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A Glutton for Punishment

Who better to grace our year-opening double issue than a down-to-earth, junk-food-loving Bowery denizen (he lives, not rehabs, there) who considers these two frosty months just a long lead-up to a St. Patrick’s Day bender? Meet comedian, actor (Portlandia, the soon-to-be-released films Walter and The Nobodies), writer (Dad Is Fat) and father of five Jim Gaffigan, the funniest grouch we know.

Jim Gaffigan

January is a time of renewal. We have this expectation that we’ll all be very well-behaved. We’re going to live healthier; we have all these plans—read a book a week, do all these things. We have the best intentions. It’s like Martin Luther King Jr. Day: “All right, this is how we behave on a holiday—we honor this great man.”

Then February comes, and the slow slide really begins.

It starts with Super Bowl Sunday. All those horrible eating habits we had in December (which really started around Halloween) but we took a month off from in January? They’re back. On Super Bowl Sunday, it’s like, “We’ve got to have a party in here somewhere; we went a month without!”

Of all the “holidays,” Super Bowl Sunday is the one with the best food. There’s no real meal, just buffalo wings and guacamole. (I’m sort of a white-trash, junk-food kind of guy in my tastes. I like comfort food; I don’t like “interesting” meals. In our house, our meals are very health-focused for the kids—green veggies, maybe a pasta made out of bark or something—so I call dinner my “early meal,” then have my “comfort meal” later.) Super Bowl Sunday is like Thanksgiving—but organized by a fraternity house. There’s no formality, it’s just watching the game, judging commercials... and eating.

Then there’s Valentine’s Day, and more trouble.

Valentine’s Day is a romantic notion no one can live up to. It’s awkward for people who are single, but it’s awkward and icky for people who are in a solid relationship.

The lesson is, no matter how cynical you are, you still have to play along. Otherwise it’s like going to a Halloween party and being the one person who doesn’t dress up: You look like a sourpuss. There’s an obligation built in. If you don’t acknowledge Valentine’s Day, your boyfriend, husband, girlfriend is going to be suspicious: “Oh, we’re not participating?”

So you have to go out to dinner, or do something like that to celebrate. And if you don’t, somehow you’re not taking your relationship seriously. It’s a lot of pressure. We all know it’s silly, but if you don’t acknowledge this is the person you love on Valentine’s Day, you’re asking for trouble. My wife doesn’t buy into any of this—but would she be offended if I didn’t do it? I don’t know.

And other Valentine’s Day stuff is just weird.

There are those big, heart-shaped boxes full of what I call “gamble chocolates.” No one’s ever eaten one of those chocolates with any confidence: “Oh, I got the one filled with toothpaste!” And those heart-shaped chalk antacids we give one another: It’s more or less, “Here, I know I make you nauseous, let me give you this Tums that says ‘I love you’ on it.” (When I was kid you got a card in a shoe box; now it’s a bag of candy. It’s a never-ending source of candy coming into your house—you never have to buy it. So again, you’re going to eat.)

Then there’s the Bear-Gram—what woman over the age of 8 would want a teddy bear? But there’s a market for it. And Pajamagrams—we see the commercials for that and they’re just creepy.

And if you have kids? Explaining Valentine’s Day to a 6-year-old is just too confusing. The message is inconsistent with the actions. You cover up their eyes when people are kissing on TV so it’s not awkward, but tell them to send cards to strangers they don’t even like. Kind of like, “Your mom is my Valentine, but for you, everyone’s your Valentine.”

(I used to imagine that St. Valentine was the patron saint of greeting cards, because what Valentine’s Day is about now has nothing to do with its actual history [And I used to know what that is....]. It’s like, in 50 or 100 years, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, people are going to go, “Yeah, you know what we do on Martin Luther King Jr. Day? We go snowboarding!”)

Finally, there’s Presidents Day, with the white sales. We tell ourselves, “This is an important holiday, honoring our presidents, and I am not going to buy any of those sheets. But there’s that sale on at Macy’s....” It confuses people.

In the end, my theory is this: February is so emotionally taxing that by March, and St. Patrick’s Day, people just need to get drunk.