from all else, are children the greatest comic invention ever?

GAFFIGAN: They're pretty amazing. I do think that babies should be classified as an antidepressant. It's pretty hard to be in a bad mood around a five-month-old baby. I mean, that's not to say that when they're screaming it's a delight. But, I mean, you see that the creativity that is kind of inherent, that, you know, growing up kind of squashes a lot. And the point of you, of a comedian, is to just look at the world differently. And I think that children have that. There's something about being a parent that has, I think, made me a better comedian.

Remember you were a kid and you'd go on vacation? You'd be like why is dad always in a bad mood?

(LAUGHTER)

GAFFIGAN: Now I understand. How can I spend an enormous amount of money, be uncomfortable and listen to my children complain and whine? Disney.

SIMON: You, in this book, you refer to trying to get five children to bed at night is negotiating with terrorists.

GAFFIGAN: Yeah, it is like dealing with terrorists.

SIMON: Help us appreciate what it's like to get five kids to, let's say, take a walk with you at the same time.

GAFFIGAN: Well, it's ambitious getting any group to leave. I'm not really sure how Moses did it. You know, I'm sure he was, like, I wanted to leave for the Promised Land two weeks ago but I can't get everyone to put their sandals on. So, if you're taking your kids even some place where they would want to go - you could say, let's get ice cream, and they still will just sit there as if they're unsure what ice cream is. You have to dress them and then there's always a shoe that's missing, and then when you're about to leave, of course that's when you have to change a diaper. And if it's during the winter, you might as well just not do it, because the gloves and mittens, you know, it'll be spring anyway. So, just hang tight.

SIMON: I was struck by a phrase in the book - more than one - but at least one phrase in the book where you talk about any child running in to tell you anything is like a Pony Express rider.

GAFFIGAN: Yeah. Toddlers are always out of breath, like they're attempting to communicate some vital military information about an impending battle. It's strange. And they also lose their train of thought and just ask for pizza or cake or something like that or if they could watch a movie.

SIMON: You're the youngest of six?

GAFFIGAN: Yes.

SIMON: What do you learn about being a parent, or for that matter, being a kid when you're the youngest of six?

GAFFIGAN: Well, I think being the youngest of six really only prepares you to be parented by really exhausted parents. It doesn't necessarily prepare you to be a parent of any sort. But, you know, my parents' generation, there was a different approach, I think specifically for fatherhood. They brought home the bacon, which did not mean actually buying the bacon or bringing it home, or even cooking the bacon - they just ate the bacon. But I understand that. But my father did nothing, and he didn't feel guilty at all. And I right now, I have a winter sling for a baby and a summer sling, and I still feel guilty.

SIMON: Can I ask about your neighbors? I'm just guessing that some of them are not living in lower Manhattan because they wanted to be surrounded by children.

GAFFIGAN: In an urban setting, when you live in an apartment building, you hear everything. But if you could imagine living under five little kids, it's a crisis. And so what has happened, we're now on our third set of downstairs neighbors, but when our two preceding neighbors were moving, they asked us to hide the fact that we had children from prospective buyers. And the only polite thing to do, really, is to hide your existence so that you can trick the next set of downstairs neighbors. But there's been moments where we've had to hide our children in a bedroom, and it feels like a scene from "The Sound of Music," you know. We're just like shh, the Nazis are out there looking for us, but they're really just prospective buyers that are really going to resent us when they see that we're dragging five scooters up the stairs.

SIMON: Do you ever think about moving to Yonkers?

GAFFIGAN: You know, there's something about...

SIMON: Yonkers is still pretty urban. Connecticut?

GAFFIGAN: Yeah, you know, I understand the value of a yard. I understand the value of a kid just coming home covered in dirt because he was playing in mud. But that can also be accomplished - and there's a lot of values of living in a city environment. The people that I meet that grew up in a city, whether it's New York or Boston, I like them. They're well-adjusted. They're not freaked out by two men holding hands. They're not freaked out by socio or economic or cultural differences, and that's, I think, an important gift to give children.

SIMON: You do say, toward the end of the book, that what you call these five monsters who rule my life have made you a better man.

GAFFIGAN: Absolutely. And I do think that all I need is another 34 and I'll be a pretty decent guy. But there is something about - and it's unique to me but I think it's also our culture - I lived alone for 13 years. The self-serving nature is pretty ingrained. And so parenting has been kind of this wake-up call to some of my selfishness and narcissism. And, like, if you wake up in the middle of the night hearing a screaming baby, you can't sit there and go, well, you know, I got to get up early, so that baby's going to have to scream all night. You have to get up and do it. I think that's one that gifts that - at least for me - is being exposed to that selflessness. It's a huge trade of parenting. I mean, the pay is horrible, right?

SIMON: I haven't figured out where that is, as a matter of fact, yeah.

GAFFIGAN: Yeah.

SIMON: Jim Gaffigan, who's on tour with his family this summer from coast to coast, and is the author of a new book, "Dad is Fat." Jim, thanks very much for being with us.

GAFFIGAN: Thank you, Scott.

SIMON: Can I say best to the family?

GAFFIGAN: Thank you. Please do.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FAMILY AFFAIR")

SLY AND THE FAMILY STONE: (Singing) It's a family affair. It's a family affair, it's a family affair...

SIMON: Oh, what a sly music choice. We invite you to join us on Twitter. I'm @NPRScottSimon - all one word. Our show is NPRWeekend. And you can also find us on Facebook/NPRWeekend. This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.