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The 3 Things Comedian Jim Gaffigan Can Teach Us About Engaging the Culture

  • Jim Daly Jim Daly is president and chief executive officer of Focus on the Family, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping families thrive.
  • 2013 Sep 18

“Hot Pocket.”

To many folks, those two words bring to mind a stand-up comedian more than a frozen food. If that isn’t the case with you, allow me to introduce Jim Gaffigan, a funny man who can serve as an example of wise cultural engagement.

Gaffigan’s observational comedy routines fill up arenas around the country. He’s known for cracking jokes about his marriage, five children and, of course, Hot Pockets (his signature routine).

His new book about fatherhood, "Dad is Fat," however, is delivering more than laughs. According to big-name papers like the New York Times and the Washington Post, as well as niche media outlets like the Catholic World Report, "Dad is Fat" is subtly giving readers something to think about: marriage and parenthood are worth it.

Consider how Gaffigan answers questions about his large family:

“Well, why not? I guess the reasons against having more children always seem uninspiring and superficial. What exactly am I missing out on? Money? A few more hours of sleep? A more peaceful meal? More hair? These are nothing compared to what I get from these five monsters who rule my life. I believe each of my five children has made me a better man. So I figure I only need another thirty-four kids to be a pretty decent guy. Each one of them has been a pump of light into my shriveled black heart. I would trade money, sleep, or hair for a smile from one of my children in a heartbeat. Well, it depends on how much hair.” 

There certainly is a profound message there, hidden in between the jokes.

It can be tough to engage the culture well nowadays. Some people are suspicious of overt attempts to evangelize. Others don’t trust institutions like the Church. In an increasingly secular environment, it can feel awkward to talk about faith.

Enter Jim Gaffigan. I’m no expert on his comedy, but Jean and I recently became familiar with him. I realize his humor occasionally pushes the boundaries, but most of what I’ve seen is good, clean fun. In fact, I think we can draw some lessons from the way Gaffigan engages the culture. Here are three things I see in Mr. Gaffigan that can help us live out our faith in a way that draws men and women to Christ.

1. Be authentic. 

The reason that Gaffigan seems so natural is that he’s not trying to be something he’s not. Rather, he’s being faithful to do what he can with what God’s given him. He speaks about what he knows, and he’s not afraid to share the tough things along with the good.

As the article “Jim Gaffigan on Fatherhood for the Recovering Narcissist” observed, “Gaffigan would probably be the last person to argue that he’s some kind of evangelist. That’s not really what he’s trying to do … Gaffigan’s comedy doesn’t flow directly from a desire to make disciples of all nations. Instead, his comedy expresses what he sees. What strikes him as funny is without a doubt shaped by who he is as a man, as a husband, as a father, and, yes, as a Catholic. The world does still need missionaries, Francis Xavier types; but it’s also good there are Jim Gaffigans out there.”

In the same way, how we share and engage the culture should flow directly from who God made us to be. What an encouragement to all of us that God can use the unique talents, gifts and interests He’s given us for His glory.

2. Sometimes being subtle is more effective than being overt.

Secondly, Gaffigan seems to pick his spots when discussing seemingly controversial issues. He’s measured. He’s not shy about his beliefs, though. When we engage the culture, we also need to walk that line well. There are certainly times for boldness and clear language – but there are also times when you have to simply, unapologetically live your life before a watching world. Others will notice – and when they do, like Gaffigan, be ready to offer wise, honest answers about what you believe.

3. Go out and engage the culture.

Given the trend in comedy acts towards overtly sexual and vulgar content, you wouldn’t necessary think of a comedian as someone who could share deeper truths – yet that’s precisely what Gaffigan does. He’s out there on late night talk shows and on the evening news giving interviews that plant ideas about his worldview and beliefs.

You can do the same in your sphere of influence. As believers, we must have a heart to share our faith. We need to be willing to live a life that reflects God’s glory. It won’t always be easy, and sometimes we might engage clumsily. But God is faithful to help us, and the rewards are eternal.

Link to video.

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