After years of providing comedian Jim Gaffigan a reason to take his family to Florida for a working vacation, his upcoming Tampa shows are serving another purpose: They’ll be the backdrop for his new TV special.
“The Dark Pale” will be streaming next year with reaction shots from the audience at four shows coming to the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts Feb. 9-11. Gaffigan said in a telephone interview from the road on his current tour that he usually finds a “level of excitement” in the audience knowing they might wind up on camera. And he wanted to reward an area that has given him a lot over his career.
The Indiana-born comedian’s connection to Tampa is stronger than many locals may realize.
He came out of college with a finance degree, and his first job was in Tampa for Peterson and Company as a litigation consultant. He said he “was horrible at it.” He remembers working downtown and eating at Shells Seafood a lot. But after eight months he packed it in and headed to New York to pursue comedy.
His work in standup comedy caught the attention of David Letterman, leading to his first TV show, “Welcome to New York.” His everyday humor leans toward dad jokes, and it’s hard to say “Hot Pockets” without hearing his singsong ode to trashy food. His comedy has earned him three Emmys, lots of Grammy nominations and 10 comedy specials. He also branched out in recent years to acting in dramatic roles.
He has been a frequent New Year’s Eve entertainer at Tampa’s Amalie Arena in recent years. It turns out that’s because he takes his brood of five kids to Walt Disney World for Christmas.
“I’ve gone to Florida every year; it’s not breaking news. Everyone goes to Florida at Christmas. I make it a working vacation,” Gaffigan said. “Selfishly you choose a market where you feel like you connect with the audience.”
Florida and his frequent Disney trips provide a lot of comic material.
“Disney is like my jalapenos,” he said in his last comedy special. “I always think, ‘I can handle this.’ And then a couple hours later, I wish I was dead.”
He gets singled out for his clean routines that have no swear words, but don’t be fooled. There’s some dark humor afoot.
“If you look back over my last specials, there’s been material on cancer and some really misanthropic stuff. But it’s the perception,” Gaffigan said.
Some wondered if he risked offending his core audience during the pandemic when he went off on President Trump in several Twitter rants as the Republican National Convention came to a close in 2020. He posted numerous tweets in the following days about his disgust with the Trump administration.
Planning your weekend?
Subscribe to our free Top 5 things to do newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
He didn’t back down when longtime fans responded to him, appalled that he suddenly was putting politics in his feed. Though he has substantially cut back on that recently, Gaffigan said he has no regrets.
“To be clear, I don’t think anyone is going to let an actor or a comedian tell them who to vote for,” Gaffigan said. “I felt like as a parent I didn’t want to have to look my kids in the eyes and say I wanted to be able to sell 300 more tickets, so that was more important than democracy.”
The production team at Morsani Hall at the Straz Center is prepping for Gaffigan’s filmed performances. He will have to perform his sets as close to identically as possible, so editors can splice different segments together and make it appear like the same performance. The house lights that would typically be off will be bright so that audience reactions can be caught.
“We have to do all sorts of adjustments and considerations to optimize for video,” said C.J. Marshall, vice president of operations for the Straz Center, “which sometimes doesn’t necessarily make it the best for live performance. There’s got to be a little bit of compromise.”
Gaffigan said he’s just glad to be in a theater instead of an arena or comedy club.
“The thing I like about a theater setting as opposed to a comedy club is people are not going to show up wasted,” he said.
He finds it funny that Florida is both a punchline and a refuge.
“The great irony of Florida itself is parents complain about Disney and people complain about Florida. They all dump on Florida,” he said. “And then cold December rolls around and they are like, hey, I didn’t mean any of it. I’m coming down.”
If you go
Jim Gaffigan: Emmy-winning comedian, actor, writer, producer and bestselling author. These performances will be recorded for Gaffigan’s next comedy special. Four shows Feb. 9-11. $29.75-$125.75. Straz Center for the Performing Arts, 1010 N Macinnes Place, Tampa. strazcenter.org. 813-229-7827.