Jim Gaffigan established a distinctive show business imprint in the 1990s and 2000s as a kind of mild-mannered Middle American everyman, both as a stand-up comedian and a prolific character actor. Playing up his lily-white Indiana roots, Gaffigan took an Old School route onto the stand-up circuit as a plainspoken, self-effacing observational comedian, leading to prominent roles in national television advertising, such as his stint as the lawn-chair-philosopher pitchman for Rolling Rock beer. His would-be-big-break, "Welcome to New York" (2000-01), a sitcom in which he essentially played himself, fizzled, but he became a regular on Ellen DeGeneres's second sitcom "The Ellen Show" (CBS, 2001-02). Along the way, he earned ever-more-frequent stand-up spots on network late-night showcases such as "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" (NBC, 1993-2009) and "Late Show with David Letterman" (CBS, 1993-2015), appearances he rode out of the comedy clubs and into showcase theaters. In 2006 he landed a steady TV gig as one of a retinue of amiable, wise-cracking Chicagoans on the sitcom, "My Boys" (TBS, 2006-2010), and in fall 2010 was cast in a Broadway revival of the Pulitzer- and Tony Award-winning play "That Championship Season." A walking archetype of comedic vanilla, Gaffigan became not only one of the top draws in stand-up, but a go-to actor for parts requiring, as he, himself, explained it, a "balding, doughy white guy."
Gaffigan was born July 7, 1966 in Chesterton, IN, into a buttoned-down, middle-class family. He attended the Catholic preparatory school La Lumiere School in LaPorte, IN, but in his adolescence, he aspired to leave the Midwest for New York to pursue an entertainment career. He opted for a conservative educational path, studying business at Purdue University in Lafayette, and after a year, transferring to Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. Graduating from Georgetown's business school in 1988, he took a job with a financial litigation firm in Florida. But he languished in the job and, two years later, the 24-year-old moved to New York City, where he secured work in the advertising trade. He worked both in account management and copywriting, but as he began following his muse in comedy clubs at night, the ad game would prove propitious for him in more ways than one. Gaffigan's common man's ethos and penchant for dry-wit delivery made him an ideal everyguy for TV commercials, which he began popping up in with some frequency, scoring an appearance in a national campaign for GM's Saturn division in 1997. As the 1990s drew to an end, he began a prolific run of minor parts in a string of indie films - and netting his first studio film, albeit in a bit part, with "Three Kings" (1999) He also scored some guest shots on forgettable TV series such as the ill-fated Dan Aykroyd vehicle "Soul Man" (ABC, 1997-98) and similarly short-lived Al Franken sitcom "LateLine" (NBC, 1998-99). In 1999, he turned up in another carmaker spot, this time for Kia Motors, and won a flight of TV ads for the Latrobe Brewing Co.'s Rolling Rock beer, playing a kind of high priest of Rolling Rock fans, musing about the crafting of the beer while fishing in a lawn-chair. In 1999, he also landed his first national TV stand-up spot on CBS' "Late Show with David Letterman" (CBS, 1993-2015), which began a portentous relationship.
Letterman, a fellow Indianan, took a liking to Gaffigan, inviting him for a second appearance later in the year and tapping him to develop a new sitcom via Letterman's production company, World Wide Pants. On "Welcome to New York," Gaffigan paralleled Letterman's real-life résumé by playing a former Indiana weatherman who scores a job on a major network morning show in NYC and finds his aw-shucks personality an easy target of the big-city sneers and showbiz machinations of his producer (Christine Baranski) and anchorman (Rocky Carroll). The show premiered to positive reviews in fall 2000, but it failed to draw enough of an audience and CBS axed it after just 13 episodes. In spite of the show's failure, Gaffigan became much in demand, issuing his first stand-up album, Luigi's Doghouse, followed by a second, Economics II, in 2001, as well as landing roles in the hit indie comedy "Super Troopers" (2001), and on the HBO series "Sex In the City" (1998-2004), and NBC's "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (1999- ), before landing his next sitcom the following fall. "The Ellen Show," CBS's attempt at rebooting comedian Ellen DeGeneres's primetime career saw the comic as a showbiz big shot escaping the rat-race to her small-town roots, with a Gaffigan playing a neighbor and high school beau hoping to rekindle things, though her character is out of the closet. In spite of an impressive cast that included Cloris Leachman and Martin Mull, the show failed to draw an audience and shuttered after 12 episodes, leaving six unaired. Gaffigan's bouts with the cold, oft-cynical machinery of the entertainment business increasingly crept into his stand-up; his act, while never edgy, increasingly supplemented with self-critical asides, a high-pitched "inner voice" that channeled a shocked or bored Midwesterner's reaction to his act.
Gaffigan had built enough of a profile for his first feature lead, albeit in the ultra-indie "No Sleep 'til" Madison" (2002), a late coming-of-age story in which he played a Wisconsin hockey fanatic keeping true to his annual pilgrimage to the state's high school tournament, in spite of its alienation from his friends and girlfriend. Gaffigan picked up featured guest work on series TV, as with "Hope & Faith" (ABC, 2003-06), and recurring roles in other small-town-set comedies, "Ed" (NBC, 2000-04) and "That '70s Show" (Fox, 1998-2006). He supplemented his schedule with more periodic guest shots, as well as supporting parts in indie romantic comedies such as "Duane Incarnate" (2004), "The Great New Wonderful" (2005) and "Trust the Man" (2005), and availed himself in more critically considered films like the black comedy "The Living Wake," in which he played the father of a dying, self-proclaimed genius artist who has returned to his hometown to attend his own wake. Gaffigan's rare venture into a major studio comedy proved to be one of the more notorious bombs in recent film history, the Mike Myers flop, "The Love Guru" (2008). He also picked up the odd dramatic role on television, making it a "Law & Order" trifecta with multiple turns on the original "Law & Order" (NBC, 1990-2010) and "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" (NBC, 2001-07; USA, 2007-11). In the meantime stand-up made him a frequent guest "Late Night with Conan O'Brien," affording him the opportunity to create a unique imprint with the cartoon, "Pale Force." Gaffigan premiered the flash-animated shorts - co-produced by New Yorker cartoonist and Gaffigan's brother-in-law, Paul Noth - as a gag on a 2005 episode of "Late Night." He played all the voice roles, most notably the superheroes Pale Man and a spindly, whiney sidekick Conan, scantily clad to enhance their powers: the blinding reflection off their extremely pale skin. O'Brien, Gaffigan and Noth ran with the bit and went on to make 20 "Pale Force" episodes through 2008, teasing them on the show and posting them on Gaffigan's and NBC's websites. Gaffigan hit the melanin-challenged theme again in his 2006 album Beyond the Pale, and increasingly began trading up to higher-capacity theatrical venues for his stand-up tours.
In 2006, Gaffigan returned to series television in the made-for-TBS series "My Boys." The disarming sitcom followed a tomboy sportswriter (Jordana Spiro) and the entourage of male buddies with whom she played poker, watched sports, drank and navigated the pitfalls of single life. Gaffigan played her amicable, dryly funny brother who had "grown up" and started a family, thus often serving as the foil to the group's social gymnastics. Gaffigan left the show after its third season, reportedly to focus more on his increasingly lucrative stand-up tours. He played another dry-witted, dutiful husband role in the studio comedy "Going the Distance" (2010), and bolstered his indie bona fides with key supporting roles in a sequence of critically lauded prestige films such as the coming-of-age navel-gazer, "Away We Go" (2009), the quirky sanitarium-set comedy "It's Kind of a Funny Story" (2010), and "Salvation Boulevard" (2011), a comedy thriller set in the pious milieu of America's garish evangelical mega-churches. In late 2010, Gaffigan was cast in a spring 2011 Broadway revival of "That Championship Season," alongside a cast including Brian Cox, Chris Noth, Jason Patric and Kiefer Sutherland. Gaffigan won the role of George Sitkowski, an unpopular, ethically compromised municipal mayor and a one-time member of a bygone high school championship basketball team who reunites with three other starters to visit their coach (Cox) on his deathbed, only to reveal to reveal their lives have not gone as planned.
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Landed the lead role in the short-lived CBS sitcom "Welcome to New York"
Appeared in "13 Going on 30"
Was a series regular on TBS's "My Boys"
Starred alongside Zac Efron in "17 Again"
Co-created TV Land's "The Jim Gaffigan Show," which was based largely on his own life
Appeared in the biographical drama "Experimenter"
Had a guest spot on "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt"
Appeared in historical biopic "Chappaquiddick"
Appeared in the comedy "You Can Choose Your Family"