I’m trying to decide if Jim Gaffigan, playing the Paramount Theatre on Saturday, the final night of the 2013 Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival, is a loner or a control freak. Raising five kids seems like an odd choice for a loner, and he’s way too personable to be a tyrant. Still, he’s chosen a profession that allows him to be both.
“Stand-up is a really strange thing,” he says. “It’s dangerous, but there’s also an enormous amount of control: You’re the only one with a microphone; you’re a writer and you’re the performer and the director. It’s just you up there.”
He loves acting — and he’s done plenty of it, from television (“That ’70s Show,” “Law & Order”) and film (“It’s Kind of a Funny Story”) to Broadway, where he starred in a revival of the Pulitzer Prize-winning “That Championship Season” — but notes that you’re forced to rely on other people in those situations. “You steer the whole thing in stand-up. I love it,” he says.
Growing up the youngest of five siblings in a tiny Indiana town, Gaffigan had no dreams of a show biz career. “I was a class clown but never saw it as an occupation,” he says. “The joke in my family is that I’m considered third funniest.”
Coming from such a large brood, Gaffigan was raised to pursue economic security and steered by his father toward a career in business or finance. After college, he moved to New York (having developed a romanticized notion of the city from watching “The Odd Couple” and other Neil Simon plays) and worked as an advertising copywriter.
“I always thought that advertising was interesting: the writing of commercials; motivating ideas. I always got a kick out of them,” he says. “Of course now the last thing I want to do is see a commercial.”
He may have lived the life of “Mad Men’s” Don Draper — or, I guess, Peggy Olson — but he harbored another ambition. ”I secretly wanted to do stand-up, but I was a coward,” he says.
Gaffigan and a buddy put together what he describes as “a safe show,” kind of a seminar-slash-comedy class for invited friends, and found it wildly addicting. “So, I did well the first couple of times and then probably bombed for, like, two years. I definitely paid a lot of dues,” he says.
“I remember when I started stand-up and I would sit in an audience and hear people talk about kids and their wives and I would kind of resent it,” he says. “I would be, like, ‘I don’t want to hear about that; I’m 26. I can’t get a date.’”
As a result, he crafted his own routines for broad appeal and hit more universal themes, like food. If you’ve ever heard anybody sing-songing the words “Hot Pockets” in a falsetto pitch, blame food-fan Gaffigan. “Yeah, I’m a total pig,” he says.
Meanwhile, his family life has not been underutilized as a source of inspiration. The comic began tweeting humorous observations about children and parenting out to his followers and discovered, after about a year, that he’d written enough of them to form a pretty good foundation for a book.
“Dad Is Fat,” (Gaffigan’s not sure whether to call it a memoir, confession, apology or cry for help) lands on shelves May 7 and is available for pre-order on his website, jimgaffigan.com.
Meanwhile, touring is his bread and butter, and he’s excited about returning to Austin, where he has taped stand-up specials before (his 2009 CD “King Baby” was recorded at the Paramount).
“There are certain places where it’s just ideal to do sets,” he says. “Austin is a city that has a rich heritage in live performance and creativity, so that’s great.”
Jim Gaffigan performs at 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Saturday at the Paramount Theatre.