Jim Gaffigan's greatest achievement isn't cracking up talk-show hosts on late-night TV, performing in the drama "That Championship Season" on Broadway or providing comic relief on TBS's "My Boys." It's the fact that he and his wife, Jeannie, are raising five children, all under age 9, in a two-bedroom Manhattan apartment without going insane.
Well, maybe a little insane.
"Dad Is Fat," Gaffigan's first book, is a terrifyingly funny account of fatherhood, from the absurd nature of children's literature ("Is it possible to read a Dr. Seuss book and not sound a little drunk?") to the similarities between a daddy and the vice president of the United States. ("In your children's eyes, you mostly fulfill a ceremonial role of attending pageants and ordering pizza.")
Gaffigan spoke to us by phone last week from Washington, D.C.
Q: You're not the first comedian to write about parenting. What made you think you had something new to add to the subject?
A: Bill Cosby really set the standard with "Fatherhood." I definitely wanted to approach it from an observational standpoint. First and foremost, I'm - just a second, I'm getting out of a car, that's the kind of multi-tasker I am - I didn't want to do a book where I hate my kids, because I don't, and I didn't want to do a book where I worship my children and Jesus. I was also aware that we live in this exhibitionist world where people want to hear about how I killed a hooker or my drunken escapades. My editor encouraged me to reveal more show-biz stuff, but I didn't want to do that. I think we know too much about people.
Q: How different was this process from writing a stand-up routine?
A: It was definitely an adjustment. Stand-up is obviously such a verbal skill. It's all about efficiently communicating ideas in a concise manner. I was surprised how much harder that was to do in an essay. You develop a lot of habits in stand-up where you rely on vocal inflections, facial expressions and an applied point of view. I struggled to get around that.
Q: What was your Broadway experience like? Did it change the way you look at theater?
A: I have enormous appreciation for it. There's something really going on there and it's by people who are doing it for very little money and very little acknowledgment. I also have appreciation for the fatigue. I can't even imagine doing it and also sing and dance. I look at Nathan Lane and think he's like someone who has been in Afghanistan. That's a horrible comparison.
Q: I can't quite wrap my mind around the fact that you tour across the country while still managing to raise your kids. How do you do it?
A: Here's the thing. I'm the beneficiary of where my career is. I usually am only in a city for a weekend or one night, then I go right home. If it's a longer extension of time, we take the kids with us. I've turned down a fair amount of things. I turned down a movie shooting for eight weeks in Alaska. I mean, it was only six lines.
Q: I know you're developing a new sitcom. You've tried to launch several in the past. How important is it to you to have big-time sitcom success?
A: Not nearly as important as it would have been 15 years ago. Back then, I had a completely different set of priorities. I was probably much more consumed with being successful than being creatively fulfilled. There's a big distinction. I'm not interested anymore in attaining fame just to have fame. In the end, I'd rather be a good dad. I mean, it's fun to have your ego stroked, but if "Cat's in the Cradle" will be echoing in my ears when I'm in my 60s, it's not worth it.