EW's Best of 2015: Jim, Jeannie Gaffigan on the Bible-centric episode
The ninth episode — “The Bible Story” — of TV Land’s The Jim Gaffigan Show, created by husband and wife duo Jim and Jeannie Gaffigan along with Peter Tolan, was a surreal take on all the disasterous outcomes a single event can trigger: Jim’s character (also named Jim) picks up a comically large Bible for his wife and is photographed with it after a comedy show — and then that photograph makes its way onto the internet, suddenly alerting the public that Jim is Christian. This “outing” plays into all of Jim’s insecurities and ends with a climatic scene where everyone — Christians, atheists, so on — rallies against him. Jim and Jeannie called up EW to talk about the event that inspired the episode, why the real Jim is still a little scared of the world knowing he’s religious, and the current news cycle’s effect on cultural discussions.
On where the idea came from
JIM GAFFIGAN: It really was inspired by my fear of being outed as a Christian.
JEANNIE GAFFIGAN: There was an actual incident that inspired it. When we wrote Dad is Fat, there was a section in it about taking the kids to church and being Catholic and just kind of the craziness of that. And so somebody picked up on that at the Washington Post.
JIM: Michelle Boorstein did an article.
JEANNIE: She interviewed Jim, and I think the headline was, “Jim Gaffigan, the new evangelization in entertainment” or something like that. And Jim was like, “Oh no, people are going to think I’m crazy!” It was just this moment, and I was like, it’s fine. He was just really paranoid about making a social commitment, being like, “I’m on this side!” which is so not what we do. We talk about cake, and everybody likes cake, even if you believe in this or you believe in that. We don’t take political sides; we don’t push an agenda. That’s not our style of comedy.
JIM:I think it’s still a little bit of a fear of mine. In the end, I’m a comedian and I just want to be judged as funny or not. I don’t want another adjective before “funny.” I don’t want to be “the clean comedian” or “the family comedian” or “the Catholic comedian,” I just want to be funny or not. It’s an ongoing thing. In the entertainment industry, you really don’t have control over how people perceive you. I think that when Jeannie and I were writing that episode, we knew that my insecurity about people perceiving me in an improper manner is a concern. But one thing that we did learn is, that article came out in the Washington Post, and it didn’t really change anything. I was still known as the food comic. It was more my insecurity.
JEANNIE: But there were also a lot of magazines and publications and people, journalists, who contacted us that were specifically Christian or some kind of faith-based thing that that article got their attention, and that also took it to the next level. There was a series of things that did happen. You want everyone to relate to your comedy, and the fear in that is if someone specifically attaches you to a cause, then the people who don’t necessarily believe in that cause may not like you anymore or may develop a backstory about you that may or may not be true. “The Bible Story” was a reaction to dismantle those fears.
JIM: A really important element was the commentary on the tabloid nature of how we consume information now. And you can call it the 24-hour news cycle, you can call it just the outrage police, there’s this thing where people do or say things and people latch on an enormous amount of anger or outrage to something where someone’s just simply picking up a Bible. We wanted to kind of weave that in and how real journalists get drawn into this. It starts a spiral and that becomes its own narrative, which we kind of addressed where Jim and Daniel (Michael Ian Black) are having an affair, but if Jim had never picked up the Bible, that would never be an issue.
JEANNIE: At the same time, we’re portraying this family who actually does go to church and Jim is a character who actually does believe in God, but in the episode, he’s just like, “I don’t want people to know I believe in God” and Jeannie’s like, “But you do!” and he’s like, “Yeah, but people are going to think I’m stupid. That’s my private business, what I believe.” There are messages in it saying we’re not saying that Jim doesn’t believe in God. It’s just that when he goes to defend himself on The Daily Show, he puts his foot in his mouth by making a joke about hiding the Bible in the garbage bag and it spirals into he’s throwing away.
We can all cite examples in the past year of people who have said something or printed something and just been lambasted in the media, and people pick sides. And they just start fighting with each other, which is what happens in the audience when Jim starts doing comedy [in the episode]. He just wants to talk about avocados, and the whole audience just starts screaming at each other, because they’ve all taken their side, and are really staunch believers in whatever they believe in. It doesn’t allow him to proceed with making observations about things that everybody can relate to.
JIM: We did make a conscious effort to make a comment on the fact that we exist in these culture wars. Not kind of picking a side. It’s very easy to sit there and pick a side, like, the War on Christmas, and that’s not what, we didn’t want to make a commentary on how the War on Christmas is occurring, we wanted to make a commentary on how these differences are dealt with in our culture. So rather than people having a civil disagreement, it just gets out of control immediately. People just are vilified and we attribute horrible points of view to people that just simply might disagree with us. And I think that happens on both sides and so we wanted to kind of have an undercurrent of that. But we definitely made a point of, we’re not picking a side. This is a commentary on how our society deals with cultural discussions.
On the episode’s format
JEANNIE: There was a certain point in the writing, where we were like, okay, now this is where we could really go into Jim’s psyche. Because the truth of the matter is it is in Jim’s psyche. This reaction did not happen to Jim. But this is Jim’s fear. Early on in the writing process, we knew the idea, we knew what we wanted to communicate, we hadn’t executed it perfectly yet, and there was a certain point in the writing process saying, what if?
JIM: Yeah, what if it was a dream? We knew that we wanted the end to, once we figured out it was a dream, we knew we wanted to set it up as a very straight, normal, episode, just kind of Jim coming in, providing some information.
JEANNIE: If you watch the first 30 seconds or a minute of the episode, you might be like, “Meh, this is not going to…” It’s funny, Jim is there, it’s a sitcom and all this stuff, but then right away things start to take off. We felt like we had to ground everyone in reality before we had a zombie in it. We had to get there.
I think our pilot is really funny and great, but it’s very… it’s a conventional, funny pilot where Jim is very funny and the writing’s funny and the situation’s funny and the characters are funny but it doesn’t go to the level of alternate reality [that “The Bible Story” does], which is much more in our personal tone. “The Bible Story” is a little taste of where this is going. I feel like “The Bible Story” was a way that we could really make the splash.
JIM: We’re in the middle of writing season 2, and Jeannie and I, we learned so much in season 1. “The Bible Story” and “Wonderful,” our season finale, really kind of inform and also set a standard for how we’re writing season 2. It has to be these episodes that—
JEANNIE: They have a little bit more to them.
JIM: We’ve never been fulfilling a quota of episodes, but we’re really trying to be that ambitious with each episode. “The Bible Story” really informs how we’re doing our new season.
The entire first season of The Jim Gaffigan Show is now streaming on Hulu. Watch “The Bible Story” below.