7/4/2013 - Jim Gaffigan is “the Hot Pocket guy” and he’s not about to let anyone forget it.
The concoction that Gaffigan describes as a “Pop Tart with nasty meat in it” was a staple in his stand-up routine, long before he lived with a wife and five kids in a two-bedroom apartment in New York City. Now he’s got plenty of new material distant from his bachelor days, but Hot Pockets ooze through Gaffigan’s new memoir like a meat-and-cheese turnover fresh from the microwave.
Dad is Fat is the book, the title lifted from a drawing by one of the Gaffigan brood, identified only as a “former son.” The former-son thing is funny, less so the title, which likely cost the publisher a few sales. (Who’s going to give a copy of Dad is Fat to a father who truly is?) But Gaffigan is not one to worry about calories or exercise, and purports to disdain exercise and doing anything outside other than skiing. (Which, in the company of children, computes to about 20 minutes of actual skiing, he notes.)
Born in Indiana, Gaffigan comes from a large family, the explanation recognizable to anyone in similar straits: “Six kids.” Pause. “Catholic.” He was the youngest of six, “the scrape of the pot.” “My parents tried their best but they were exhausted. It was like the last half hour of a brunch buffet. It’s still a great meal, but let’s just say at that point, the guy working at the omelet station has lost some of his enthusiasm.”
Before his marriage to the “Shiite Catholic” Jeannie, Gaffigan lived alone for 13 years, and he describes himself as a loner, misanthrope and narcissist. Who else better to have five kids in a cramped, urban space? But Gaffigan is clearly in love with his wife and life, and being sentenced to parenthood agrees with him. “Each of them has been a pump of light into my shriveled black heart,” he writes. Just don’t call him “family-friendly.”
“Family friendly,” he writes, “is really just a synonym for bad.”
Because Gaffigan has kids and doesn’t cuss (the occasional “fat tub of turds” is as raunchy as he gets), he’s been called a family-friendly comedian. He has been a guest on Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s radio show, and The Washington Post has asked if he’s “the Catholic church’s newest evangelizer.” But Gaffigan is Catholic-light: appropriately irreverent, and not above using “Thank you, Jesus” as a punchline. When writing about how children are embarrassed by their parents, he says even God the Father was not immune. “Jesus: Dad, just drop me off at the manger and pick me up around Easter.”
That’s as tart as he gets, and like a Hot Pocket, Gaffigan comedy has a soft, gooey center. Answering the inevitable question of why so many children, he shrugs and asks, “Why not?”
“I guess the reasons against having more children always seem uninspiring and superficial. What exactly am I missing out on? Money? A few more hours of sleep? A more peaceful meal? More hair? These are nothing compared to what I get from these five monsters who rule my life,” he writes. “I believe each of my five children has made me a better man. So I figure I only need another thirty-four kids to be a pretty decent guy.”
Warning: Even if you love Gaffigan’s stand-up, if you do not have kids, you will not comprehend this book. Like “What To Expect When You’re Expecting” or an owner’s manual for a car, there’s nothing for you here if you’re not already on the ride. But for anyone who’s endured Chuck E. Cheese, or understands that what McDonald’s practices with its Happy Meals is extortion, there are lines here that will make you laugh.
On toddlers: “Toddlers, for some reason, are always out of breath. They always sound like they have traveled by horseback for hours in order to deliver important news. ‘Mommy, Mommy, Daddy!’ …. This news is so important, parental titles are unimportant.”
On wives: “I am undeniably lucky to have married a woman like Jeannie. She is energetic, hardworking, and takes incredible care of the kids and me. However, during our marriage, there have been periods when she has become rather lazy. Jeannie describes these periods as ‘pregnancy.’”
On candy: “Candy is the currency of children. Kids collect it, trade it, hoard it. It’s how parents bribe their kids. It’s how annoying kids get friends.”
On Disney: “If there is pressure to have fun on a vacation, at Disney, it’s desperation. You see it on the strained faces of parents. They all seem to have this, ‘This was an enormous mistake’ expression.”
Gaffigan is an effective comedian, but there’s a simplicity in his material that works better on stage. Half of his appeal as a comic is the delivery, lost here.
But with five children under 9, who has time for introspection? As Gaffigan writes, among the benefits of having excess kids is the free pass on things you don’t want to do; he calls it the TMK factor: Too Many Kids. “Everyone has to volunteer for the school safety patrol? Not us. TMK.” Sadly, TMK also means no time to write like Sedaris. Still, a good, light and, at times, inspiring read for anyone infested with children. B-