Funny Because It’s True


Jim Gaffigan tells jokes for a living and, lucky for him, he’s really good at it. (See the embedded video at the bottom of this post.)

He’s also Catholic and has five kids, which led Michelle Boorstein of the Washington Post to ask, “Is comic Jim Gaffigan the Catholic Church’s newest evangelizer?” (h/t New Advent):

Gaffigan seems to effortlessly embody the idea the Catholic Church and other denominations are desperately promoting: You can be a devout member of mainstream American life. You don’t have to leave God in order to live in the regular world. With many Americans bailing on organized religion, the long-popular Christian maxim to “be in the world but not of it” is being argued a bit less strenuously.

GaffiganWhile Boorstein gets the new evangelization backwards (she seems to think it has something to do with downplaying, rather than emphasizing, the Christian difference), she’s definitely on to something. Gaffigan is endearing. And disarming. And shoot-soda-out-your-nose funny. And in his own way, he’s evangelizing the culture.

For anyone who hasn’t heard of him before, Gaffigan is one of the country’s best known and funniest comics. His standup material is basically PG (a rarity at the top of his profession), and while his Catholic faith isn’t the direct focus of most of his comedy, it colors the background for much of it. His large family, especially, gets noticed. As he recently told an interviewer on NPR (cited by Boorstein):

Well, why not? I guess the reasons against having more children always seemed 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…each one of them has been a pump of light into my shriveled black heart.

Our world is so convinced that accepting God means losing ourselves—and hasn’t that been the Big Lie since the Garden of Eden?—that for all the good of creation we easily forget the Creator. We reject grace in a feeble attempt to possess nature, as though heaven and earth were opposites. Our world has forgotten—or more likely never learned—that all of reality points to the glory of God.

Indirectly, almost indiscernibly, he’s narrowing the perceived gap between the world of nature and the world of grace. In this sense, it’s not a stretch to say that Gaffigan represents a subtle antidote to a particularly distorted, and distorting, dualism which makes a sacramental view of reality impossible.

To be clear: Gaffigan tells jokes because they’re funny, not because they nudge the metaphysical scales back towards sanity. But that’s the whole point. Most people aren’t interested in a lecture on metaphysics (least of all those most in need of hearing it), but they’ll pay money to hear Gaffigan tell jokes. However indirect a role his Catholicism plays in his comedy, it’s undeniably there. His audience picks up on that and absorbs it as if by osmosis. Gaffigan is implicitly making the case for the reasonableness—and, truth be told, beauty—of the Catholic view of family.

Heck, even NPR and the Washington Post have taken notice.

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About Author

Stephen P. White is a fellow in the Catholic Studies program at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. His work focuses on the application of Catholic social teaching to a broad spectrum of contemporary political and cultural issues. Since 2005, Mr. White has been coordinator of the Tertio Millennio Seminar on the Free Society: a three week seminar on Catholic social teaching, with an emphasis on the thought of Blessed John Paul II, which takes place every summer in Kraków, Poland. He studied politics at the University of Dallas and philosophy at the Catholic University of America. He is a graduate of the St. Patrick's Evangelisation School in London, England.

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