From Adman To Stand-Up: Jim Gaffigan's Transition Took A Few Good Naps The comedian once worked in advertising — until he got caught dozing on the job. So, he took his savings and stepped on stage. Still, it was years before he hit his big break: a gig on the Late Show.
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From Adman To Stand-Up: Jim Gaffigan's Transition Took A Few Good Naps

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From Adman To Stand-Up: Jim Gaffigan's Transition Took A Few Good Naps

From Adman To Stand-Up: Jim Gaffigan's Transition Took A Few Good Naps

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

On stage, comedian Jim Gaffigan is just a bearded, pale dad. He riffs on bacon and family vacations to Disneyland and his thoughts about Hot Pockets.

(SOUNDBITE OF COMEDY SHOW)

JIM GAFFIGAN: I'm moving a little slow tonight. I had a hot pocket for dinner.

(APPLAUSE)

GAFFIGAN: It's a weird simple product, and this synergy with American culture is profound. And it's just - it's the thing that keeps giving life. There's always news about hot pockets.

(SOUNDBITE OF COMEDY SHOW)

GAFFIGAN: Recently, they introduced the breakfast Hot Pocket, finally. I can't think of a better way to start the day. Good morning. You're about to call in sick.

(LAUGHTER)

RATH: He's about to hit the road with a new tour, and "The Jim Gaffigan Show" premiered on TVLand on Wednesday. In the cutthroat world of comedy, Gaffigan has made it. He's living out his childhood dream.

GAFFIGAN: I always had a romantic notion of being in the entertainment industry, but I grew up in a small town in Indiana where there was no one that had a cousin in the entertainment industry. The closest thing to the entertainment industry where I grew up was the marching band. I think it was a very successful march band, to be fair to them.

RATH: Even after he moved to New York City, Gaffigan was a long way from his big break. He was stuck in a cubicle as an account manager.

GAFFIGAN: I was working in advertising while I was developing stand-up, essentially bombing. And I would work nine to five, do an acting class from seven to 10 and then to stand-up till, like, one in the morning. And then I would wake up and do it again.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Hey.

GAFFIGAN: Sometimes I would show up late to work, but luckily, advertising still had that kind of like - oh, eccentric Jim, sleeping in his - at his desk. I was essentially just exhausted. They had to wake me up to fire me. The boss had to shake me. She probably was at my door and said, Jim, Jim, and I didn't wake up. And then she had to shake me and woke me up. And she was like, I'm going to have to lay you off, but I had saved up. And I made a point of wanting to develop in New York City.

(SOUNDBITE OF COMEDY SHOW)

GAFFIGAN: The only advantage of wearing glasses you can do that dramatic removal. You ever see that? My God.

(LAUGHTER)

GAFFIGAN: I can't see a thing.

(LAUGHTER)

GAFFIGAN: I'm absolutely blind without these.

(LAUGHTER)

GAFFIGAN: I think I had been doing standup for seven or eight years, and I was not really getting much success or traction. And I would audition for things, and the person that I would be auditioning for would literally leave the room. Just a lot of bad luck.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GAFFIGAN: Watching David Letterman kind of inspired me to be a comedian and to leave Indiana. My big break was, you know, appearing on "Letterman." It was a big deal, and the weird thing is because Letterman thought I was good, everyone changed their mind. It changed the narrative surrounding me completely, so people that I had met with two months earlier were like yeah, yeah. It's just a strange transformation. Someone essentially turns on a light switch, and it just changes.

RATH: Catch Jim Gaffigan on TVLand's "The Jim Gaffigan Show." You don't have to fall asleep in your cubicle to have a big break. Send us your story - mybigbreak@npr.org.

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