The youngest of six, comic Jim Gaffigan was born in Elgin, Ill., lived in Barrington until he was eight and spent the rest of his growing-up years in Chesterton, Indiana. His newest book, “Food: A Love Story,” will be published Oct. 21, the day he also headlines the Chicago Theatre. In advance of his tour stop, the 48-year-old father of five talked about his lifelong affair with grub — one that has roots in Chicago.
Question: Do you remember your first experience of eating in Chicago as a kid?
Jim Gaffigan: Oh, yeah. I remember very much. I think that my food obsession really started with Chicago food. And my attitude toward a passion for unhealthy eating is pretty much a Chicago attitude, right? The attitude about a hot dog or Italian beef or deep-dish pizza for me is very much a Chicago attitude. I live in New York City and I’m a vocal Chicago deep-dish proponent. But I think that deep-dish pizza makes sense in Chicago because you need a Midwesterner to be patient enough for it to be made. It takes like 45 minutes and they deliver it with these clamps you mold glass with. The whole process would not work in both cities.
Q: Do you stop eating at the point of pain?
JG: I have a hard time stopping. I would say I’ll do at least a half a pizza. I haven’t done a full pizza in a while. But I used to get [Chicago deep-dish] delivered to my house, and my wife put a stop to that just because it’s insane. I was cooking it at two in the morning. I had my own metal pan that Lou Malnati’s sent me. Or maybe I ordered it. It was a real problem… My brother Joe, by the way, makes fun of me. He’s like, “You know that’s just for tourists.” And I’m like, “Yeah, well, then I’m a tourist.”
Q: You seem like a populist about food. Do you like the highfalutin stuff?
JG: I’m not bored with regular food. I am a meat-and-potatoes guy, so when I go out to dinner, which is not that often, it’s very hard for me to get away from the steak section. It’s weird, because it’s an evolution. I wrote about how steak, it seems like kind of an old man food to me. And I think there’s almost something primal about steak.
Q: You make fun of yourself for not being a svelte guy, but you’re not morbidly obese or anything. How do you keep your weight under control when you’re such a fan of eating?
JG: It’s funny, because I have a friend who came and saw a recent hour of my standup and he said, “You realize your point of view is that of a morbidly obese person.” It’s comic exaggeration, a romanticizing. Just as I romanticize laziness, I can’t really engage in it. I still have those fantasies of when I was 20 and Saturdays would just involve getting up and getting ready for a nap, and you can’t really do that when you have kids or a career.
Q: Do you have to be surreptitious about your eating at home?
JG: No. If [unhealthy food] is not accessible, I’ll eat hummus and Triscuits. But if we have a block of sharp cheddar, I’m the youngest of a big family so it would be gone in an hour.
Q: What vegetables are acceptable in your world and in what way should they be prepared?
JG: Well, I think the Chicago hot dog — for me that’s an amazing amount of vegetables.
Q: It’s like a garden on there.
JG: Right? And normally when they put all that stuff on some piece of meat, I’m usually like, “Just take it off.” I don’t like lettuce on my hamburger or anything like that. And I don’t put coleslaw on my sandwiches. But the Chicago hot dog — I’ve never even heard of a sport pepper in any other context outside of a Chicago hot dog. Or celery salt. I’m not a cook, but I’ve never been like, “I love the taste of this celery salt” on anything except for a Chicago hot dog.
Q: Was there a time when you over-ate to such an extent that you thought, “Church is out?”
JG: My brother Joe and I, there’s been plenty of times when we’ve finished eating and we looked at each other and said, “Well, I could throw up.” It’s really just ridiculous. But I would say that most of the time I’ve consumed Chicago deep-dish, I’ve overdone it.
Q: So what are the symptoms of your overeating? Is there trouble breathing? Is your heart palpitating?
JG: There’s moments when you can kind of hear your heart saying, “Hey, what are you doing? What’s going on?” Like, there’s a sweating and it’s not really warm in the room, right? Your body’s just trying to figure out, “Do we digest this?”
Q: Have you thought about what void food fills in your life?
JG: Oh, yeah. Definitely. I have a very addictive personality. I don’t know. I think that it’s sitting with feelings. I remember ten, 15 years ago and I would sit there and I would make a point of trying to write before I would eat, because there’s a numbing effect [from eating]. I think, also, food gains an importance as you get [old] — I don’t want to say old, because I want young people to go to the show, so don’t print that — where there’s a strange attachment. But also, for me, I don’t watch the Food Network. I don’t like to cook. It’s kind of like a comfort.