Jim Gaffigan on weird foods, his surprising diet, plus why he makes fun of Hot Pockets - Exclusive interview

You probably know Jim Gaffigan as the "Hot Pockets guy." Or maybe you know him as the dad-joke-cracking married father of five kids, who somehow can make saying grace and eating pizza with a bunch of relatively well-behaved teenagers in his YouTube series, "Dinner with the Gaffigans," a guffaw-inducing, tears-running-down-your-cheeks experience. Or maybe you just think of him as that self-deprecating and perpetually hungry comedian who's nailed our national obsession with all-you-can-eat buffets. You're about to get familiar with a new version of Jim Gaffigan, though. Meet the "Pale Tourist," in which Jim visits two strangely incongruous countries, Canada and Spain, so he can crack us up about their foods and cultures, while getting in some digs at the U.S.A. along the way. This new stand-up series, Jim Gaffigan: The Pale Tourist, is streaming now on Amazon Prime.

In an exclusive interview with Mashed, Gaffigan talked about what he eats, reflected on his experiences with foods ranging from clam juice to a Spanish delicacy called "tiger nuts" while filming The Pale Tourist – and revealed how he really feels about Hot Pockets.

Why Jim Gaffigan launched his Pale Tourist Amazon series in Canada and Spain

Your Pale Tourist series launched with live shows in Canada and Spain. Why did you choose those two particular countries?

The initial idea for doing a special on a certain geographic area started in Asia. I'd shot this special, Quality Time, and I had this tour in Asia, and my family, my kids had spring break. So I went over there, I did shows before my family arrived, and then did shows after they left. And I realized that I'd come up with 20 minutes of material just on Asia. So I was like, "I'll record it."

And then, it wasn't super high quality, but that prompted me to [think], "Alright, where else can I do this throughout the world?" And so Canada seemed like an obvious one, and Spain. Some of it's the challenge, and I was going to do Mexico, or Latin America, but the pandemic hit.

Which country do you think had more delicious food? Canada or Spain?

Well, I think Spain, beyond a doubt, you know? I mean, I love Canada, but Canada has much more of British roots than... And the Spaniards, there's just the Mediterranean right there. So, the food's amazing.

Of all the things that you ate for your Pale Tourist tour — you mentioned Caesar clam juice cocktail, poutine, donair, tiger nuts — which was the delicacy you enjoyed the most?

Well, poutine is pretty amazing, and donair is amazing, but in Spain, the jamón is amazing. It's just ham, but it's different from ours, you know? And just as bacon is different in different countries. But I would say, yeah, the Spanish food, there's something about, even like gazpacho, or some vegetable stuff in Spain is just amazing. And the tapas are really amazing. It's just like having appetizers, right?

Do you think American tourists would have trouble adapting to foods in these countries?

Well, I think there's different cultural experiences in different countries. Yeah so, I mean, by the way, are we ever going to be able to travel again like that? Hopefully. But yeah, I think that Spain's also the cultural experience of ordering, and paella itself is a dish that takes a while to cook. But I think that in America, you wait for a deep dish pizza in Chicago, it takes forever, too. So I think where there's alcohol, there's patience.

Did you actually eat all of the things that you talk about in your comedy routines, or do you just ever Google it to see what it tastes like?

I pretty much try everything.

You ate the tiger testicles? The "tiger balls" you mentioned in Spain?

The thing is, it's actually not actual tiger. It's a nut that looks supposedly like that. But yeah... And it is really [good]. I [even] enjoyed a glass of milk, I guess, but that drink that I drink in Valencia, which is not nondairy, was far more refreshing than a glass of milk [here].

Have you added any foods you discovered while traveling to your everyday diet here in the U.S.?

Oh yeah, no. No, there's nothing. I mean, we've got five kids. There's no particular luxury that I've adapted to. And the jamón is like there's just only so much, I ate so much jamón in Spain, that I needed a break from it anyway.

The weird foods Jim Gaffigan will and won't eat for his comedy routines

What was the weirdest food you've ever had to eat to research for one of your routines?

Wow. Well, when I was in Iceland, they have some pretty crazy stuff in Iceland. Like there was a sheep's head, where they get it from a grocery store, and it's half of a sheep, their face, and you... eat the face.

But kielbasa is its head, too, but that was pretty weird. But there's also shark that is in Iceland, that is fermented in urine. And I couldn't even try it because it smelled so bad.

Did you eat the sheep's head?

I did eat the sheep head, and it wasn't bad.

Did it taste like steak?

Chicken. Chicken, or pork. It didn't even taste like lamb.

Jim Gaffigan's everyday diet will surprise you

What do you eat in a typical day? What's your usual breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks?

Well, I mean, now it's changed. I'm trying to not eat bread or sugar.

What?!

I know. So it's rather depressing, but I would say I cheat, you know what I mean? So I typically, we do this meal every night, "Dinner with the Gaffigans," where it's streamed live on YouTube. And so I usually reward myself there with something I enjoy. So whether it be bratwurst, or a hamburger, I'll have a bun, you know what I mean?

But the sugar is easy, except for... so I'm eating a lot of fruit. A friend of mine made pickles, you know? Pickled things. I've been growing things. This is my zucchini phone, where I talk to people on the phone. [Holds up artificial zucchini.] I love zucchini. It's a zucchini phone from the '80s. So... yeah. So it's not that exciting. There's not the treats that I normally have. I don't know what the "keto" diet is, but I'm kind of doing that, maybe.

So no Twinkies, and sardines, or anything like that?

No. It is how I'm supporting my computer, is... Here, I'll show you this. [Holds jumbo-sized box of snacks.] So this Twinkies and Ding Dong box is what I'm supporting my computer on, because, to make it eye level, I guess? I don't know.

Do you have a favorite junk food?

Oh, gosh. Yeah. Well, it varies. I still love a burger, but junk food, I mean, I love chips. I wish I could eat chips. I'm trying to not eat chips. But a real guilty pleasure, I love ice cream, but I would say... But I also, I've got kids, so there's candy. I went through my 20s and there was no candy around. And then I had kids, and there's suddenly candy bars. So I love a candy bar, and then there's that fake candy bars. There's these KIND bars, which are supposedly healthy, but they're just sugar.

Do you have any foods from your childhood that you miss?

Well, it's interesting because on the Mike and Pat Show, I talked about the YouTube show — it is exposing my kids to all these things I ate as a kid. So the liverwurst was something my wife would eat as a kid. But bologna. Bologna, I have a strange attachment to bologna. Spaghetti-Os, you know? Yeah. I would say bologna... feels like childhood.

Do you eat sushi?

I do. But it's the salmon roe and stuff like that. I've tried it, but I can't get on there. You know what I mean?

Are there foods you're squeamish about eating?

Yeah. I'm very... I'm kind of wimpy.

Jim Gaffigan has a lot of opinions on American food

Were there any American foods you really missed while you were abroad?

I would say, when we were in Asia, I did miss a burger, you know? I was gone for three weeks. And by the way, things taste differently in different countries. Like a cheeseburger, even at the nice restaurant in London, doesn't taste right. Pizza in Italy's amazing, but pizza, or a burger... Like in Canada, they can't serve hamburgers anything below, I think, well done. It's like a health thing. So all the burgers are well done. So even if you go to a fancy restaurant, it has to be a well done burger, so.

With The Pale Tourist series, you've brought an American perspective to foreign foods. If you were to look at American food from an outside perspective, what do you think is one of our stranger food customs that we have?

Yeah. No, that's, what's so great about these international shows, it really holds up a mirror to what we eat. I think there is a certain denial about hot dogs, that is pretty ridiculous. But if you have kids, it's like... Even ribs are just incredibly barbaric. But I don't know, there's a lot of stuff that I don't partake in, that some people love. Like liverwurst is disgusting, in my thought, but my kids love it.

Jim Gaffigan's kids are adventurous eaters

Do you think your tastes in food have changed since you've been a parent?

I think, yeah, maybe a little bit. I definitely pretend to be more interested in vegetables than I would have otherwise. But I also would say that the weird thing is, is sometimes, I used to eat seafood occasionally. I would eat shrimp, and crab, and lobster. And then I did all this material on seafood being bugs from the ocean. And it affected me where, I mean, I think about shrimp as cockroaches, I think about lobster as these sea monsters. And so, it backfired in a way.

So, did your kids eat all of these delicacies with you, when they were traveling with you?

Well, in Asia, they were with me in Asia, but they weren't with me... They were supposed to meet me in Latin America. And that was canceled. So they would have... I was excited, because in Peru they eat guinea pigs. I know it sounds gross, but supposedly it's amazing. And so they're usually semi adventurous, but not crazy adventurous.

Yeah. No. My youngest, the way we do breakfast is we always have our kids eat fruit before they have carbs or anything like that. And my youngest, Patrick, he only likes an apple if it's not cut. So he doesn't like watermelon. But he's also just kind of being stubborn.

Jim Gaffigan reveals how he really feels about Hot Pockets

Do you eat Hot Pockets now?

I don't. And the weird thing about Hot Pockets is I never said anything positive about it, but people assume I love them. And I would say there's also, it's made more complicated by the fact that people yell "Hot Pockets" to me in airports and grocery stores. But it's weird, I have this YouTube channel, and I'm posting a video every day on my YouTube channel. And one of the series of videos is having my younger kids try things that I ate, like a Hot Pocket. So they tried it, and they loved it. Which is kind of ironic. But so, yeah, that's weird.

What inspired your Hot Pockets routine?

Well, the Hot Pocket thing was, I mean, this is going back 15 years ago... it was really that the commercial was so bad. It showed this mom giving their kids Hot Pockets, and the song, and the jingle was so silly. It was just this rip off of an empanada, or a Jamaican meat pie. It just seemed like a clumsy name. It just seemed really silly. And so that's where... It just stuck with me. I thought the commercial felt like an SNL sketch. So I did it as a joke, I developed a couple of jokes on it, not realizing that it would be as big as it got. It was just more about the commercial. I hadn't really eaten one, because at the time I lived in New York City. I understand Hot Pockets are very convenient for a quick meal, or a teenager, or college student. But when you're in New York City, you can just walk into a pizza parlor, and get a slice, right?

So I ended up trying it on the first special. I had tried it before, just spending time in hotel rooms, but I had a barbecue beef one, that was horrendous, when I taped the Beyond The Pale special.

Did the Hot Pockets company ever reach out to you?

Oh, yeah. There was talk of me being in a commercial, but I didn't want to do it. If I died right now, I'd still be, I'd be known as the hot pocket guy. It's like, I don't want to just be known for that.

Watch Jim Gaffigan: The Pale Tourist on Amazon Prime, streaming now.