Jim Gaffigan

Anyone who watches Comedy Central knows Jim Gaffigan. What many don’t know is that he didn’t even consider a career in stand-up and acting until fate opened the door.

The Indiana native said he was always interested in performing but, growing up in a small town, it wasn’t something that was encouraged.

“There were generations of my family that had never gone to college. My father was the first one to go to college and get us into middle class or upper-middle class,” Gaffigan told Pollstar. “It wasn’t one of those things where we were advised to throw it all away to go into show business. It wasn’t discouraged but was just seen as impractical.”

So Gaffigan took the practical route and earned a degree in finance. Then reality set in while he worked as a financial litigation consultant in Florida for a couple of years.

“When I studied finance in school, I kept thinking ‘Once I’m paid for this, I’ll enjoy it.’ I didn’t. I thought I was going to hang myself,” he said. “I eventually got a job in advertising in New York and became a copywriter. Along the way, I had gotten into improv just because I wanted to do it. Then somebody dared me to do stand-up.”

The aspiring entertainer did his first comedy performance in 1991. He then spent four years writing commercials, going to acting classes and perfecting his stand-up skills whenever possible.

“I was trying to get stage time in New York and there was just not a chance in hell. I ended up doing the lower-East-Side kind of performances. I came up with tons of different characters and stuff that might explain the voices in my head. I just plodded away,” Gaffigan explained.

“I was always the guy who would do six or seven spots a night on a weekend. I saw every audience as an opportunity to try new material and try to hone the universality of a joke.”

Gaffigan went on to develop his routine that includes his take on food items

Hot Pockets, Cinnabons, cake, you name it

while inserting the “voice” of a supposed audience member commenting on his routine. That angle is attracting a broad range of fans.

“As a comedian, you want your jokes to obviously be very original and unique to your point of view,” he said. “But I never aspired to be the guy that only made my four friends in the back laugh.”

Jim Gaffigan

Manager Alex Murray said he was already a Gaffigan fan from seeing his appearances on late-night talk shows and Comedy Central. The former ICM agent was a partner at Nine Yards Entertainment when a mutual friend introduced them. Murray said Gaffigan’s finance and advertising background is an added bonus.

“I was already a manager in comedy and he was asking a lot of questions, so we had a lot of stuff to talk about,” Murray told Pollstar. “It’s rare that you find a comic who’s that talented and funny and also aware of how the business works. He knows what he’s doing, he knows he’s a product and he knows how to market himself.

“At the time, Jim wasn’t earning that much money on the road but I did see the big future in front of him. He’s very memorable,” he added.

Gaffigan was impressed with Murray and his vision.

“Alex is one of these guys who’s in his early 30s but looks like he’s 21. He had a background at ICM and kept emphasizing there was this broad appeal that had a huge upside to it,” he said. “I had always been kind of selective on how I did the road from a club standpoint. I knew my act could work in a theatre where, with some comedians, it’s much more of a nightclub kind of thing.”

Murray left Nine Yards to join John MacDonald, who manages comedian Ron White among others, and form their own company in 2005. From there, the strategy that has made Gaffigan a sought-after act was set in motion.

“A lot of people didn’t know who he was and didn’t know if he could draw or not

certainly, people underestimated him. At the time the one-hour special aired, we were able to broaden his audience,” Murray explained. “It’s a formula that worked for John MacDonald and Ron White. Clearly, it’s worked for the Blue Collar guys. We were anxious to repeat the formula with Jim and so far, we’re on track.”

Gaffigan’s days of fighting for stage time are long over. The airing of his first half-hour Comedy Central special led to the channel’s highest ratings for stand-up specials. His one-hour special, “Beyond The Pale,” has spawned brisk CD and DVD sales and sold-out shows in theatres, clubs, casinos and performing arts centers. Gaffigan’s list of acting roles in television and film also keeps growing, so there’s a lot less down time.

The versatile performer’s current tour launched March 3rd and has him booked well into the summer. Murray said plans for a fall tour are also in the works.

“I think when it all comes together, you end up with something really special and I think that’s what we have. We just started and he’s on fire,” Murray said. “He’s created an entire new form of stand-up comedy with this ‘inside voice’ that he does.

“People do underestimate him, so for the last three years it’s been fun telling people ‘I told you so.'”