The way to comedy fame for Jim Gaffigan was through his stomach, so he seems to be taking a gamble with the new set of material he’ll be performing next week at the Chicago Theatre.
When: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 12, 7 and 9:30 p.m. Oct. 13 and 14
Where: Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State
Tickets: $39.50 – $89.50
“I feel like this hour is decidedly absent of food,” Gaffigan revealed.
No jokes about food, from the man who made his name with a routine about the foibles of Hot Pockets? Who played Colonel Sanders in KFC commercials? Who wrote a book called “Food: A Love Story”?
It’s not that he’s forever banishing all things sweet and savory from his act. He just has other things on his mind during his “Noble Ape Tour” this year — notably last spring’s surgery on his wife, Jeannie, who had a tumor the size of an apple removed from her brain. She’s recovering well, and Gaffigan is addressing the health scare in his act this year.
That’s about as much as cares to say about what fans will hear. “Hopefully I can make the mundane funny,” he said. “So if I brought up [the show’s topics] in a specific list, they would just sound pretty bad. If you looked at any comedian’s set list, you’d be like, ‘This is pathetic.’ It’s point of view and delivery and attitude.”
Even if food isn’t in his act, it’s still on his mind. Gaffigan plans to meet friends after the Oct. 12 show, and his mind is spinning with ways he could indulge his many Chicago appetites. For one thing, he’s determined to return to a steakhouse he loved during a visit last year.
“There’s just so many places in Chicago for my food adventure,” Gaffigan said. “I’m like, ‘Well, maybe if I meet them at the steakhouse, then I’ll have the theater get me a pizza. And if I’m getting a pizza delivered, maybe I should get an Italian beef delivered too. I guess I could get a hot dog after dinner.’
“That’s one of my memories of performing [earlier in his career] at Zanies: I would have one of those massive boxes from Lou Malnati’s or Giordano’s in my hotel room over the course of three or four days. Every hour I would eat a slice. There’s no reason I should be alive right now.”
In addition to his stand-up work, Gaffigan moonlights as an actor, sometimes in serious roles. Recently he played real-life figures in “Chuck” (released in May), about a Rocky-like boxer who took on Muhammad Ali in 1975, and “Chappaquiddick” (coming in December), about Sen. Edward Kennedy’s car crash in 1969 that left a woman dead. Both are period pieces, with wardrobes to match.
“I remember my dad looking like this,” Gaffigan said. “In ‘Chappaquiddick’ I played a Bostonian guy. In ‘Chuck’ I played a guy from Bayonne, New Jersey. So it was really fun to pretend to be those guys who I have nothing in common with. There were dialect coaches for both of those.”
Though born in Elgin, Gaffigan spent most of his childhood in northwest Indiana, in Munster and Chesterton. He was, as the locals call it, a “region rat.” But during his adolescence, he discovered the joys of hopping the South Shore to Chicago.
“I’m not sure if it’s how I remember it or ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,’ but it was THE CITY,” he recalled. “It was the city to go to. It was culture, it was nightlife, it was the fun place. For a bored teenager, instead of taking laps around the [small-town] McDonald’s, in Chicago you could do anything.”
It was during those visits that he developed a taste for deep-dish pizza, which in adulthood would become an obsession. “When I would perform at Zanies, I remember doing morning radio and then sitting outside a Giordano’s or a Lou Malnati’s and waiting for them to open up.”
He gets grief from his brothers for loving what they consider a mediocre product favored by tourists, something Gaffigan doesn’t dispute. “In a way I understand it, but it doesn’t mean I don’t love it.”
His love of thick crust and mounds of cheese may be legendary, but it isn’t hereditary, as Gaffigan discovered while performing in Joliet a few years back.
“I took my kids to get deep dish and they were not crazy about it,” he said. “I investigated giving them up for adoption.”