Actor and comedian Jim Gaffigan pauses in mid-sentence to chew.
He's chomping down on chili while talking about Hot Pockets - the subject of one of his most famous bits. More than five years after he first started riffing on the ridiculousness of the microwavable convenience food, Gaffigan still does the joke live. Hot Pockets will definitely be a part of his Lyric Opera House show tomorrow.
"Sometimes you work on a joke, and it's kind of done," Gaffigan said. "The Hot Pocket phenomenon is just expanding in a never-ending fashion."
So is Gaffigan's fascination with food in general. He devoted his entire album The Last Supper to it. Food has been a part of every CD since, including his most recent one, Beyond the Pale, which came out in February. It's a subject everyone can relate to that other comedians rarely touch on, he said.
"I find myself eating usually three to four times a day," Gaffigan deadpanned.
"I think as a comedian it's hard to find topics that have not been beaten to death and also have a universal appeal. I am somebody who's passionate about food."
Gaffigan is also enthusiastic about writing new material - more so than performing. His standup routine is fairly straightforward, with the occasional weird face, but rarely much more. He does love using funny voices ("There's a lot of voices in my head"), but that's usually it.
Ideally, Gaffigan wants his jokes to hold up by themselves, without any crazy costumes or flailing physical humor.
"When I started, I would watch different comedians who would gain the audience's favor purely with their personality," he said. "I'd like the joke to stand on its own - to be undeniable, if you will."
Gaffigan also shies away from using curse words in his routine. Though they are a part of his daily life, they rarely, if ever, make it into his standup show. He understands why other comedians curse, but for his own humor, sees curse words as a copout.
"For my style, it just really feels like cheating," Gaffigan said. "Lewis Black without cursing? It probably wouldn't make sense. His character and his point of view is built around him being around the edge of losing it. Mine is much more the lethargic, lazy guy."
When Gaffigan moved to New York about 15 years ago and started pursuing standup, he became the family black sheep. His conservative siblings and parents were not dismayed with his decision - just surprised, he said.
"There was no one in my family that did anything close to the entertainment field," Gaffigan said. "I could have announced that I was going to be a writer for The Baltimore Sun and gotten the same response."
Success and mainstream recognition came slowly. Gaffigan took on acting roles in indie films and soda commercials. You may remember him as the airport security guard who, along with Kathy Griffin, robs Michael Ian Black of his Sierra Mist. He had a cameo in the cult hit Super Troopers, as the victim of a meowing prankster police officer.
Even now, after more than a decade in the entertainment business, Gaffigan isn't a household name. But in airports - the ultimate fame test - people do approach him from time to time.
"They either say, 'You're the meow guy,' or, 'You're the Sierra Mist guy,' or, 'You're Hot Pocket.' Sometimes people just say 'Hot Pocket' to me. I never know how to respond. 'Thank you.'"
So which would he rather be remembered for?
"I hope they don't put on my tombstone 'Hot Pocket' or 'meow,' " he said. "They don't do that stuff on tombstones anyway, do they? If they were going to do something, hopefully they will do 'versatile comedian/actor.' But who knows?"
Jim Gaffigan performs at the Lyric Opera House at 8 p.m. tomorrow. Tickets are $34.75. The venue is at 140 W. Mount Royal Ave. For more information, call 410-547-SEAT or go to ticketmaster.com.