It would probably be a totally buried, obscure footnote if his comedic peers like Marc Maron, Kristen Schaal or Todd Barry were products of the same career path. But there's Jim Gaffigan, posting his early to mid-1990s credentials as an Ogilvy & Mather copywriter on LinkedIn.
Seriously, how many entertainers who have been on TV, like, a thousand times have a LinkedIn account? Though it seems to fit perfectly with the Indiana-bred redhead's clean, regular-guy brand of comedy that can be traced back to his advertising days.
"I used to write a [New York Times] print ad every Friday for American Express," Gaffigan said. "It was, you know, humor-motivated…. And then they woke me up to fire me, because I was doing stand-up at night, and I was so tired [laughs]. No, I learned a lot from working in advertising, about word economy and trying to get to the heart of the matter. I think it definitely informed my stand-up."
Unless you are a stranger to his Hot Pockets bit, you know he's serious. And in the last decade or so, everything has come full circle for the 48-year-old funnyman.
Gaffigan has starred in some 200 TV ads for the likes of Saturn, ESPN, Sierra Mist and Rolling Rock. His latest commercials are for Holiday Inn Express, where his pair of two-minute videos have racked up close to a million YouTube views in the "Stay Smart" campaign. (One spot can be seen below.) The campaign—a collaboration between Funny or Die and WPP agencies Ogilvy, Possible, Hill+Knowlton and Mindshare—has extended to BuzzFeed, Spotify, Wired and Pandora. Additionally, Gaffigan took over Holiday Inn Express' Twitter handle on Sept. 14 while appearing at the Funny or Die-backed Oddball Comedy Festival. Here's Gaffigan's take on the campaign and advertising in general.
Are the longer-form videos for digital harder or easier to do than 15- or 30-second TV spots?
I think it’s probably easier the more time you’ve got. There isn’t this expectation of, "We’ve gotta turn this around and get this right pretty quick." So there's a lot [of time] to improvise. And in the case of Holiday Inn Express, it was a man-on-the-street thing. Therefore, it could have gone a lot of different ways, and I think because it was long form we could get a lot of different pieces in there.
In other words, it is more like your regular work when compared to a spot.
Oh yes, very much so. And you know, I used to write commercials, and I’ve appeared in a lot of commercials. Usually you kind of watch the 15, and you go, "I wonder what the 30 is?"
What made Holiday Inn Express a good fit for you?
The thing that really thrilled me was that the campaign—[in terms of] the brand approach—was using humor. And you know, it’s either a funny or amusing commercial, or it's not. And I think that there's some brands that do funny well, and Holiday Inn Express is one of them.
Like other comedians, you are active on Twitter. Would you ever sign off on writing one-off tweets for brands?
I've been offered money to tweet, and it's funny because, you know, the Holiday Inn Express people kind of got it. They're like, "All right, so, you're gonna do a Twitter takeover of our page when you're at the Oddball comedy festival." And I'm like, "Fine. You know, I don't have any problem doing that." But some brands are so not Internet-savvy. They're like, "We'd like 500 tweets." And you're like, "I could never do 500 tweets."
OK, you have a new book out later this month, Food: A Love Story. Outside of promoting it here and there and pushing your upcoming shows, how else do you use Twitter?
I try and use it as a notebook, you know, if I come up with an idea. I think there’s a savviness among social media users that, you know, as long as you’re not discussing, like, horrible famine, it’s OK. And you can quote me on that.
— Holiday Inn Express (@HIExpress) Sept. 15, 2014