Comedy ties faith, family

Yeah, Catholics can be funny, too. Don’t think so? Just tune in to “The Jim Gaffigan Show” premiering July 15 on TV Land at 10 p.m.

Gaffigan is a stand-up comic, who, with his real-life wife, Jeannie, and their five children, is living in a two-bedroom apartment in New York City, the home base of America’s secular culture.

The premise? A scripted “reality show” that chronicles the family’s crazy-busy life spent squeezed into a tiny space, all while striving to stay true to their Catholic faith.

The show’s undertones of faith are so strong, in fact, that the major networks rejected the Gaffigans’ show proposal for several years, contending they would like it more if it were a little less Catholic. The couple stuck to their guns, however, and were rewarded earlier this year when TV Land picked it up.

The first episode, titled “Super Great Daddy Day,” is available to watch on TVland.com.

Homespun reality

Jim and Jeannie worked for years to produce a show reflective of their personal life story.

“With every kid came another experience, and you write about what you know,” Jeannie said in a conference call with Our Sunday Visitor and other Catholic media in mid-June.

For Jim and Jeannie, writing what you know means writing about being raised in large Catholic families: Jim is the youngest of six and Jeannie is the oldest of nine. Though both attended Catholic universities — she is a graduate of Marquette and he of Georgetown — their attendance at Sunday Mass, like many Catholic students, lapsed. Jeannie began attending Mass again when she moved to Manhattan, and the couple met near the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral, which would eventually become their faith home. Jim started to go to Mass with Jeannie at the church, where they eventually married and where all five of their children were baptized.

Now they are giving the world a window into their daily life ­— one that is unapologetically tied into their shared Catholicism. “It is just something that we are,” Jeannie said. “We are not trying to promote some secret agenda.”

What they did want to do, Jim said, is create a comedy show that they both would want to watch.

“We are in the golden age of dramas,” he said. “The comedy that we wanted to do would treat each episode as if it might be our last.”

TV Land let them have that freedom.

Five little inspirations

Jim and Jeannie didn’t plan to have five children, but as Catholic parents, they accepted the five-fold blessings. And with each child came more inspiration for the TV show that eventually has emerged. Jeannie serves as producer and, together, the couple work as co-writers.

In the new show, Jim, who is already known as the “clean comic” because he avoids most profanity in his on-stage act, stumbles through his day, making promises as a husband and daddy that he doesn’t always keep, unsuccessfully tries to outsmart his wife (played by Ashley Williams), keeps friendships with very secular buddies like Dave (Adam Goldberg) who constantly get him into jams and eats his way through Manhattan.

The parish priest on the show assumes a “friend role” for Jim, said Jeannie. The priest is cool, smart and quicker on the upbeat than his friend, Jim.

“Father Nicholas is a very bright spirit, and he became a sort of Jiminy Cricket for Jim,” she said.

The portrayal of the Church on the show derives from the Gaffigans’ own Catholic experiences — experiences that are outside of the “norm” of how Catholicism typically is portrayed on television.

“It doesn’t involve any type of scandalous conduct; that is not our life,” Jeannie said. “We are tired of priest jokes. They are not funny, not appropriate. We find them offensive.”

Faith at home

The Gaffigan family prays the Rosary together, attends Mass on Sundays and, even in these small acts, manages to find comedic material.

“There was a time when I was prepping for Letterman, and I told this story on the show,” Jim said. “Jeannie introduced me to this priest from India, and she had this statue of a saint that she wanted him to bless, and I am in fear of all this; they wanted me to pray over it and it was like we were getting into Santeria here. Jeannie gets upset with me and she says, ‘I am so angry with you.’ And I said, ‘What, are you going to divorce me?’ And Jeannie shouts back, ‘I’m Catholic, I don’t divorce. I’ll kill you.’”

More seriously, though, the show manages to successfully infuse Catholicism into a culture that too often only seeks to characterize it.

Joseph R. LaPlante writes from Rhode Island.