In 2017, Jim Gaffigan’s wife, Jeannie, underwent surgery to remove a benign brain tumor and Gaffigan was forced to contemplate a worst-case scenario.
Gaffigan, a father of five children, knew he’d have to quit stand-up comedy and all related opportunities if Jeannie didn’t survive the procedure.
“There were a realistic couple weeks where I was like, ‘It might be over,’” Gaffigan told America Magazine. “I’ve had a good run, this might be it. I love doing stand-up, but I’d rather not completely fail on the parenting front. If I was going to be a single parent, that would have to take priority over my career.”
Luckily for Gaffigan, his family, and his fans, Jeannie is alive and well today.
Gaffigan will perform his “Fixer Upper” show at Memorial Coliseum on Sept. 21.
As funny as Gaffigan is on stage, he is almost more interesting for the person he is off stage. Gaffigan is a devout Catholic who has somehow succeeded in balancing a colossal career with a sizable family.
Jeannie is Gaffigan’s creative partner as well as his life partner. She has had a hand is writing most of his jokes.
From fifth grade on, Gaffigan grew up in Chesterton, Indiana. He was part of a sizeable family himself: The youngest of five kids.
“There was a certain amount of Lord of the Flies occurring,” Gaffigan told the Daily Herald of Arlington Heights, Illinois. “It was the ’70s. There was no helicopter parenting. You’d leave in the morning and it was, like, ‘See you at dinner.’”
Gaffigan gave no serious thought early on to becoming a comedian.
“Saying I wanted to be a comedian is the equivalent of saying, ‘I want to put a Hardee’s on the moon,’” he told the Purdue Exponent.
Gaffigan earned a finance degree at Georgetown University, then worked in advertising in New York City. Eventually, he starting doing stand-up and taking improv classes at night.
Gaffigan said he tried a number of different comedic personae before settling on something and someone that was closest to who he really is.
It was his future wife who suggested that he work clean.
The topics that have turned Gaffigan into a comedic superstar are fatherhood, food, fatness, and indolence.
But he and Jeannie were not afraid to craft material about her ordeal.
Gaffigan said his wife emerged from an MRI tube with the following joke one afternoon.
“I don’t want our brain surgeon to have hobbies,” he said. “You want him to be like, ‘You know what I like to do when I’m not doing brain surgery? I’m thinking about how I can be a better brain surgeon.’ You don’t want him to be interested in cooking class.”
With five kids, the couple has to steal moments to collaborate on new material.
But it is hardly an onerous endeavor.
“I don’t consider writing comedy work,” Gaffigan said. “I consider sitting on a plane work. I consider the bureaucracy of everything work.”
As for why he has such a big family of his own, Gaffigan said there was no implied or explicit religious mandate involved.
“The Pope is not calling me up and saying, ‘Have five kids,’” he told Evansville Living Magazine. “I like kids. I’m lucky to be married to the type of woman who wouldn’t think it’s the biggest crisis in the world if she got pregnant tomorrow.”