Stand-up comedian Jim Gaffigan has landed what might be the most daunting gig of his life: performing in front of Pope Francis and an expected 1.5 million people at the Festival for Families in Philadelphia on 26 September.
Gaffigan, a practising Catholic and father of five with his wife and co-writer Jeannie, is perhaps at the height of his powers, with a successful sitcom and numerous comedy specials and acting credits to his name.
His mainstream success is made all the more exceptional by his clean-but-still-funny style, particularly among peers who make light of such grave subjects as rape and paedophilia.
Writing a humorous piece for CBS News on his upcoming papal gig, Gaffigan said it wasn’t so much the 1.5 million people but the presence of the pope which made the gig so intimidating.
“Now, pope is a tough job. We know pope is a tough job because the last pope quit. ‘I’m done. I’m out of here.’ And everyone in the Vatican was like, ‘Uh, you’re supposed to speak for God until you die.” And the pope was like, “Uh, God told me to quit. And to eat more cheese’,” Gaffigan mused.
“Most of us don’t even have pope as a career goal. I wonder if, when Pope Francis was growing up, if he fantasised about being pope. You know how we might about being a professional athlete? Was he eight years old in his backyard – ‘There he is, the leader of all the Catholics. [Crowd noises] What a pope! What pope!’
“It would be great if you had a kid that ended up being pope. That would be the ultimate bragging rights! ‘Oh you’re son’s a doctor? Ours is pope. Oh, yours has a nice house. Our son has his own city. It’s in Europe.’
“It would have been weird to go to high school with the pope. Somebody did! Somebody was sitting at home in Argentina watching TV: ‘Wait a minute – THAT GUY is pope?’
Gaffigan is clearly a fan of the pope’s simple way of living and his down-home humility:
“Pope Francis washed the feet of strangers. It doesn’t get any more humble than that. By the way, if you are going to wash a stranger’s feet, ask permission first. And remove their shoes. I learned that the hard way.
“Pope Francis also calls people on the telephone. I don’t know why you would believe it’s the pope: ‘Hello? It’s the pope.’
“‘Oh, can you hold? I have Spider-Man on the other line’.”