Why Are You Still Eating the Sandwich?

An Interview with Jim and Jeannie Gaffigan

Jonathan Zeller

Stand-up comedian Jim Gaffigan is best known for riffing on Hot Pockets, but he and his wife, Jeannie, also raise their five kids in New York City. Until recently, they did so in a tiny two-bedroom Manhattan apartment. The challenges of life with a big family in close quarters and a fast-paced city form the basis for their new TV Land sitcom (also starring Michael Ian Black and featuring a guest appearance by Fred Armisen), The Jim Gaffigan Show, premiering July 15. In honor of this auspicious occasion, the Gaffigans talked about why NYC is a good place for kids, the importance of shooting on location and, mostly, food.

Sell an outsider on raising kids in New York City.
Jim: I think the appeal of New York City is the socioeconomic and cultural diversity. In other words, there is an equality in the social interaction in New York City that you can't find anywhere else. When you're on the subway, there's no first class. Everyone's there together.

I have kind of a joke I do when people ask "why would you raise your kids in New York City?" And I say, "So they don't end up like you."

Food's really important to you guys in the show. You're eating all the time. How did you choose the restaurants that show up on-screen?
Jim: One of our kids' schools is right near Veselka. And there's a photograph of me with every one of our kids in Katz's Deli. The power of pastrami, I think I've figured it out, is that once they get to be like 10 months old every human loves pastrami. So it's all kind of based on reality. Some of it is also that Katz's is such a great, authentic New York experience. Veselka is pierogi and pancakes, but it's good. I love Veselka and Katz's because they're still family owned. It's the same family that started Katz's 125 years ago that's working there.

You're just constantly eating during the show—working on a pretzel in mid-conversation and things like that.
That would be another truth.

Jim: My affection for food, whether it's grabbing a Crif Dog or a falafel from Mamoun's, is just—New York City, it's like you live in a food court. So you're walking by and you see you can get a falafel if you're hungry. Granted, most of the time I'm not hungry.

It's kind of humorous, and as Jeannie mentioned, it's authentic. But also it's kind of fun. I just think that in a lot of TV shows, you never see people take a bite of food. We've shot some scenes in Katz's where I've eaten enough pastrami for a decade.

There are no food doubles?
There are no food doubles. There are plenty of times when Jeannie is like, "There is a spit bucket."

Jeannie: There's a spit bucket, and he's not using it. Or it's like, "We're not rolling camera right now, Jim. Why are you still eating the sandwich?"

Jim: I think it's illegal to spit out pastrami. I'm pretty sure.

New York has had some mild controversy over, say, babies in bars (particularly in Park Slope). Do you ever bring your kids to places people wouldn't expect to see kids?
Jim: There have been many times when we've been pushing a stroller and wanted to catch the end of a Giants game or something, so we're going into a bar where people are like, "Are you bringing that baby in here?" And we're like, "Yes, we are." We're not going into 1Oak with a baby, but…

Jeannie: And kids are really adaptable. We produced something above the Patricia Field store. We were above a bar and next door was Patricia Field— she was the Sex and the City designer; that was her claim to fame—so there were all these really sexy, crazy clothes, all these feathers and glitter and stuff. And in front of the store were these mannequins that were always dressed in S&M gear, masks, whips and boas. But also in front of the store was one of those giant gum-ball machines where you put a quarter in and the gum ball runs down this spiral, which kids love. So my kids would just run past these S&M mannequins, not even see them, and be like, "Gum!" They're kids. They're not being corrupted by their environment. They're seeing what kids see.

The kids ride scooters down the streets of New York; they take soccer at Chelsea Piers. They have a pretty normal life even though we don't have the big backyard and the swing set. They have the playground and everything like that, so I think they're having a pretty normal life. At least that's what I tell myself.

What's your favorite place to see live comedy in the City?
I wouldn't even say there's one best place. I love Gotham. And I love EastVille. And I love The Stand. And I love Carolines and the Comic Strip and Stand Up NY and the Cellar. I have a long-standing relationship with Gotham Comedy Club, and so that's a club that appears frequently in the show. But you can go to any club in New York City—New York Comedy Club or Broadway and see a great stand-up show, because so many great comedians live in New York City, and as an art form they're always working on it. It's not like you have to wait until a certain night to see so-and-so. At Whiplash at UCB on a Monday night, you can see some of the best comedians in the country.