Jim Gaffigan Took on Trump. Now He’s Skewering COVID and QAnon Crazies in a New Netflix Special.
The celebrated comic opens up about his hilarious new Netflix special “Comedy Monster,” and why he spoke out against Trump.
Jim Gaffigan would like everyone to know that he was not drunk on the night of Aug. 27, 2020. He was just mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.
That evening, during the Republican National Convention, the stand-up comic and actor fired off a series of tweets branding then-President Donald Trump “a liar and a criminal,” “a fascist who has no belief in law,” and asked, “How many women has he raped?” He also wrote that Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner were “snobs” who’d never “done a real days work in their lives.” The Twitter thread immediately went viral and the MAGA crowd lost their marbles, as is their wont, accusing Gaffigan of opportunism—even though he wasn’t promoting anything, refused interviews in the wake of the fracas, and lost jobs because of it.
Now, the everyman comedian is back with a terribly funny new special Jim Gaffigan: Comedy Monster, streaming on Netflix. In the special, which was shot back in October in Minneapolis, the 55-year-old tackles everything from “billionaire pretend-astronauts” to the extraordinary things people did attempting to avoid COVID, like frantically wiping down their groceries. He also tackles QAnon kooks who believe “Tom Hanks eats babies” and how nobody enjoys marching-band covers of pop songs.
In a wide-ranging chat with The Daily Beast, Gaffigan talked about Comedy Monster and so much more.
I saw that you were with your family at Disney World. How did you get roped into that?
Yes, Disney. Well, it’s part of the price of being a parent—you have to do these things. You know, there is something to through suffering comes art. So, touring Disney and then doing shows, some material does come out, which is great. And also it makes my kids so happy, and that’s worth it, you know?
Is going to Disney right now pretty surreal since we’re still in the midst of this pandemic?
It was. We’re definitely wearing masks, but having traveled around the country, everybody else is like “Should I do this or that?,” and Florida is like “The barn’s on fire! Head on in there, kids!” It’s so funny; in our lifetime, Florida has transformed from “Florida Man” into this rebel destination. But everything we say about COVID changes by the week. This article could come out and there could be a new variant that kills everyone, and what I’m saying is incredibly insensitive.
I really enjoyed your new Netflix special Comedy Monster, and a lot of it touches on the pandemic. What’s been the toughest part of the pandemic for you? I can’t imagine being trapped in an apartment during all this with five kids.
It’s also one of those things where my wife is high-risk—she had a brain tumor and was already on a ventilator, and apparently you can only go on a ventilator once or twice—so there was this added stress. And then with five kids, we did—or I should say my wife really did it, because at one point I went off and did this movie, Peter Pan & Wendy. But the effects of the pandemic we’re only gonna see in a year or two. We know who’s lost their minds now, but we’re all going to be dealing with the consequences of the pandemic eventually. We’re all together and hanging in there, but it’s an incredible undertaking, and five kids is just insane. We were in the city till June, and then I rented a house in the suburbs. We did this thing Dinner With the Gaffigans, and then it morphed into this fundraising thing. But that was back when we thought the pandemic would be three weeks, and it turned into way too long.
Your daughter is graduating high school this year, which must be so bizarre—to spend your last couple of years of high school weathering the pandemic, and then to enter college while still dealing with it.
It’s so insane for each of my children, because I have a 12-year-old who transformed from this girl who played with dolls to now… she might as well be 30. My 16-year-old son is gaming and talking to his friends every night while he plays games, but he’s dealing with it. And my daughter who’s 17 and is going to college next year, we planned this Sweet 16 party that got canceled, then got pushed, then got canceled again, so now she’s going to have it on her 18th birthday. And my kids can’t go back to distance learning. They will if they have to, but it’s not an interesting thing for them to contemplate.
As a fellow New Yorker, it’s still weird to think about the early months of the pandemic and how our leaders—Cuomo and de Blasio—acted, where they were basically having a dick-measuring contest, which delayed their response.
We’re in this day and age where here we are talking about de Blasio and the Cuomos, and Gavin Newsom, who was one of the stars, but we’ve almost been at this game so long that we’re distracted from the true crisis of the whole pandemic, which was Trump. Look, Cuomo and de Blasio, do they have egos? Yes. But at least they had good intentions.
Trump almost died from COVID, then went right back to holding his packed rallies. And he refused to even publicly wear a mask until many months into the pandemic.
Yeah. Pure vanity. It’s the cliché of like a Shakespeare play, you know what I mean?
I do. Let’s talk about Comedy Monster. I’ve watched a bunch of stand-up specials during the pandemic and I think yours does the best job of tackling it in a fun way. You point out how ridiculous people’s behavior has been during the pandemic—“I’m just a normal guy, cleaning a Triscuit box”—while not alienating one side or the other, since it’s become such a politicized thing.
Absolutely. I’ve always done religion material, and there are always going to be people that are pissed, but the whole thing is that we have to laugh at ourselves. The reason why I draw a comparison to religion material is that I’m making fun of the human element of it. It’s not about someone’s faith, or whether someone’s an atheist or agnostic—human beings are idiots, and we’re all navigating this path, and we have a certain arrogance that we’ve somehow figured it out, so we lose touch with our humility. Maybe I just see myself in that a lot, and I giggle when I think about how my wife is high-risk and I wouldn’t let her enter a room while I was cleaning the groceries. That was the information we had at the time, but it still was silly, wearing these plastic gloves and wiping down a Triscuit box. It’s just absurd! But it’s also a deadly serious thing.
I loved the line in the special about how the pandemic’s been like “a gender reveal for insanity.” Because it’s true. I’ve even had friends—granted, second-tier friends, but still—who’ve mentioned conspiracy stuff about how Hollywood people are all pedophiles during the pandemic. And you’re just like, what? I had no idea you were this crazy.
Yeah! And those same people were so fun to chat with before—the eccentrics who didn’t believe in the moon landing, or who felt there was a scenario where Bigfoot exists. As entertaining as they were, that’s how terrifying they are during this.
The way you address QAnon kooks in the special is quite artful, because you frame it as people close to you who just started blurting out crazy shit during Thanksgiving dinner like “Tom Hanks eats babies!”—which is something that these QAnon kooks believe. And Tom Hanks, of all people! One of the nicest people in Hollywood.
Someone who nobody has said anything bad about in the past 40 years! It kind of goes along with that whole “JFK Jr. is gonna come back where his dad was assassinated.” You’re like, hold on a second… How is this realistic?
And JFK Jr. is somehow a Republican too.
Right? He’s switched sides. And… where his dad was murdered?
It’s so nuts. I also enjoyed the “Who’s your favorite billionaire pretend-astronaut?” bit from the special. Because it is wild how we’re in the midst of this pandemic with so many people out of work and you’ve got multi-billionaires shooting themselves into space in penis-shaped rockets.
I have friends that believe everyone that’s wealthy is somehow a criminal, and I don’t believe that. But if Trump didn’t pay taxes—and I’m not saying Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos don’t pay taxes… but I don’t think they need $200 billion. I don’t even think they should give their money to the government. I think they should give back and invest [in charitable endeavors]. It’s like that Spider-Man movie they redo every six months: “With great power comes great responsibility.” It’s also weird to see people push back on that and defend billionaires. Like, there were people that were angry about that billionaires’ joke. And I’m like, what are you angry about? Are you a billionaire?
Yeah, I don’t get it. I think it’s a cult of personality thing that’s formed around people like Elon Musk. I wanted to ask you about speaking out against Trump in August of 2020 just prior to the election. What was the last straw for you? And why did you feel compelled to do it?
By the way, people think I was drunk and some of these right-wing sites characterized me as going on a “tirade.” What went down was: I had always done jokes here and there about Trump. I remember when he was debating Hillary, I had tweets about wondering what Trump’s speech would sound like in Russian. And there’s been blowback from minor groups of people on the Trump Train. But I was watching the Republican convention, and of course politicians are always lying and trying to convince people, but what bothered me was there was a nun, this former Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz, who was in his eighties, and… I used to have this tweet that said, “If you’re letting an actor tell you who to vote for, you shouldn’t vote.” But I was annoyed and confounded by the amount of lying that was coming from the Republican convention, which was essentially the Trump family. Right before I started tweeting I thought, “You know what? I’m going to treat myself here.”
Some of it had also been influenced by how I’d been sitting at home with my family for a while, George Floyd had happened, the pandemic had happened, and it was so cut-and-dried to me. I didn’t want someone to be convinced that “the cities are on fire” and of all these lies about people trying to seek social justice for an African American who was killed. I didn’t want people of my background, just being a moderate essentially, to be steered into voting for Trump. So, I was just like, I’m going to come out and say exactly what I think of him. I didn’t think it would influence anyone necessarily, but I also wasn’t sure if Biden was going to win, and I do believe that if Trump had won it would have been really bad, and I wanted my kids who I was home with to know that I had stated my case. I didn’t want them thinking, “Well, kids, I do a lot of shows in red states and don’t want to hurt my ticket sales.” What’s the point in trying to communicate to your children to stand up for things if you can’t do it yourself?
You didn’t want to fall into the whole “Republicans buy shoes too” thing.
After that there were all these press requests, and I didn’t want to take advantage. I didn’t do any press whatsoever, because I didn’t want it to look like I had an ulterior motive, because I didn’t. Selfishly, I did it so that my older children, who are paying attention to this stuff, could have the conversation with me about it, and that it could make some impact.
What was the reaction like for you? You shared a bit on Facebook about how you were swarmed by bots and had a lot of QAnon people leaning into the Hollywood-pedophilia thing. How weird did it get?
It got pretty weird for about… I would say a month. I lost some virtual corporate work, which was kind of like, who gives a shit? But when you’re not making any money it’s kind of like “Oops.”
What corporations dropped you because of your Trump comments? Can we name and shame these companies?
[Laughs] No. It was, like, three of them—and in their defense, they were just trying to provide some entertainment and are probably terrified of the Trumpers, too. But there was a lot of blocking that occurred, and a lot of people that were nasty. The weird thing is, now that we have this time away from it, it doesn’t seem like it’s affected my followers on any platform or affected my touring.
Because you’ve been touring the South on a bus, and I’m curious how that went down. Did you have any people confront you over your Trump comments?
Granted, I wasn’t going out after shows, and it entered my mind: Are people going to buy a ticket just to heckle me? I don’t think so. A lot of people who sent messages like, “I was a big fan but I’m not going to go to your shows anymore”—I think they were lying! Like, you weren’t going to go to my shows in the first place. I think it’s people who are just angry as a defense mechanism. And nobody’s said anything to me in person. But as far as all these people who are like “I liked you until you got political,” it’s like, no, you liked me until I said something you disagreed with. It’s not about politics. It’s about how you’re on that side.
If you had come out the other way and praised Trump, you’d have your own show on Fox News by now. You’re right—it’s all tribalism. I do think this special was edgier than your previous ones. You don’t curse up a storm or anything, but it got into more controversial territory. Was that a byproduct of the pandemic? Being cooped up and having some stuff to get off your chest?
I would say this: We’ve talked about the “clean” thing before, but nobody’s going to see a comedy show just because somebody doesn’t curse. Nobody’s saying, “Hey, we gotta go see this! The guy’s not gonna say ‘shit’ or ‘fuck!’” That doesn’t happen. I’ve noticed this on Netflix with the comedy specials. Jerry Seinfeld isn’t necessarily as irreverent as George Carlin, but it’s his point of view. All comedians have a certain irreverence and wit, so these adjectives that they put next to these comedy specials are a mischaracterization, in a way. All comedy has an element of surprise, but I think it’s unfair to say Jerry Seinfeld doesn’t have an edge to him. He does, because without the edge or the point of view, it wouldn’t be funny at all. Is my comedy goofy? I guess so. Is it political? Now I sound like I’m being defensive. But to answer your question: I would say there’s a relationship a comedian has with an audience that has to evolve. The great friends we have are because we have great conversations with them, and we challenge each other.
For more, listen to Jim Gaffigan on The Last Laugh podcast.