Given his love of all manner of food from all over the world, it should come as no surprise that comedian Jim Gaffigan didn’t even need to be asked if he’d tried one of the Maritimes’ most famous offerings when he first came here in 2017.
Speaking by phone from New York in advance of his Thursday appearance at Scotiabank Centre, the performer who’s previously referred to himself as King Baby and Noble Ape in the titles of his standup specials, left no doubt about his feelings for the local cuisine.
“In Halifax, one of the first things I did — and you might think this is silly — I was all about the donair. I had to do the donair,” he offers without prompting, before leaning slightly in the direction of the upper register he uses for his inner voice onstage.
“It was good, but you know, it’s a little on the sweet side. But I’m a fan! And you see that all around the world, where you get some Turkish immigrants that go to a place like Nova Scotia and they bring along the ingredients that become something like the donair. I just find that fascinating.”
Even if you only have the most cursory familiarity with Gaffigan’s work, you’ll know that his profanity-light material — written in tandem with his wife Jeannie — leans more on F-words like “food,” “family” and “foibles.” His ongoing obsession with the first of those runs deep enough that he was able to turn it into the 2014 book Food: A Love Story, which in turn fuelled further suggestions from the realm of social media about which regional delicacies he should ingest in his travels.
“I kind of created the most unhealthy relationship with seeking out food in local settings,” he says. “And it often winds up being food that’s not that good for you. But it hasn’t necessarily gotten me in trouble.
“Usually it’s just different. I’m not somebody who is a huge seafood person, but I’ll definitely try the lobster. If I’m going to Prince Edward Island, I’m not going to dive into a big pile of oysters, but I might have one. I just won’t appreciate it as much as some people, if you know what I mean.”
Appropriately, Gaffigan’s current tour The Pale Tourist addresses his love of travelling, picking up the thread from his recent Amazon Prime special Quality Time where he discusses being in Europe with five small children and trying to get them to appreciate it.
“The show is ever-changing, but honestly, I have a fair amount of stuff on Canada for this run. Obviously, I’m not presenting myself as an expert, but it’s my perspective which I’ve acquired while doing shows there, from that one previous time in Nova Scotia to a few times in Ottawa and visiting Toronto a bunch.
“It’s just my point of view on Canada, and to be honest, when I start discussing the stuff I’m working on, it sounds bad. ‘Well, I’ve got a bunch of stuff on motorcycles...’ It sounds brutal. But if you appreciate my point of view, hopefully that’s something people will be into.”
Based on his previous visit and information he gleans in advance from the internet, social media and local contacts, Gaffigan should have enough timely and topical data to ensure the Halifax audience, like those on other tour stops, will get to enjoy some regional material shaped especially for them.
It’s standard practice for most dedicated road comics, but Gaffigan has such a singular onstage persona and sense of timing that he can usually find a unique angle beyond remarking on how far away the airport is from downtown and making fun of Dartmouth.
“It’s a big city, so I’ll do a crash course on some of the cultural differences, but honestly sometimes I like to just ask people what they think is so unique and different about a place like Halifax,” he says.
“Then I can use that information in my act, but with what I do there is a lot of learning things on the ground.”
Once Gaffigan wraps up The Pale Tourist tour, which will take him to far-flung places like Spain, South America and Scotland, it’s likely he’ll put the show to bed with a live audience and film crew to follow up on Quality Time, Amazon Prime’s first stand-up comedy special.
Before that surfaces, fans will see the comedian return to his equally busy acting career with a dramatic role next fall in the Michael Almereyda film Tesla. Reteaming with the director who cast him in the 2015 historic drama Experimenter, he co-stars with occasional Nova Scotia resident Ethan Hawke, who plays the great inventor Nikola Tesla at the peak of his career in New York in the late 1800s.
Gaffigan joins the cast as Tesla’s sponsor George Westinghouse, who licensed the Serbian-American inventor’s patents for alternating current, in direct competition with direct current proponent Thomas Edison (played by Twin Peaks’ Kyle MacLachlan).
A look at historic photographs reveals some resemblance between Westinghouse and Gaffigan; just imagine the latter sporting the former’s facial mutton chops. The comic actor considers taking on the role of a real historic person “very personal and relatively invasive,” but he says Almereyda and Hawkes were very collaborative partners and open to Gaffigan’s ideas about portraying such an important and complex titan of the industrial age.
“It’s really fascinating, and when Michael offered me the role I really dove in to finding out about him,” he says. “We forget that there were people like him. We live in this age where Elon Musk and Bill Gates are our creative inventors, but back in that day...
“I mean, Westinghouse invented the air brake on trains when he was 19. He was somebody who was a self-made giant of industry and kind of a mentor to people like Tesla, but there was a complexity surrounding him. He probably didn’t do right by Tesla, but it’s so much fun to go into a character like that.”
IF YOU GO:
Tickets for Jim Gaffigan’s The Pale Tourist at Scotiabank Centre are $55.50/$65.50/$75.50/$95.50 at the Ticket Atlantic box office (902-451-1221 or ticketatlantic.com) and participating Superstore outlets.