Jim Gaffigan returns to Israel to tickle the ‘clean’ funny bone

Despite a family health scare, one of the most successful US comics is bringing his brood back to Israel.

POPULAR AMERICAN stand-up comedian Jim Gaffigan (photo credit: Courtesy)
POPULAR AMERICAN stand-up comedian Jim Gaffigan
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Comedians aren’t immune to tragedy, even nice guys like Jim Gaffigan.
One of America’s most successful performance comics, the 50-year-old Gaffigan revealed Monday that his wife and creative partner Jeannie had had a “life-threatening” brain tumor removed.
Gaffigan canceled a number of appearances due to what was called a “family emergency” and rescheduled other shows. Gaffigan’s June 30 show at Tel Aviv’s Mann Auditorium isn’t in danger of being changed, according to representatives of promoter Shuki Weiss.
If Gaffigan’s first appearance in Israel since two last-minute small club shows in Jaffa and Jerusalem in 2010 is as hilarious as its predecessors, then it will be testament to his character and professionalism, developed over decades of perfecting his “clean” observational routines and everyman persona.
Gaffigan recently completed a two-season run on TV Land, with a semi-biographical comedy, The Jim Gaffigan Show. His fifth hour-long stand up special, Cinco, debuted on Netflix in January, with more due this year.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post late last month before his wife’s illness, Gaffigan said that he was bringing Jeannie and their five children with them to Israel.
“We’ve been looking for an excuse to get back to Israel ever since we were here in 2010 with our three kids, and when this offer came to perform, we decided to bring the whole family, now including five kids,” said Gaffigan, who often talks about his Catholic upbringing in his routines.
“I want my kids to know about the history and the culture, and we had such an amazing time on our last visit.”
That 2010 trip was actually pegged as a family vacation after a show in London, but after the secret comedians’ network heard Gaffigan was coming to Israel, Comedy for Koby founder Avi Liberman connected Gaffigan with some mainstays of the local English comedy scene like Jerusalem’s Off the Wall proprietor David Kilimnik and Tel Aviv comic Benji Lovitt, and they helped organize two impromptu shows – at the Arab Hebrew Theater in Jaffa and at Kilimnik’s club.
“Those were fun shows, and I remember all those guys, they were great to work with,” said Gaffigan, who added that he would consider being part of a future Comedy for Koby roster if not for the time away from home it would demand.
“Having five kids all under 12, I can’t really disappear for a week unless they’re with me,” said Gaffigan, who has a reputation as a staunch family man. “I travel an enormous amount each year, but usually for only two to three days at a time. I’m always in this balancing act when I do international shows so they can accommodate a family trip as well.”
When Gaffigan does go abroad (he appeared recently in Tokyo and Beijing), he attempts to localize his material in part, something he intends to do for his Tel Aviv show.
“I’m going to go back and look at the things I wrote about being in Israel, but there are some things that stand out,” he said. “I remember being amazed thinking that everyone in the country seemed to have three professions. ‘Well, I’m a tour guide, and archeologist and a commander in my army unit.’ It was so fascinating.”
“And there’s a quick mention of my trip to Israel in my latest Cinco special, although I admit I might have exaggerated a little. We were here in 2010 over Passover and Easter, and because of all the dietary restrictions then on top of the kosher issue, I remember coming down to the hotel breakfast one morning and the only thing that they were able to serve was smoked fish!” “I told that to someone, and he said ‘you’re crazy, there are eggs and salad at every Israeli breakfast,’ so maybe I got it wrong a little but it seemed like all there was available was fish.”
That may be the most controversial Gaffigan’s gags get, as he tends to shy away from current events and politics. Even the material-heavy era of US President Donald Trump, Gaffigan said that he’s unlikely to dive into the topical waters.
“It’s tempting, and one of those things that might end up being completely unavoidable,” he said.
“I consider myself a moderate liberal, and there’s something very shocking [about the fact] that there are so many people out there that have what I consider strange views.
But when I consider my shows, I see them as being sort of a break from all that. We live in such interesting times that sometimes we need to step away from it, and my stand-up provides that opportunity.”