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Tuesday, May 7th, 2013

'Dad Is Fat' Review: How Jim Gaffigan Lives Completely Unlike Your Average Comedian

In comedy circles, Jim Gaffigan has almost a living-legend aura around him. His broad appeal and ability to do the same clean material in every type of room is widely admired. "If you're a comedian, you should be able to perform in front of any kind of crowd, and the goal is to be someone like Jim Gaffigan who can do Eugene [Mirman]'s show and he can do my show, but then he can also perform at Carnegie Hall or whatever, the Pepsi Thunderdome in Janesville, Wisconsin, and do as well in front of every kind of crowd," Liam McEneaney told me last year. Even more amazing to many is his home life—a devoted churchgoer and father of five, he and his family live in a two-bedroom walkup in New York City's East Village. Those things make him an anomaly in the comedy world, and so it's not surprising that they serve as the inspiration for his new book, Dad is Fat.

Undoubtedly best known for his food material ("Jim Gaffigan wrote a book? Isn't the Hot Pockets guy?" is the very first sentence of the book's forward), Dad Is Fat instead draws from the reliable comedic well that is parenthood. It's an area that Gaffigan's standup has explored more in recent years, with some of the book's material taken nearly verbatim from his most recent special, Mr. Universe. The book is a collection of more than 60 short essays, on subjects ranging from pregnancy from a husband's perspective to taking your kids to McDonald's. (The book, like all of Gaffigan's standup, was co-written with his wife Jeannie, who comes across as a woman both saints and superheroes would look at with wonder.)

Many of the essays serve as responses to the most common questions, reactions, and criticisms he hears when someone learns of his family situation. He's well aware of how, for instance, their decision to have all of their five children at home seems to outsiders, particularly judgmental New Yorkers. At times, the essays feel slightly defensive (justifiably so, given that apparently people ask if he and his wife "are done yet" having kids), but they never veer into self-righteousness. He's not interested in telling other parents how to raise their kids; he'd be the first to admit he barely knows how to raise his own.

In fact, the book seems aimed mostly at non-parents, with the beginning chapters emphasizing his total ambivalence towards children in his single days. "I often view other parents the way I view other comedians. I have great respect for them, but I always assume they are crazy. I'm usually right."

Given that the book is devoted to his home life, Gaffigan's job is mostly incidental. There are a few references to his comedy, like that he's a clean comic because "when you are discussing mini-muffins in a stand-up act, it's not really necessary to curse or bring sex into the material." But anyone looking for a comedy memoir or inside tips from one of the country's top standups will likely be disappointed to be reading about his kids' bedtime routine.

Nonetheless, it's very fun. Much of the book feels like a collection of bits, the type of seemingly off-the-cuff, stream of consciousness wit that makes him, for instance, a great talk show guest. And though Gaffigan is clearly passionate about parenting, you get the sense he could just as easily written this sort of book about any of his other signature topics—food, sleep, travel, inept socializing—in the same chatty style. There isn't a lot to sink your teeth into with the book, and some of the sentiments about the joys of parenting will feel familiar. But that doesn't stop it from being an enjoyable and amusing summer read. Fans of Gaffigan's will find much to love, and as with his standup, there's nothing inappropriate that could prevent anyone from enjoying it. And by buying the book, he reminds the reader throughout, you are doing your little part to help his family. Because for the love of God, this guy needs a bigger apartment.

Elise Czajkowski is a freelance journalist in New York City. She sometimes tweets about comedy.

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