Jeannie Gaffigan and her husband Jim tend to avoid the polarizing topics that divide much of America in their new comedy series "The Jim Gaffigan Show." Instead, they focus on the things that everyone can agree on, like cake.
"Everybody likes cake," Jeannie Gaffigan told Headlines & Global News in an exclusive interview. "Republicans like cake. Democrats like cake. Atheists like cake. Mormons like cake. So let's bring everyone together on cake."
Focusing less on controversial topics and more on food and family, the Gaffigans have assembled a diverse audience that spans from college guys to middle-age fathers and their teenage sons. They all show up to Jim's stand-up shows across the country and watch his new TV Land show, executive produced by Jeannie.
"When we did our books, 'Dad Is Fat' and 'Food: A Love Story,' and with the advent of 'Mr. Universe,' a Comedy Central special we did a few years ago when Jim started talking about the kids, our audience started expanding," the mother of five explained. "So all of the sudden, instead of it just being mostly this Comedy Central demographic... we started noticing our audience was growing and changing and developing into a more inclusive demographic."
That inclusive demographic eventually led "The Jim Gaffigan Show" to TV Land (and its parent company Viacom) after failed starts at NBC and CBS. The show stars Jim as a "heightened version" of himself (Ashley Williams plays the "heightened version" of Jeannie) and is inspired by the comedian's real-life living in New York City in a two-bedroom apartment with his wife and five children.
When he's not at a comedy club or on the road performing, Jim is a regular father and husband who takes his kids to birthday parties and tries not to disappoint his wife who even he admits in the pilot, "is out of my league." And, true to life, he really enjoys food.
The Gaffigans first cast their real children to play their kids on TV when CBS shot a pilot for the show nearly two years. They then decided that they wanted their kids to have a normal life and cast child actors that would fit the storyline of a family with very young children.
"Our show is about this certain period of time in our lives where we had all these kids, two in diapers running around and just the acts of chaos of living our life," Gaffigan said.
At that young age, kids aren't always aware of what the grownups are talking about, which can lead to some very funny and awkward conversations.
"There's going to be things that the parents can talk about in front of the kids that go right over their heads," she said. "Even when we were writing the story about the vasectomy, I remember discussing it and having my kid, who is now 9 but at the time was 7, said, 'What's a vasectomy?' And I being a very hip mom said, 'Well, it's an operation that daddy gets when they don't want to have anymore babies.' And then he said, 'But dads don't have babies.'"
Although the show may avoid those more hot button issues, it proudly displays the family's Catholic faith. Both Jeannie and Jim grew up in Catholic households with big families and decided to return to the Church when they started having children.
"We're just a Catholic family. We don't go and proselytize to other people. We don't say, 'You should be Catholic too.' We just live our lives and try to keep our family together and go to church and stuff like that. But we don't judge or try to force our belief system on anybody else," she said.
Today, television tends to represent the lapsed-Catholic more than the believers, a product of the molestation scandals and the religion's hardliners that have driven out the more progressive thinkers. "The Jim Gaffigan Show" makes a conscious effort to show that people can still have their faith without acting like bigots.
For example, Jeannie's character has a gay best friend on the show (played by Michael Ian Black) and the family's priest is a transplant from Africa, a real development of more priests coming from overseas.
"In New York we have a lot of young, vibrant, smart priests that are really good people and really passionate about reinvigorating the church and they just happen to be from the Philippines, Africa, India," Gaffigan said.
An upcoming episode called "The Bible Story" actually deals with the family's Catholicism in the media when the paparazzi photographs Jim carrying a Bible he picked up for his wife. The controversy also touches on the dilemmas of living in a digital age where everything is immediate, especially the backlash.
"I had a tweet where I said, 'We're all one tweet away from career suicide,'" Gaffigan said.
She and Jim try to screen each other's tweets, but Jim has found himself in hot water over tweets as mundane as women getting manicures to the more sensitive subjects like Caitlyn Jenner's transition.
"We do really have to monitor," Gaffigan said. "But people I think are ready for a fight. One of the things we found successful in our comedy is that we don't talk about politics, we don't talk about things that are polarizing because Jim is an observationalist."
For those who try to politicize the Gaffigan's partnership of a woman working in the background as her husband gets all the credit on screen, they fail to recognize the incredible amount of work Jeannie puts in behind the scenes. She not only serves as an executive producer on "The Jim Gaffigan Show," but she's also a writer on the show in addition to taking care of their five children and producing his stand-up specials.
She willingly made the choice to not play herself on the show (and at one point that was the plan) and as she puts it, you could say, "Jim is the man in front of the woman." Their partnership is equal opportunity.
"I went into the background as a producer and realized that if Jim was in all the scenes, who was going to be there to make sure that this was our point of view. Who's going to be there? We don't have a third person. We don't have anybody that knows our life like I do. And so when [CBS] recast the Jeannie character, I didn't even put myself into the mix," Jeannie said.
She added, "I think that's it's really important for people in this age of equality to realize that you can be an extremely powerful, important, fulfilled person and not have your face on the cover of a magazine... I think if you're someone's partner and you happen to be their wife, or husband in a lot of cases, there's nothing wrong with being that person who's allowing that other person to be in the front."
Enjoy Jeannie and Jim's shared story of their wonderful and chaotic family life on "The Jim Gaffigan Show" on Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on TV Land. The show also repeats on Nick at Nite and Comedy Central.