If a hoarsely chanted version of the “Hot Pockets” jingle means anything to you, that’s probably a sign that you are a fan of the stand-up comedy of Jim Gaffigan. Clean, Catholic, and hilarious, Gaffigan—who writes his material with his wife Jeannie—has impressed many by his ability to stay above vulgarity and shock, while also causing his listeners to laugh uproariously.
The Gaffigans have now added a sitcom to Jim’s stand-up, and the first episode of the Jim Gaffigan Show is available free, for now, on jimgaffigan.com, while the rest will air on TVLand. The show is semi-autobiographical—his wife is portrayed by an actress, as are four of his five children (the two-year-old character is actually portrayed by his son).
The first episode (spoiler alert) deals with the awkwardness of religion. (Michelle Boorstein at the Washington Post wrote a good piece on the show recently.) Jim’s wife asks him to pick up a Bible from their priest, who is also her friend, on his way to the comedy club. This starts a series of comical encounters as he lugs around the massive Bible, and eventually he becomes the center of a media firestorm, which simultaneously accuses him of being a holy-roller, blasphemer, and bigot. All this culminates in a scene where three angry mobs—gay-rights activists, atheist activists, and religious zealots—unite in cornering him, ready to tar-and-feather. The surprise ending is that this whole episode was inside Jim’s head, as he considered picking up the Bible.
The episode highlighted the tension which is involved in being a convicted Christian today, most especially in the world of entertainment. Although the Gaffigans do not see themselves as being the leaders of any sort of religious movement, just the fact that they are practicing Catholics sets them apart.
Gaffigan points out with humor what Alasdair MacIntyre taught:
Protest is now almost entirely that negative phenomenon which characteristically occurs as a reaction to the alleged invasion of someone’s rights in the name of someone else’s utility. The self-assertive shrillness of protest arises because the facts of incommensurability ensure that protestors can never win [or lose] an argument.
Discourse and true tolerance have yielded to loudness. Discussion is not possible for ideologues, because it is a simple matter of arguing over rights, not pursuing truth or even admitting the possibility that your opinion could be wrong. Those opposed to religious belief ask Christians to keep their faith behind closed doors. But there are also those defenders of religious identity who have similarly fallen for the temptation to shrillness, which only degrades public discussion even more.
The overwhelming pressure to conform to a certain set of ideals is often compounded by the internalization of those voices, as Jim shows with his twenty minute comic exaggeration of what could happen to him if he walked around with a Bible. The DSM-6 could add “Christian complex” under “paranoia.”
In the episode, Jim’s character is a victim, in his mind at least, of the outrage and protest of the culture warriors of all sides, those who have definitively cast aside all hope of reasoned and respectful discourse.
Also unfortunate, those warriors have cast aside their senses of humor.
Dominic Bouck, O.P., is a Dominican brother of the Province of St. Joseph and a summer intern at First Things.