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updated: 10/10/2017 9:36 AM

Jim Gaffigan on growing up in the suburbs, eating Hackney's onion loaf

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  • Comedian, actor and author Jim Gaffigan will perform five shows in Chicago Thursday through Saturday

    Comedian, actor and author Jim Gaffigan will perform five shows in Chicago Thursday through Saturday
    courtesy of Eric Levin

  • Comedian, actor and author Jim Gaffigan will perform five shows in Chicago Thursday through Saturday

    Comedian, actor and author Jim Gaffigan will perform five shows in Chicago Thursday through Saturday
    courtesy of Eric Levin

 
 

When comedian Jim Gaffigan thinks back to his childhood years in Elgin and Barrington, his thoughts immediately turn to one thing.

It's not his years at Barrington's Roslyn Road Elementary School.

It's not the trauma of moving away in the middle of fifth grade to Chesterton, Indiana.

"I remember the onion loaf at Hackney's. ... That's my whole childhood," he deadpans. "I also remember riding my bike into a parked car, and my mom coming out and laughing at me."

As the youngest of six kids, Gaffigan recalls constant chaos in his family's house.

"There was a certain amount of 'Lord of the Flies' occurring," he said. "It was the '70s. There was no helicopter parenting. You'd leave in the morning and it was, like, 'See you at dinner.'"

Parenting and food have been popular topics throughout Gaffigan's 25-year comedy career, filled with comedy specials and tours. His current special, "Cinco," is on Netflix, and his Noble Ape Tour comes to the Chicago Theatre Thursday through Saturday, Oct. 12-14.

Gaffigan's had his own show on TV Land, best-selling books (in "Food: A Love Story," he hilariously elaborates on his favorite Chicago foods), and even has a gig as a "CBS Sunday Morning" contributor (in a recent episode, he discussed "Why do all Americans have storage spaces?").

An Instagram photo promoting Jim Gaffigan's upcoming shows at the Chicago Theatre.
An Instagram photo promoting Jim Gaffigan's upcoming shows at the Chicago Theatre.

But lately, Gaffigan's been focused on more serious topics -- dramatic acting roles, and most important to him, supporting his wife/writing partner/mother of his five kids, Jeannie, as she recovers from surgery in April to remove a life-threatening brain tumor.

Jeannie's doing well now, Gaffigan said during a phone interview in August, but her recovery will be a long process.

"She's eating, and she's up and about, and she's yelling at me," he said. "She's pretty much back to normal. But that being said, I'm not in her body."

Doctors removed a tumor the size of an apple from her brainstem. Afterward, she battled aspiration pneumonia and was forced to use a feeding tube. Fortunately, the couple managed to find humor during the dark times.

"Of course, she had a doctor named Dr. Hamburger. And she thought, am I hallucinating?" he said.

By no means is Gaffigan abandoning comedy, but he's recently been cast in some serious acting roles, including a district attorney in the 2017 film "Chappaquiddick," starring Jason Clarke and Kate Mara, and a New Jersey degenerate in the 2016 sports drama "Chuck," starring Liev Schreiber and Naomi Watts.

Gaffigan loves acting, calling it "a fun adventure" that overlaps with his skills as a standup comic. He said it's nice to not be pigeonholed as only a comedian and work on his acting.

"Not everyone's Meryl Streep. I'm from a small Midwestern town, so playing a New Englander or a guy from New Jersey is really fun. I'll never stop doing standup, but if I find the right acting opportunity, I'll definitely pursue it," he said. "I enjoy acting, but I'd rather be a decent father than have an Emmy nomination."

Gaffigan's kids, ages 4 to 12, sometimes join him when he returns home to do shows and visit his siblings in Chicago and Burr Ridge, as well as his high school friends in Northwest Indiana. They usually eat deep dish pizza, one of his favorite foods.

"Only a Midwesterner would be patient enough for deep dish," said Gaffigan, who now lives in New York City.

Gaffigan looks back on his career with some amazement, given that he had incredible stage fright for the first 10 years he did standup.

"I'm very grateful that I found an occupation that I love this much and gives me creative fulfillment," he said. "That keeps me going."

He looks back fondly on his suburban childhood, too, even if it wasn't exactly Normal Rockwell-like.

"Norman Rockwell didn't paint one of those onion loaves, but he should have," he said.

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