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June 25, 2019

Jim Gaffigan on opening for the Pope on the Parkway and his new movie

The famous comedian regrets that Santa Claus joke

Interview Jim Gaffigan
JIm Gaffigan in "Being Frank" The Film Arcade /for PhillyVoice

Jim Gaffigan, Samantha Mathis and Danielle Campbell in "Being Frank"

Jim Gaffigan is mostly known for his prolific stand-up comedy career, which has included nearly a dozen specials over the course of 30 years. But Gaffigan, who has also been a sitcom star and an author, is leaning in big time this year to movie acting. He's in six movies in 2019, and one of them, "Being Frank," opens this Friday at the Ritz East. 

PhillyVoice recently talked to Gaffigan about the new movie, his long career in comedy, and his past visits to Philly, including the time he performed before a million people on the Parkway as Pope Francis' opening act. 

Gaffigan, a practicing Catholic and married father of five, is known as a family man who always works clean on stage. His character in "Being Frank," though, is somewhat against type: In the comedy/drama, directed by Miranda Bailey, the protagonist (Logan Miller) discovers that his dad (Gaffigan) has a secret second family. The film involves Gaffigan's character, Frank, going to sometimes comical lengths to keep the secret. 

The comedian said that a producer on his former sitcom, "The Jim Gaffigan Show," was associated with the movie, which led to Gaffigan being cast in the film. 

Was it strange for the clean comedian and family man to end up starring in a bigamy comedy? 

"I'm not a bigamist, and it is a movie, but the irony of course is that in this movie I play a guy with two families, two kids in each family, but in real life I have more kids than even in this movie," he said. "So it's a different kind of world… this guy, he has two families, but in some ways it's about secrets and how we kind of like lie to attempt to protect ourselves or our families, but really we're just living in some web of denial." 

"I love the opportunity to kind of make this guy- as an actor, you have to empathize with whoever you're playing. And so the task of making him human or likable was a fun challenge. It was a task worth doing, I think." The film co-stars Anna Gunn and Samantha Mathis as Gaffigan's two wives, as well as Danielle Campbell and Alex Karpovsky. 

Gaffigan called it a "coincidence in timing" that he has so many movie projects arriving this year, as a lot of projects he made over a considerable period of time happened to have releases around the same time. Other upcoming films include "Them That Follow" (with Olivia Colman), "Above the Shadows" (with Megan Fox), and another leading role in "American Dreamer."

"I've always been attempting to act, or auditioning or trying to get roles. They all kind of landed at the same time." 

Speaking of families, the 52-year-old Gaffigan is known to Philadelphia audiences for one thing in particular: On September 26, 2015, he performed on Benjamin Franklin Parkway, as part of the Festival of Families during Pope Francis' visit to Philadelphia. 

The event was attended by more than a million people, far and away the comedian's largest audience ever. 

Gaffigan said he got the call, during production of "The Jim Gaffigan Show," and he believes it was someone with the Archdiocese of Philadelphia who first reached out. 

"There's something about doing standup. Sometimes, there's rumblings of people wanting a comedian at a wedding. Initially, people are like 'that's a great idea,' but then you realize, no, you don't want a comedian performing at your wedding, that's not what the event is. And so I kind of assumed they were going to go 'oh, we don't want… whether he's Catholic or whether he's clean, we don't want a comedian.'" 

He said that organizers of the Pope's visit came to see his act in Atlantic City, and he was ready for them to say that they'd changed their minds, and say they wanted The Pointer Sisters instead. 

"Even the day of, I was ready for them to say 'do five minutes." Gaffigan told the story of the experience in his recent standup special "Noble Ape." 

During his set Gaffigan committed a sacrilege that had nothing to do with the Pope or Catholicism: He made a joke about snowballs and Santa Claus. 

Gaffigan said he had run the jokes by some Philly promoters he knew at the event, and they laughed, but he got a different reception to the actual set. 

"That's what was uniquely Philly about it," Gaffigan said about the jokes. "It was not that people were offended, they were just sick of that topic. There was just a certain intolerance to even being ribbed about it." 

The comedian's most recent Philadelphia stand-up performance went much better. He performed at The Met back in February, and had positive impressions of the venue. 

"It's amazing. It's really beautiful, and it's a great room," he said of The Met. "I'm so thrilled about that new venue there… I know where I'm going when I go back to Philly, which is great." 

Gaffigan also does an annual summer show at the Borgata in Atlantic City, which is scheduled for August 24. 

A large percentage of Gaffigan's comedy is about food- one of his most famous bits, after all, is about Hot Pockets - and he had some things to say about the food of Philadelphia. 

Gaffigan Miller and Karpovsky

"The last time I was there, when I did the shows at the Met, was the first time that I got the cheesesteak," Gaffigan said, of his first visit to Pat's and Geno's. "In the end I'm a pig, so there's certain local foods that really hold up. Sometimes you go to a city and they're like 'you gotta try our hot dog…' you try it and it's not so good. But those cheesesteaks really hold up. If I lived here, I'd eat way too many of those." 

Also coming up for Gaffigan is a new standup special, this time on Amazon Prime, which is called "Quality Time." The special, he said, is Amazon's first foray into original standup comedy, and came after an "attractive offer." 

"I've been doing standup for a long time, and every five years it's changed on where and how you should do your comedy specials. We live in this age where Netflix is the way to go, but five years ago that wasn't the case. And ten years ago you would do it with Comedy Central, and before HBO." Gaffigan's last special, "Noble Ape," even played in theaters. 

"It's far less food, and far less 'lazy guy,'" Gaffigan said of his next special. "Discussing topics would sound horrible- it's not like I'm a flamethrower. I don't discuss Trump or anything like it. It's some stories, it's some observations, but the thing I enjoy about standup is that I've been doing it for 30 years, but I feel as though I'm getting better at it." 

"Being Frank" opens Friday at Ritz East and will also be available on video on demand. Jim Gaffigan's next special will arrive on Amazon Prime later this year, and he's performing at the Borgata Events Center for two shows on August 24.