Stand-up comedian Jim Gaffigan is best known for being funny while keeping the content clean and family-friendly. Now he's released the first episode of a new TV series tackling the thorny issue of faith.
"Comic Jim Gaffigan has built a huge brand around a few things: overeating, having tons of kids (five at last count, and it's not clear he and his wife are done) and a performing technique people often call 'the inner voice,'" Boorstein wrote. "His inner voice is whispery, almost lady-like, has a scolding tone and lets Gaffigan assume the position of people he perceives as his critics - perhaps an audience member or some random person on the street."
Boorstein added that Gaffigan's sense of humor also helped deal with his Catholic faith. His approach is quite unusual in the modern world, given that many of today's entertainers perceived religion as "the third rail" one never touches.
"This all plays out very deliberately in Gaffigan's new show, which premieres in July and is set in his real life," Boorstein wrote. "'The Jim Gaffigan Show' explores what it's like to be a popular stand-up comic named Jim Gaffigan, juggling the secular, sometimes raunchy entertainment world with being a husband to a devout wife and dad to their five kids, all of whom are crammed into a hip apartment in lower Manhattan."
Gaffigan focused on the sensitive topic of religion in the first episode, which he wrote alongside his wife, Jeannie. They worked on the premise that a pop culture figure coming out as religious would be considered a risk.
"I don't want to get involved in the culture war. Religion is a very iffy business," Gaffigan said, playing himself as a character on the show. "As soon as you identify yourself as believing something, you open yourself to ridicule."
In the episode, a photograph is taken of Gaffigan carrying a massive Bible in public; he then panics on how the public would react to that image. Boorstein elaborated on the paradox Gaffigan tried to play out in the first episode.
"The belief that the mainstream culture is hostile toward faith is not only widely held and spoken of by many religious leaders, but has powerful theological allure," Boorstein wrote. "Core texts present religious believers as essentially outsiders, inherently persecuted and that to be religious is by definition to assume the identity of the marginalized. It can be a challenge to see one's self as fully religious and mainstream."
Boorstein thought it was a brave decision for the comedian and his wife to introduce the series by focusing on the Christian faith in general.
"The entire series is built around the juggling act of this wholesome, churchgoing, no-swearing, no-artificial-birth-control-using family," Boorstein wrote. "And they aren't painted as oddballs, but hip Manhattanites living in a cool loft and hanging around with people like Chris Rock."
Boorstein then asked the Gaffigans about their focus on faith.
"We played off the notion of being outed as Christian, that being Christian in entertainment is like being gay in the '50s," Gaffigan said. "It really touches on my fear surrounding being known as a Christian."
Gaffigan's wife added that the series was meant to highlight their faith "in an off-beat way that's more real than you often see on TV portrayals."
"You can be Catholic and your best friend can be gay, you live in this world where that's reality," Jeannie said. "You can keep your traditional faith but you don't have to be categorized into some box."
Jeannie admitted that her husband's sense of humor also appealed to "atheists" and those "of all faiths." Although Gaffigan has his own point of view in the "culture war" being fought across the United States on various issues, he took a pragmatic approach to his comedy.
"We know conflict sells, but 90 percent of my friends are devout atheists," Gaffigan said. "The message is: He believes in God, it's not that big of a deal. When we were kids it didn't matter if someone was religious, it just mattered if they were annoying."
Boorstein reported that Gaffigan and his family attended church in Manhattan's Little Italy. She asked him if he found anything funny about Catholicism.
"There's an intellectual side to it, a questioning side. There's also this kind of ritualistic side that lends itself to humor immediately," Gaffigan said. "Our priest is hilarious. I'll go around to all the statues of little-known saints and guess their name based on looks, like 'Saint I-Have-A-Boo-Boo.'"
Gaffigan's penchant to sticking to clean comedy has even received the attention of Pope Francis. Boorstein reported that he was invited to see the pope at an event in Philadelphia this fall.
"You don't turn down the pope," Gaffigan quipped.
"The Jim Gaffigan Show" is scheduled to air in July on TV Land.