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Jeannie Gaffigan on Injecting Her Voice into ‘The Jim Gaffigan Show’

Jeannie Gaffigan on Injecting Her Voice into 'The Jim Gaffigan Show'

Fifteen years ago, my work with
Jim Gaffigan began as a “side thing” to my own career. I was a writing partner,
acting coach and album producer for a rising star in comedy clubs. I understood
his mischievous, biting humor disguised as observations about the mundane. We
worked hard and well together, and out of that came great comedy, genuine affection
and, two years in, his proposal — yes, on one knee without a joke.

Soon after we married, the
joke became that I could get pregnant just by “looking at babies.” Our comedy
writing almost imperceptibly morphed into solo humor by a married guy. This was
just as our partnership morphed by default into a “traditional family” — Jim,
the husband going out to work on the road, and me, the wife pregnant
and nursing, surrounded by small children at home but still working on Jim’s
new hours on phones and computers. I became the “silent partner.”

Such a “traditional life”
once seemed absolutely foreign to me and to my peers, friends and even family, who kept asking: “What about your career?” True, before, I was
always writing for my sketch-comedy group, King Baby, acting in
theater and indie films and directing my own not-for-profit company, Shakespeare
on the Playground, to teach urban teens literacy and proficiency in
life through theatrical productions. I was focused on my own vision, and no one thought I could do anything else.

But I was learning that a true
partnership was not just sharing goals and visions. It was having each other’s
back. It’s patience with his bad ideas and his patience with yours as you both
grow and change. And if you’re really, really lucky, it’s love.

Our comedy is all about
Jim’s comic point of view, but now extended into married life. I have the only
Ph.D. in Jim Gaffigan, knowing his voice intimately and how my presence affected
it. His first best-seller, “Dad is Fat,” is written from a father’s
perspective, not a mother’s, but I understand how it is funny and should be
written. “Food: A Love Story” was his humorous look at food —
probably the opposite of my perspective on food — but I knew how to shape it
as a book. When we started writing a TV sitcom, there now had to be in Jim’s
voice a Jeannie voice — a foil. She is actually my voice — both
Jim and Jeannie heightened for comic effect.

In the show we write,
Jeannie is supportive of Jim, but their opinions on almost everything are
completely opposite. When one is freaked out about something, the other becomes
the voice of reason and vice versa — exaggerated like Jim’s and sometimes
through Jim, all with a great supporting cast and formed out of incidents in
our lives.

We took this sitcom idea
to several networks and eventually shot the final pilot at CBS with Peter Tolan
(“Rescue Me”) as executive producer and the fantastic Ashley Williams
(“How I Met Your Mother”) playing “Jeannie.” We were approached by
Viacom for a season series on TV Land — but with Jim and I now as executive producers and equal partners, because while Jim had to play Jim, Jeannie could
keep things on track from the outside.

With Jim, I was able to
write and produce and have a big, gorgeous family. What in my single days I
thought of as “giving everything up” had become “gaining everything.”

The world of the show is
the world I know. The situations, locations, wardrobe and props, down to the
crumbs on the table, are in our hands. We were blessed with a great budget, an
amazing DP and crew and a wildly talented cast. Ashley (now a new mother
herself) is a dream — we relate to each other, though she is not “like me” or
imitating me. She has a similar manic energy, exudes enthusiasm and is a little
kooky.

The immense creative
fulfillment the show brings is rivaled only by the tremendous amount of work it
takes. Jim and I argue about every detail. We barely saw our during for the
intense weeks of shooting, when our apartment was staffed like “Downton
Abbey.” Luckily, we reunited as a family at the end of production and
all seven Gaffigans spent six weeks on the road together — a family/work
experience that we will all never forget. Now we have fallen back into our
“traditional roles” while we prepare for the next special: Jim on the road
doing standup, me writing and producing from home amidst the whirlwind of hands-on
five-children motherhood.

Except we just got the
call about our second season pick-up of 12 shows, and the insane amount of work
begins again. It’s true partnership. That is, if we don’t kill each other
first.

The season finale of the first season of “The Jim Gaffigan Show” will air Wednesday at 10/9c on TV Land.

Jeannie
Gaffigan is an acclaimed writer, producer and actress, co-writing and
executive producing comedy shows all over the U.S. with Jim Gaffigan, one of the
top touring comedians in the United States today. She serves as executive
producer and writer on “The Jim Gaffigan
Show.”
 

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