Real-life role

Jim Gaf­fi­gan, teamed with co-pro­ducer wife, is true to his life in new sit­com self-por­trait

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - PROVINCE -

Jim Gaf­fi­gan true to his life in new sit­com.

On Jim Gaf­fi­gan’s new com­edy se­ries, “The Jim Gaf­fi­gan Show,” the pop­u­lar standup comic plays a comic named Jim Gaf­fi­gan.

Like the real Jim Gaf­fi­gan, he’s mar­ried to Jean­nie, an at­trac­tive woman he read­ily ad­mits is out of his league (played by the at­trac­tive Ash­ley Wil­liams). With their five chil­dren, they are squeezed into a two-bed­room walkup on Man­hat­tan’s Lower East Side.

On the show (which pre­mieres to­day at 10 p.m. EDT on TV Land) Jean­nie is cool, ca­pa­ble and kooky, which makes her per­fect for Jim, who reigns as a se­rial bum­bler with a food fix­a­tion.

All au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal? Check, check, check, says Gaf­fi­gan.

“I don’t know what I’m do­ing! I’m not pre­tend­ing!” he de­clares, his voice tak­ing flight into his trade­mark squawk for em­pha­sis. “I’m not in a fat suit and pre­tend­ing to be lazy — I AM fat and lazy, and you know what? I wish I could be fat­ter and lazier.

“And I am mar­ried to a hot woman,” he adds, not­ing the real-life Jean­nie by his side. “This is not some net­work-for­mula show! This is re­al­ity!”

With his droll sum­ma­tion, Gaf­fi­gan has dipped into his standup act, which ex­plores his ver­sion of the Freudian Id (which, left to its own de­vices, he ar­gues, “would have us ly­ing in bed eat­ing ba­con all day”).

But in per­son Gaf­fi­gan, 49, is not what you would call over­size, nor, con­sid­er­ing his mul­ti­ple du­ties on his new show, could any­one ac­cuse him of sloth.

Even so, as Jim and Jean­nie join a re­porter at a neigh­bour­hood cafe (where all en­joy a snack of crispy ar­ti­choke hearts rec­om­mended by Jim), the Gaf­fi­gans val­i­date the au­then­tic­ity of their funny new show. No won­der. As its co-cre­ators, co-pro­duc­ers and co-writ­ers, they have made sure it cap­tures their uniquely dizzy world and comic vi­sion.

Things were dif­fer­ent 15 years ago with Gaf­fi­gan’s first se­ries, a CBS com­edy named “Welcome To New York.” Jean­nie, whom Jim had started dat­ing a few months ear­lier and who had ex­pe­ri­ence in theatre ed­u­ca­tion, agreed to be his act­ing coach. But he had min­i­mal in­put in shap­ing his char­ac­ter.

“I couldn’t even pitch lines,” he re­calls. “The ex­ec­u­tive pro­duc­ers would tell me, ‘I don’t know if your char­ac­ter would say that,’ even though I was play­ing some­one named Jim Gaf­fi­gan!”

“Welcome to New York” had a swift demise, but the part­ner­ship be­tween Jim and Jean­nie only deep­ened as they went on to co-pro­duce his TV standup spe­cials and wed in 2003.

His act­ing ca­reer also flour­ished, with ap­pear­ances on “Ed,” “That ‘70s Show” and “My Boys,” but such sup­port­ing roles tied him down with lit­tle screen time to show for it — and scant cre­ative free­dom.

“There’s noth­ing that com­pares to the con­trol of standup,” he says. “Work­ing for an hourand-a-half a night, you get rather spoiled, es­pe­cially with a grow­ing fam­ily. I could eat din­ner with our kids and then go to work.”

But net­work in­ter­est in an au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal sit­com led Jim and Jean­nie to re­con­sider se­ries TV. It just might work: A self­por­trait of their fam­ily, steeped in New York’s chaos as they scram­bled to stay true to their Mid­west­ern val­ues, in­clud­ing their Catholic faith.

“It’s an im­por­tant el­e­ment in our lives,” says Jean­nie. And it pro­vides more grist for the comic mill, as in the episode when Jim by chance is pho­tographed clutch­ing a Bi­ble, which he fears will jeop­ar­dize his com­edy cred.

“We de­cided, ‘ Our life is very weird and kind of in­ter­est­ing,”’ says Jean­nie. “And we know how to write it — so we were adamant that we had to have some kind of con­trol.”

The pro­ject mi­grated from NBC to CBS, then found a home at TV Land, where “The Jim Gaf­fi­gan Show” now be­comes part of that net­work’s new, hip­per ini­tia­tive (also ev­i­denced by “Im­pas­tor,” which de­buts af­ter Gaf­fi­gan’s show).

“At TV Land, we could do ex­actly the show we wanted to do,” Jim says, and, with Adam Gold­berg and Michael Ian Black signed as reg­u­lars, they set to work on the four-month shoot.

“The fact that we were shoot­ing in Man­hat­tan was enor­mous,” says Jean­nie. “We could have our older kids (aged 11 to four) come to set af­ter school. And our youngest, Pa­trick, we cast as the show’s two-year-old.”

Mean­while, en­sur­ing the show looks true-to-life was as im­por­tant to the cou­ple as mak­ing sure the char­ac­ters and sto­ries ring true. Ninety per cent of the show was shot on lo­ca­tion, in­clud­ing Gaf­fi­gan haunts like the leg­endary Katz’s Del­i­catessen. And the Gaf­fi­gans’ apart­ment, though a stu­dio set, is a real-deal clone of their own fa­bled res­i­dence (only re­cently va­cated for roomier digs).

“As a hands-on pro­ducer,” re­ports Jean­nie, “I was say­ing, ‘No, wait, we need more crumbs on the ta­ble be­cause it’s too clean for a fam­ily with five kids hav­ing din­ner.”

Got it: Ac­cu­racy, not just laughs, is be­ing served. But hav­ing said that, it was time for Jean­nie to go. She and Jim had to pick up the kids.

AP PHOTO

This im­age re­leased by TV Land shows Jim Gaf­fi­gan, cen­tre, in a scene from his new com­edy se­ries, “The Jim Gaf­fi­gan Show,” pre­mier­ing tonight on TV Land.

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