SALT LAKE CITY — Jim Gaffigan’s new tour is titled “The Fixer Upper.” It begs the question: Is Gaffigan doing the fixing, or is he the one being fixed?
Talking to him over the phone recently, the answer is perhaps a little of both.
Gaffigan brings “The Fixer Upper” tour to Vivint Arena — he’s not sure he’s pronouncing “Vivint” right — for two shows, on Dec. 1 and 7. He told us about his last special (“Noble Ape”), his wife Jeannie’s brain tumor (removed), and how much his 7-year-old son can vomit (so, so much).
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Deseret News: Hey Jim. Good to talk to you. How’s everything?
Jim Gaffigan: Crazy, but it’s all good. Last night, I guess it was 1 in the morning or something, and my 12-year-old came up to me and goes, “Hey, Michael threw up.” And my 7-year-old had just thrown up all over his bed. So I did that until about 3 in the morning. But every parent has dealt with that.
DN: Any vomit removal tips you’d give to new parents?
JG: Well, first of all, I let my wife Jeannie sleep, and I tried to do it myself. So I got him up, took all the clothes and put them in a plastic bag. And my son who threw up is sleeping through all of it. So I carry him into the tub, I start cleaning him because he’s caked in it — it’s just amazing what can come out of a little kid.
About halfway through, my wife woke up. And she’s like, “Stop, you’re going to do it wrong. Thanks, but you’re going to do it wrong, and I’m going to have to do it anyway.”
DN: You know, it’s funny — you’re successful, you have your own career and your own things going on, but your kids will just do what they do. Vomit is the great equalizer.
JG: Here we are in winter, and you forget that when you have kids, when they’re sick, how it’ll just run through the house. The question is, is it going to go two rounds? It sounds kind of disgusting, but it’s just the life of a big family.
DN: I noticed you’re playing two shows here, but a week apart. Is that normal?
JG: No, that is not normal at all. But we’re doing the Vivint — I’m sure I’m mispronouncing that.
DN: Nah, you’ve got it right.
JG: Well, you don’t expect that you’re going to do more than one show. There is something very unique about Salt Lake City. It’s one of those places that for me, I wish there were, like, eight more metropolitan areas like Salt Lake City. And it’s not just because people like my stand-up. I think there’s also an appreciation for the type of comedy I do. We live in an age where people have a tendency toward outrage, but there’s a trust that the audience in Salt Lake has with me — like, “We know he’s not a jerk. We know that it’s not constructed on shock.” And sometimes as a comedian you’ll do something just to see how the audience responds. And some of my friends do it in a larger, more dramatic way. But I don’t peddle in that. I’m not the shock guy.
DN: It seems like whenever you do interviews with news outlets in Utah, the interviewer always wants your take on various Utah things. But do you have any questions about Utah that you want answered?
JG: Well, I don’t have anything specific. But some of that might be that I was up till 3 cleaning a bedroom — or, well, more like standing in the back and watching my wife clean it.
DN: Speaking of Jeannie: She’s become this regular interview topic for you since last year, when she had a brain tumor removed. I don’t want to focus too much on that — I’m sure you’re tired of talking about it — but how has she felt about being kind of thrust into the spotlight? She’s always been your creative partner, but this last year altered that dynamic between the two of you, at least publicly.
JG: You know, she’s a performer, so it’s not necessarily foreign for her to get put in the spotlight. We’ve always done things together, from “The Jim Gaffigan Show” to the books to the stand-up. So in some ways it’s great. But it’s like anything else: You’ve got to be careful what you wish for.
DN: It seems like there’s been this outpouring of support for the two of you since the brain tumor announcement. Has Jeannie’s diagnosis/surgery/recovery changed your relationship with your fans at all?
JG: I know that we live in an exhibitionist and voyeuristic era on social media. But I would say generally, my stand-up over the course of my career has become far more autobiographical. In “Noble Ape,” I talk about Jeannie’s brain tumor and that experience in the hospital. And it was very insightful to realize that we all have that family emergency in the hospital, we’ve all spent two weeks just staring, lost. My instinct was not to be as autobiographical. Because I was raised to not talk about myself. The show I’m doing now is all new material, and there’s part of me that believes it’s got to be funny because if it’s just me talking about myself, or just my opinion on something, that’s just vanity. That’s just me talking in the mirror. Stand-up is not just a point of view, it’s also sharing — but it has to be really funny.
DN: Are there things you’ve found funny about Jeannie’s health scare that maybe you wouldn’t have expected to be funny?
JG: When you have a life-threatening brain tumor, it’s not just over in a couple weeks. Like, my son threw up last night; he’s fine now. Whereas Jeannie had a brain tumor a year ago, and there’s still a little bit of slur in her speech. The recovery is ongoing. The big discovery was how as humans, we feel horrible when someone’s sick, we pray for them and we want them to get better. But then once they’re better, we’re just kind of like, “You’re good, right?”
It was really fascinating, when I started touring with the new material, to see how it touched people. Because, like I said, we’ve all spent those two weeks in the hospital, in these life-or-death situations, these moments of fear and awkwardness. And we can’t live in those moments of fear forever. Defense mechanisms take over.
DN: Getting ready for this interview, I went on YouTube and did a Jim Gaffigan deep dive. I realized you’re constantly being interviewed, and that puts this interesting mechanism in place for you to continually test new material.
JM: It’s fascinating. Initially a life experience will arise. For instance, getting my appendix removed. Or going on a hike and seeing a bear. Or watching TV with your wife on your anniversary — if you’re commemorating your marriage, you shouldn’t necessarily be watching TV; it doesn’t have to be another wedding, but you shouldn’t be sitting there watching “Dateline.” For me, it’s sometimes those initial ideas. They don’t even come out as jokes. They just come out as, you know, awkwardness. Kind of like a pebble in my shoe. And my writing, there’s nothing consistent about it, but it starts very basic and then it’ll grow. Like, I have jokes on horses that are now eight minutes long.
Introducing an idea — you’ll see this with any comedian — there’s a certain preparatory thing to it. It’s like setting a table for a meal. Once you set the table, you can have a salad, you can have dinner and then you can have dessert. You only have to set the table once.
DN: The dinner metaphor seems spot on, given all the bits you’ve done about food — you’ve sort of become its de facto spokesman. But that might bring some weird pressure, too, to always have opinion. When someone asks you a food question, do you ever just think, “I don’t know, I don’t care”?
JG: I haven’t covered all food, but a lot of it. I would say over the past two hours of stand-up that I’ve written, there’s definitely some food in there. I talked a lot about the fry sauce last time I was in Utah. Maybe I’ll kind of touch on it, just because it’s something I can only do in Utah. But it’s interesting — there’s an unspoken agreement that you’re going to show up with new stuff. People are like, “We understand your point of view. We know your old material.” Even if people want to hear old stuff, the relationship I have with them is that they’re going to want the new stuff.
It’s not just about people paying for a ticket. It’s about their time. Being a father of five, getting someone to come out on a Friday or Saturday night, it’s not just the price of the ticket. It’s the favor of having someone babysit your kids, it’s driving there, it’s convincing your spouse that this’ll be the activity you’ll do for that week or that month. Or if you’re a teenager, it’s like, “This is what I’m going to bother my parents about.” People’s time is precious.
DN: Well, you should know that fry sauce is still a hot topic here. Heinz recently announced they’re going to start selling fry sauce in stores nationwide. People in Utah practically lost their minds, though, because Heinz isn’t calling it fry sauce, or giving Utah credit for it.
JG: Well, I remember from talking about it before that there are different types of it. It’s like wine: Some people prefer a Chablis — not that I know anything about wine — and some people prefer a chardonnay. But I understand the anger. It’s like stealing their culture, you know?
DN: We’ve been appropriated.
JG: That’s right.
If you go …
What: Jim Gaffigan, “The Fixer Upper” tour
When: Dec. 1 and 7, 8 p.m.
Where: Vivint Arena, 301 W. South Temple
How much: $32.75-$56.75