Let's get something straight, comedian Jim Gaffigan is not a foodie, he's a self-proclaimed "eatie." His food obsession comes through in his comedy (Hot Pocket, anyone?), but he's not artisanal about it. He's a cheeseburger-and-fries guy, which makes him very relatable.
When Gaffigan, 48, comes to the NYCB Theatre at Westbury on Thursday, he will not only perform stand-up but also hold a post-show signing for his new book, "Food: A Love Story." Newsday recently spoke to the comic about his career and his cravings.
You've taken your comic voice and translated it to the page. Was that hard to pull off?
Writing a book as opposed to writing stand-up is such a different task. My wife and I wrote this together and capturing the voice was an important piece to make it work. You have to paint a picture because you don't have facial expressions or vocal inflection to work with. That was something we made a big effort on.
How did the writing partnership with your wife, Jeannie, form?
We were dating and I was doing this TV show called "Welcome to New York" where my wife served as an acting coach. We'd run lines together. When she would pitch ideas, initially I was resistant. It's come to a point where every aspect of our writing is collaborative. Her name should be on the book, but it weakens the point of view because it's such a gluttonous journey and that's not who she is. She knows how to capture my voice. The collaboration started as a line here or there. Now it's downright codependent.
Your food comedy has taken off. Do you think it's because people can easily connect to that subject?
I'm an observational guy and there's something so universal about food. It can be uniquely my point of view, and there are not a lot of land mines with food. If you are criticizing oysters in Oyster Bay, the town is not going to be offended. If I talk about having kids too much, a single person in the crowd could shut down saying, "I don't really care." Whereas even a vegetarian can appreciate my passion for bacon.
Do you ever wing it on stage?
My stand-up has gotten to the point where I'm writing on stage. I always rewrite and reorganize. If the mood is right, I'll riff on an idea, and that's when lightning strikes. You'll be talking honestly and a joke will fall out of your mouth. It's pretty amazing.
Is it true you are writing a TV show?
We are writing scripts for a program called "The Jim Gaffigan Show," which will air on Comedy Central and TV Land. It's a half-hour single-camera show that's due to come out in June. It's about a comedian who attempts to balance his comedy life with his family life.
You do a female voice that critiques your act while you are doing your act. How did that develop?
It was always part of my personality to talk as someone else to defuse the situation. Being a slow-talking Midwesterner and developing my act in New York City, I had to keep talking or people would chime in.
Do you think people can relate to you because you seem like a neighbor or a friend?
People often say, "You're not crazy like all the other comedians." But I will say there's nothing normal about going on stage and making strangers laugh. I'm not saying I'm crazy, but it's hard to describe what I do as normal.
Because you are 48 years old, does your doctor give you flak about eating the way you do?
I'm mindful of it. I'm not great at eating when I'm traveling and I do travel too much. If I do two shows and there's a steakhouse nearby that's open at 11:30 p.m., I will probably go there. My wife felt we should have a disclaimer in the book saying, "This is not how someone should lead their lives." But to me, it's comedy, not a lifestyle book. My attitude toward eating is romanticized as well as my attitude toward laziness or watching TV. I'd love to sit back and watch Netflix 24 hours a day, but it's not an option. I'd love to nap, get up and get ready for another nap. We all had moments in our 20s where maybe we could do that and we can appreciate it, but it's not a practical reality.
You call yourself fat, but are you really?
It's all relative, I guess. I think I have a strong identification with being overweight. I could lose 30 pounds. It's harder to get motivated and find the time in your 40s. Plus your metabolism is just cruel. I will say there are people who meet me and are disappointed that I'm not heavier.
You talk about your obsession with bacon. Has it become the forbidden fruit?
It's an authentic obsession that coincided with this popularity boom around bacon. Burger King is selling bacon sundaes! Bacon is one of those things where an honest converted vegetarian will admit that it's hard to smell.
How come you don't consider yourself a foodie?
Because I have five children and I do stand-up almost every night, I can't engage in the foodie lifestyle. Sometimes I'm jealous that they can go on these culinary escapades, but I'm too lazy. I'm not fascinated by the science of it. I just like a good meal. I don't need pulled pork on my cheeseburger. I just want a cheeseburger.
You recorded your last special in Boston, where you went on stage and ripped apart seafood. Was that done on purpose?
Yes, it was. Boston people are not shy about their provincial nature. I've performed there so many times and I love those audiences. They get it. I wasn't making fun of the Red Sox. But it's OK if someone doesn't like a lobster roll.
You say you do stand-up almost every night. Is it essential for you to have that constant flow going?
Performing is very therapeutic for me. It's my Prozac in some ways. It helps me recalibrate my endorphins. The more I can perform, the more writing I produce.
You are playing theaters now. How would you say the venue size has changed the game for you?
It's like the difference between driving a car and driving a truck. It's a totally different experience. The most important aspect of a stand-up performance is the intimacy. Westbury is like the max size where the intimacy is still there.
When do you foresee your next special coming?
I like to take two years to develop an hour special. I want to make sure I get every piece of meat off the bone. It's always a food metaphor with me.
More Hot Pockets, please
Jim Gaffigan's bit about Hot Pockets helped put him on the comedy map. Describing the product as a "Pop-Tart filled with nasty meat" that should "come with a roll of toilet paper" directly tickled the nation's funny bone: "I've never eaten a Hot Pocket and said, 'I'm glad I ate that!' " Gaffigan quips. "I always feel like I'm going to die."
However, Gaffigan claims it was all luck. "In this case, it was getting to the topic before some other comedian does or 'Saturday Night Live' performs a parody sketch," he says. "It's sort of a gateway into my comedic point of view. I can't underestimate the value of it."
Despite the joke being more than 10 years old, crowds still want to hear it wherever he goes.
"I'll do it as an encore at the end of the show. I find that amazing because I've been doing the joke for so long," Gaffigan says. "Thankfully, Hot Pockets keeps introducing new products."
WHEN/WHERE 8 p.m., Thursday, NYCB Theatre at Westbury
INFO $50-$75, 800-745-3000, livenation.com