The comedian and star of the new film Chappaquiddick shares how his family is recovering after Jeannie Gaffigan's life-changing health scare.
Posted in , Apr 4, 2018
Comedian Jim Gaffigan knows the difference a year can make.
Last April, the Hotel Transylvania 3 actor and his wife and writing partner Jeannie Gaffigan, were facing a defining moment in their lives. Jeannie was diagnosed with a brain tumor. After months of fatigue, headaches, and troubling hearing loss, she went to a doctor, only to discover a mass about the size of an apple was wrapped around her brain stem.
It could’ve killed her. A few more weeks left untreated and it just might have.
Instead, Jeannie underwent a nine-hour surgery to remove the benign tumor and spent the rest of 2017 recovering from the traumatizing ordeal. Gaffigan, who was in the middle of promoting his latest Netflix special, Cinco, had to switch gears from doing press junkets and comedy tours to being a full-time caregiver to Jeannie and taking on all responsibilities for their five children.
But a year later, with Jeannie on the mend, a new film, You Can Choose Your Family, premiering at the South by Southwest film festival, and a role in Chappaquiddick, a dramatic retelling of a tragic death that became a Kennedy family scandal, Gaffigan’s found something to be thankful for after his family’s brush with a frightening health ordeal.
“I think that going through that really kind of made me appreciate the time we have here and now,” Gaffigan tells Guideposts.org.
It also made him appreciate his gift for making others laugh.
Throughout Jeannie's recovery, Gaffigan would regularly share humor-filled updates on social media of his wife’s condition. The couple even created a YouTube show that made light of the fact that Jeannie had to eat through a feeding tube for some time while healing from surgery.
“Any comedian would tell you that you can make anything funny, but there’s something about the fact that we kind of dealt with this with humor that is definitely therapeutic,” Gaffigan says. “It's like anything, when you can kind of take some aspect of control of the situation, it's empowering.”
All jokes aside, Gaffigan said the situation forced him to answer some difficult questions, like what life might look like without his partner in life and comedy.
“At one point I was like, ‘Oh, am I going to even be able to [function] anymore without her?” Gaffigan says. “It just made me have a new appreciation for this miracle healing we’ve experienced.”
While his family adjusts to their new normal – Jeannie is still undergoing speech therapy and physical therapy following her surgery -- Gaffigan has been testing the waters when it comes to his career, starring in just the third dramatic film of his 20-year career. The stand-up comic is taking on the role of real-life political figure Paul Markham, an American attorney who served as the United States Attorney for the District of Massachusetts and who was heavily involved in the events portrayed in Chappaquiddick, a story that examines what happened the night Senator Ted Kennedy drove off a bridge, leading to the accidental death of campaign strategist Mary Jo Kopechne.
“I think my character is kind of presented as a cautionary tale about how you’ve got to be careful about the group you finally get in, that you aspire to be involved in,” Gaffigan says of his role in the film.
Politics might be the central issue of his new film, but Gaffigan has steered clear of that topic in his comedy sets.
The actor usually doesn’t address what’s happening in the news, instead choosing to focus his comedy on the funny mishaps of his professional and personal life. At one point, he was afraid that couch potato jokes and parenting mistakes just might not be funny anymore, especially as other comedians regularly tackle more serious issues.
But the past year has taught him his personal brand of funny might be exactly the thing we all need.
“In this day and age, it's like laughing provides a reprieve from the politics,” Gaffigan says. “There was a time where I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I don't know. Is being lazy and stuff like that, is that going to resonate?’ But it's almost more needed now because we need a break from the onslaught.”