Words of Wisdom While Quarantining with the Gaffigans [Interview]

Posted on: June 12th, 2020 at 5:05 am by

Photo: Dinner with the Gaffigans

Quarantining with family can be tricky business; lots of light treading on the eternal quest to find a scrap of alone time. But imagine throwing five kids into the mix!

Comedian Jim Gaffigan, and wife Jeannie, are living this reality. So, we thought there was no better family to ask about surviving lockdown, and what they’re doing to pass the time. Not only are they normalizing pandemic isolation for everyone with their recent YouTube programming, but they’re using the drummed-up popularity to directly support frontline workers.

We reached out to Jeannie Gaffigan to hear more about charity efforts, the best family movies they’ve watched during quarantine, and some sound advice that all parents could probably use.

Bowery Boogie: What does a typical day of quarantine look like?

Jeannie Gaffigan: It’s pretty much a blur of cooking, cleaning, Zoom meetings, more cooking and even more cleaning. We rarely know what day it is. Weekends are really not different except less failure at being distance learning teachers.

BB: Favorite quarantine meal so far? Any duds?

JF: Hands down – it’s any delivery. It shows up, minimal cleaning, zero cooking and it always gets eaten. Also, it feels amazing to support the restaurants hit so hard over the past two months.

One dud is when Jim re-heated frozen meatballs and dumped a box of turkey gravy (that we’d had in the pantry for a year) over them, in an attempt to jazz up the leftovers. The garbage can really enjoyed the meal.

BB: What inspired you to create a candid view into your personal life with Dinner with the Gaffigans, as well as the various offshoots? 

JG: Dinner with the Gaffigans started as a very Gaffigan-like reaction to what we do when something horrible happens: try to have fun with it and turn it on its head. Jim’s whole point of view in comedy is to take something that no one likes, and everyone is uncomfortable or awkward about discussing (like a colonoscopy) and making it into a funny story. It’s therapy for us, and also we hope that it will help other people cope.

For example, I write about something like this in my book, When Life Gives You Pears. My recovery from brain surgery was challenging (to put it lightly), and for months after, I had a tracheotomy and couldn’t swallow. The way I would have to “eat” was by pushing formula through a tube that ran directly into my stomach (percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy, or “PEG” tube), and it was potentially going to be a bit traumatic for me and my family. However, Jim immediately turned the situation on its head and made the PEG tubing process into a “show” on his YouTube channel called “Feeding Frenzy.” He pretty much made the whole thing into a hilarious sketch, and it ended up that we found out there was this whole tube-fed community out there who started writing us letters and making comments on social media.

So, when everyone was advised to stay home, it was sort of a natural reaction to “invite” an audience to have dinner with our big crazy family. Dinner with the Gaffigans is interactive, so we read comments out loud and it’s sort of like having a dinner party. Plus, we have gotten a really great response.

We have no idea when standup comedy as we knew it will exist again. Everything about touring is all on hold, so the show gives us a creative outlet even though it’s totally unwritten and unplanned. I think people appreciate all the naturalness of it. Things spill, hair is uncombed, kids say obnoxious things. There is sort of a “warts and all” element to it that is refreshing.

Let’s Get Cookin’ I like to think of as a “spin off,” or sort of a “prequel” to DWTG, but actually it’s a way more produced (with editing and graphics) cooking show that showcases Jim’s cooking talent (his specialties being toast) heating things in the microwave and attempting to boil water. He touts his cooking expertise and status as a “celebrity chef” with a braggadocios tone.

Greetings From Quarantine was in my head for weeks and then when I remembered Jack had a green screen, I made him sit down and write the script. Then I shot it and called my brother Patrick Noth, a music producer and comedian, and got him to teach me how to use Garage Band to record the kids tracks, and then he made the song.

BB: Describe your charity work during the COVID pandemic.

JG: Prior to all of this happening, we had been the founding members of a not-for-profit organization, The Imagine Society. It brings teen and pre-teens from diverse backgrounds together for activities directed towards social change and community service with a focus on the underserved.

About six times a year, the organization would host events. Kids would be invited through their youth group leaders and we would mix them together by age so they would be with peers that were from a different racial, religious or socioeconomic background. Each group would work with an adult comedian mentor and have a different social problem that they’d tackle in about 45 minutes.

In February and early March, we held two “pop up” shelter dinners where we gave a group of 20 homeless men a “five star restaurant” experience – the kids planned the menu, shopped, cooked, set up a dining room and served the group, treating them with compassion and giving them hope that they would get through this tough time.

A week after the last event, the city started to lock down, and all the future gatherings of The Imagine Society were postponed. It was around this time that we started Dinner with the Gaffigans.

At first, we realized that we had an opportunity to do something to help with the crisis since we were doing a nightly show. Someone at YouTube suggested we add a donate link to the show and people could donate money to large organizations such as the WHO. At the same time, outside of Dinner with the Gaffigans, we were on a break from school and the tour was cancelled, so we were trying to figure out a way to finish the Wellness Basket project with one of the active youth groups from the Imagine Society.

Meanwhile, a lead member of my medical team who I had become close with reached out and disclosed what a desperate situation the hospitals were in, and that no one could really take lunch or dinner breaks. Jim of course is of the opinion that “Shake Shack heals all wounds,” so we sent a meal to them. We brought it up on Dinner with the Gaffigans that people should try to send food to their local hospital.

So there was kind of an “Ah ha” moment: We could get the teens and adults from The Imagine Society to organize dinners for a hospital, help small local businesses, and we could raise the funds for the program on Dinner with the Gaffigans.

That’s how the #FoodForFearless (meals for hospital workers and nursing caregivers) and #MaskedMiracles (Essential items for food pantries, shelters and medical or caregiving facilities) campaigns started.

All the money we raise is placed in a Covid-19 emergency fund and immediately used for these programs. In recent weeks, #MaskedMiracles has expanded to include PPE and other hard to get items for medical facilities and essential service organizations. If you donate, your name is shouted out on Dinner with the Gaffigans. If you can’t donate any money, The Imagine Society also has a #MessagesofLove campaign where anyone can mail a note of thanks, artwork, a photo with an inspirational message, and during Dinner with the Gaffigans, one of the kids will present or read your submission on the show. The submissions of artwork are sent weekly to a network of hospitals and care centers and are organized into folders for caregivers and for patients.

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