Travel Lens: Jim Gaffigan’s World

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Sharing a two-bedroom apartment in New York City with his wife and five young kids, comedian Jim Gaffigan’s family life is a natural fit for a sitcom.

The semi-biographical Jim Gaffigan Show, which airs Wednesdays on TV Land, stars the comic as he navigates both his growing brood and the stand-up circuit.

In reality, Gaffigan maintains a pretty good balance between the personal and professional—his family joined him on his month-long tour by bus across the United States this summer.

Here’s a look at the world through Jim Gaffigan’s unique lens:

Hannah Sheinberg: When someone comes to visit New York City, where’s the first place you take them?

Jim Gaffigan: I take them to Shake Shack, or on some errand that I would have to do, because I’m that kind of guy. I would say, “Alright, I gotta go pick up a kid. Let’s go to Chelsea Piers or the East Village.”

But, I think the Staten Island Ferry is a no-brainer. It’s free and it’s just too easy to pass up.

Your new show features iconic New York locations like Katz’s Delicatessen and Veselka. Are those places you actually frequent when you’re not filming?

Oh, yeah. I mean, I try not to eat pastrami more than twice a year. But going to Katz’s is a great adventure.

It’s a bit of a tourist trap, but it’s worth it. That’s where you’re supposed to have pastrami.

Has travel influenced any of your bits?

Absolutely. I think comedians actually have to struggle to not have travel be the predominant thing in their stand-up because we deal with it so much on a daily basis.

There’s actually a balance to not talking about travel. It echoes back to people joking around about airline food. The reason so many [comedians] talked about it is because they all had to experience it.

What cities do you think have the most receptive audiences?

I love performing in each and every place, but there are some cities that are performance-focused, whether it be Nashville or Austin, Las Vegas, L.A., or New York, where there’s such a rich history of live acts.

I don’t know if some of it’s weather, but the northern part of the [U.S.] always has exceptional audiences. Seattle, Minneapolis, Chicago, and Boston—they’re just great comedy towns.

That’s not to say that [somewhere like] San Diego‘s not great, it’s just that in San Diego, they have a lot of stuff they can do during the day. Whereas in Seattle, the nighttime can have a greater significance.

Do you cater your material to different places or countries?

The world is shrinking so much for stand-up comedy. Some of that is YouTube and Netflix, and [that] stand-up as an art form is becoming more universal than it used to be.

If you’re in Canada, you’re just a comedian. But, if you’re an American comedian performing in the United Kingdom, you’re an American. So, that’s an advantage and a disadvantage.

But there’s also something very fun about the cultural nuisances of, say, performing in the Netherlands or in Stockholm.

There’s a lot of solo travel involved in doing stand-up. How do you deal with that?

The interesting thing is I am right now on a tour with my family, so I’m on a tour bus with my children and my wife. We started in Seattle and we’ll go across [the country] to Atlanta.

It’s a unique kind of experience, doing a show a night and getting off and on the bus with five young kids.

I don’t want to have to be away from my kids and, luckily, we can afford to do this. We usually [travel together] at spring break and during the summer. This one will be a month-long tour.

So how is it, traveling by bus with five kids?

It’s chaos. It’s absolute chaos. But, it’s also great. I get to swim in the Pacific Ocean with them in Santa Barbara and walk around Chicago with them. We get to see cousins and friends along the way.

It’s really exhausting, but it’s fun.

Do you have any tips for traveling with kids?

It’s an ongoing thing, and it’s different for every age group.

We definitely make our two oldest ones journal—write a page or two about each city we go to. Some of that’s just so their brains don’t completely fry, and some of it’s [in the hopes] that maybe they’ll get a kick out of it later on.

How do you think growing up in the Midwest has shaped you overall?

It’s interesting, I didn’t realize how Midwestern I was until I moved to New York City. I think there’s something about a Midwestern civility that I hopefully have retained.

Where I grew up in Indiana was actually not completely white-bread, but people have this notion that it is.

I think there’s an outgoingness to Midwesterners. [In my hometown], people would wave to another car that would drive by, even if you didn’t know the person.

Which destination has surprised you the most?

I loved taking my kids to Ireland. That was pretty amazing. I did a show in Dublin and then we turned it into a long weekend.

But in the U.S., I was stunned by how beautiful Santa Barbara was. Texas is exceptional in an interesting way. I also took my kids skiing in Utah and that was amazing, too.

How do you cope with the grueling schedule of touring?

A lot of napping. I think that’s a really important detail.

When you’re touring, you have to give up a lot of control. You have to kind of just get to the breakfast buffet, you gotta just get to things—it’s a constant struggle and it’s never really that relaxed.

What do you do to connect with locals while you’re traveling?

Say I’m in Salina, Kansas, or Savannah, Georgia; I’ll ask a local, “If [you] were gone for six years and could come back and have one meal, what would it be?”

Sometimes if you ask people, “Where should I go?” they’re going to tell you the tourist spot or they’re going to tell you a super high-end restaurant.

[When I go my route], I usually find the unique burger place or the great place for fried chicken.

So if you were coming back to New York City after six years, what would be your first meal?

You know, it might be Katz’s.

In New York City, like every city, everything’s changing, but [Katz’s has] retained a special kind of New York characteristic, which I think is great.

Hannah Sheinberg is an assistant editor at National Geographic Traveler. Follow Hannah on Twitter @h_sheinberg.

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