Seeing Jim Gaffigan

Jim Gaffigan is one of my favorite comedians, so when I heard that he would be making an appearance with his wife at the Sheen Center for Thought and Culture, I jumped at the opportunity to go. Jim and Jeannie are a very creative couple who have co-written and produced The Jim Gaffigan Show that airs on TVLand Wednesday nights at 10:00 pm.

The Jim Gaffigan Show is a sitcom based on Jim’s actual life: he plays himself, a comedian with a wife and five kids living in a two-bedroom apartment in Lower Manhattan.  The humor revolves around his affinity for food and the challenge of running a large family in New York City.

What I find so refreshing about the show is Jim’s openness about his Catholic faith. Since it is a big part of his real life, he does not attempt to hide it or suppress it. In fact, it comes up in almost every episode: Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral (his actual parish church) and “Fr. Nicholas” (his fictional parish priest) make frequent appearances.

As Jim and Jeannie shared with us on Tuesday night, although the show is fictional, each episode deals with issues that they have had to face in real-life. For example, the challenge of living his faith comes up in one episode called “The Bible Story,” when Jim is asked by his wife to pick up a Bible at their church on his way to a stand-up show. He reluctantly agrees, but comes to regret his decision when it turns out to be a massive coffee-table-size Bible that is conspicuously evident as he walks into the comedy club. When a picture of him with the Bible is published in the Huffington Post, it sparks a controversy about Jim’s religious beliefs, leading to him being branded as a “gay-hater” and “Bible-thumper.”

The episode artfully satirizes the all-too-frequent ridiculousness of contemporary discourse on the role of religion, but it also touches on a very really issue for Jim who in real-life has had to come to terms with the role of religion in his comedy. At the risk of being negatively and unfairly branded as a religious fanatic, he has not shied away from making his faith a part of his craft just as he does with the other aspects of his life.

Jim mentioned that the key to doing this without turning people off is to do so naturally. He just assumes that everyone knows and accepts the fact that he is Catholic, and he allows his faith to surface in his humor when it fits and adds to the quality of his show. The jokes he makes about the Catholicism are always tasteful and never irreverent, since he makes fun of legitimately funny Catholic quirks.

Christ told us “Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves” (Matthew 10:16). Jim and Jeannie are a great example of how to be simple yet shrewd in the hyper-secular world of today. The two of them combined make a fabulous creative team, and they both possess the savvy and shrewdness necessary to launch a successful sitcom on a major television network. Nevertheless, they have remained simple in regards to their faith: they embrace it just as it is without regret or complications. They simply live what they believe and allow it to be a part of their art because it is so much a part of who they are as persons.

Keep an eye out for Jim on TV next weekend. He will be performing for Pope Francis and hundreds of thousands of people during the papal visit to Philadelphia. Quite a gig!

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