Jim Gaffigan had a handful of reasons to grow up: namely, his five kids, ages 5 months to 8 years. The 46-year-old comedian known for good jokes about bad food and even worse habits has penned a collection of essays on parenting. Its title? The first full sentence that one of his kids ever uttered: Dad Is Fat. Between diaper changes, Gaffigan chatted with EW about his literary journey and his strong opinions on children’s books.
Under what conditions are you doing this interview?
I am quietly sitting in one of our two bedrooms while my five month old sleeps and the lights are dimmed so I can do this because my wife (Jeannie), the saint, is doing homework with my son in the living room. I could switch to the bedroom because my other kids are outside. I don’t know where some of them are. They’re everywhere. I’m under siege. I’m like the state of Israel, I’m in a constant state of war. But I love it.
You are, by your own accounts, lazy and slothlike. Why would you want to write a book? That seems like a lot of work.
Because of Twitter, that evil muse, I had an outlet for all these parental observations, and I had to write them down somewhere. There is something strange about parenting as a topic that feels icky to someone who doesn’t have kids. And I’m identifying myself…. My whole comic persona is that of a guy who explores the id: I romanticize gluttony, I romanticize laziness, and people identify with that. The attributes that made me have some success in stand-up are the opposite of what made me a parent, and I never thought I’d want to fight against these things. Why would a lazy guy become a parent of five? Then again, why would creative people who inherently don’t like change and criticism become writers, actors, or comedians? There’s something about this process. I joke about it: My kids have made me a better person and I only need, like, 34 more of them to be a really good guy.
In one chapter, you offer a fun critique of classic children’s books. What amuses/annoys you about the genre?
What they get away with in children’s books — if that were an episode of The Big Bang Theory, people would be like, “That’s ridiculous!” I always imagine that if I met Dr. Seuss, he would be very similar to Crispin Glover. If someone told you Crispin Glover wrote One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish, it would be believable. But then there are some children’s books that feel like someone by Morse code is like, “Billy has a ball, Cindy has a cat, they are friends, and they want to share,” and that’s the book. As a parent, you’re relieved — “I did something good, I read a book to my kids!” — but you’re like, “This is just insulting.” There’s no Homeland in children’s books, you know what I mean?
So what would be the perfect children’s story?
It has to be engaging for the child and also not painful for the adult. You also have to factor in that it’s going to be read 1,000 times. Shel Silverstein, The Giving Tree, that guy nails it. It’s just page after page of genius.… An ideal children’s story should always communicate: If you make noise on Saturday or Sunday morning, monsters will eat you. And: When Daddy eats your Halloween candy, that’s a form of good luck.
What do you think your kids will say when they read the book?
My 8-year-old has read parts of it, and she was bored by it. She’s a tough critic…. Hopefully my kids will say, “Do you remember when we lived in that two-bedroom apartment?” instead of “I can’t believe we still live in this two-bedroom apartment.”
As an expert in mass parenthood, can you give new dads a few tips?
–Lollipops. It’s impossible for a kid to complain when they’re sucking on a lollipop, like “I don’t want to — [makes sucking sound] – oh, this is cherry!” Just make them sugar-free so you don’t have to worry.
–Get over the guilt of lying to your children. If you want to enjoy that hamburger, you’re going to have to lie and say it’s made out of broccoli.
–As a dad, you are the Vice President of the executive branch of parenting. It doesn’t matter what your personality is like, you will always be Al Gore to your wife’s Bill Clinton. She feels the pain and you are the annoying nerd telling them to turn off the lights.
–View your children as really difficult employees that you can never fire because the union would sue you. You have to figure out a way to manipulate them.
–Understand that kids only want to tell you a secret after they’ve been eating chocolate and you’re wearing a white shirt.
(Click here to watch an interview with Gaffigan and his children.)
For more, check out this week’s issue of Entertainment Weekly!