Jim Gaffigan explains where he finds humor

JUDY WOODRUFF: Next, to our Brief But Spectacular series, where interesting people talk about their passions.

Tonight, we hear from actor and comedian Jim Gaffigan. He is the star of "The Jim Gaffigan Show," which airs Sunday nights at 10:00 p.m. on the TV Land. He has become one of the most universally appreciated voices working in comedy today.

Gaffigan speaks to us now about where his observational storytelling began.

QUESTION: What's the most common thing people say to you on the street?

JIM GAFFIGAN, Actor/Comedian: Are you Brad Pitt?

I was raised to seek security. My parents were children during the Depression, and security was wearing a coat and tie. The irony is that my brothers and sisters that are bankers have less job security than me, and I tell diarrhea jokes.

I knew, probably similar to how somebody when they first try heroin — this is PBS, by the way — they know that their life has been changed, and that's how I felt when I was on stage making fun of myself.

Stand-up comedy changed dramatically with the success of Comedy Central and YouTube. When I started, there were people that were comedians, but they were much more of a riffraff of society. Like, the people that really couldn't afford therapy went into stand-up.

I was kind of an oddity, being this suburban, college-educated kid. Now I think the norm is that many comedians are college-educated, suburban kids. Essentially, the diversity of comedy has been ruined.

Any creative person will tell you that you're supposed to write about things that you're passionate or you're embarrassed about. Food is a very passionate and embarrassing thing for me, and it's also universal. I mean, everyone eats. I mean, I just eat a lot more than other people.

I curse in everyday life, but I'm not going to curse in front of a room full of people. That's not how I kind of feel empowered, by shocking people. I feel empowered by telling them about Jesus. No, I feel empowered by making people laugh.

I think a lot of observational humor comes from annoyance. Why should we make our bed? We don't tie our shoes after we take them off. Why are we dragging a tree into our living room in December, like a drunk person?

Human beings are a rather compliant species, so we go along with things that, after some thought, we might realize are kind of silly.

My name is Jim Gaffigan. And this is my Brief But Spectacular take on being a comedian.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And you can find more from our Brief But Spectacular series on our Web site. That's at pbs.org/newshour/brief.

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