Jim Gaffigan tried to get Amazon to put the name of his new stand-up special—Quality Time—on every box shipped to customers this month. They said no.
Quality Time is Gaffigan’s seventh hour-long special and Amazon’s first foray into the stand-up comedy game, a move widely seen as a bid to challenge Netflix’s comedy dominance. The company may not be putting his face on every package, but making a comedian as major as Gaffigan the face of its comedy brand is still a huge deal.
“I’m a pioneer,” Gaffigan deadpans on this week’s episode of The Last Laugh podcast. “Amazon is the biggest thing in the world,” he adds. “So even if it was a disaster it couldn’t be that bad of a disaster.”
The Indiana-raised comic’s first five specials are currently available on Netflix. His released his sixth, last year’s Noble Ape, across a variety of on-demand platforms simultaneously, turning down what one can only assume was a generous offer from the streaming service. He figured, not everyone has Netflix. And he wants his audience to be everyone.
During a long conversation that somehow began with Moby and Natalie Portman and ended with Bill O’Reilly and the pope, Gaffigan broke down how he has become one of the most successful comedians of all time. Over the past few years, that has meant staying as far away from politics and Donald Trump as he possibly could.
On keeping politics out of his comedy
“You have to understand that there are people that are really good at certain things. There are great political comedians and they should do that. As a comedian does stand-up, they learn for some reason when I talk about this, the audience responds differently than when my friend talks about this. Look, I’m a doughy white guy. So I learned when I talk about politics, it makes people uncomfortable. I would say I’m very left-leaning, but I have too much self-doubt. I change opinions on political things. Not on like, Trump. I love having discussions about it, but I’m always learning. So I don’t want to grab some soap box on a certain issue if there might be nuances to it.”
How he found a way to joke about his wife’s brain tumor
“They discovered this huge mass in her brain the size of a pear, which is why her new book is called When Life Gives You Pears. It was strange to be thrust into that thing, because my wife is my writing partner, and when Jeannie got out of it, she wanted to communicate to people that she was OK. I had some ideas, and she had brought up some ideas, and I didn’t know how it was going to work. I had to address it. You don’t joke around about something that is still gravely an issue. It was kind of a slow build. It was kind of fun and dangerous. It was really amazing to see, especially during this divisive period that we’re in right now, how generous and kind everyone was. It was pretty powerful. I found it very odd that we would describe tumors [as fruits]. Because I think my mother died from an ovarian cancer that was the size of a grapefruit. So I had this memory of tumors being fruit. And so it just felt weird how humans process things. It doesn’t turn into a joke right away. It’s just something that ruminates a little bit and then eventually you kind of find some jokes behind it.”
On the origin of his ‘inside voice,’ which allows him to critique his own stand-up performance while it’s happening
“That’s something I would do as a teenager to alleviate tension among friends. Like if I was late to someone’s house, I would come over and start talking for them. And it communicates an awareness that you’ve done something wrong. You’re articulating their complaints and taking ownership of it. Stand-up wise, I’m probably a slower talker than I am in real life. So when I started in the early ’90s in New York City, I had to keep talking. It would either work really well or it would just be a tailspin. When I did my first Comedy Central Presents half-hour, I was so scared that it wasn’t going to work that I didn’t do it in that special.”
On Aziz Ansari getting serious in his stand-up comeback
“As a comedian all I want is for another comedian to be able to do their thing. The Aziz thing is so complex because I have no other reason than to believe him. But there’s also something about the confessional style. I’m also a believer—and this isn’t a comment on his special—I am a child of [Jerry] Seinfeld. Every sincere moment in a special is a time you could have been funny. When people do sincere things—and obviously Aziz had to address it, so I’m not criticizing him—I’m talking about generally, overall when people do things that are emotionally manipulative rather than funny, it seems wrong to me. I think it should be funny.”