Jim Gaffigan: Self-Awareness Is Essential in Comedy — and In Life

Whether you're on stage or just meeting new people, comedian Jim Gaffigan believes that self-awareness is the key to winning over your audience.

Jim Gaffigan:  I think self-awareness is really important. I mean I think it was know thyself. Socrates, right. I think the specific to my experience in life being this pale kid with white blonde hair when the teacher would turn around her eye or his eye would focus on me. So I feel like – and again my victimization complex I feel like I was blamed for things even if I wasn’t participating. But that being said what I’ve learned in the acting world is you’re forced to embrace self-awareness. We all have moments of self-awareness and maybe it’s looking at a photo of how good we looked five years ago versus today. Like oh my gosh, I didn’t realize there’s – but with actors they’re forced to face the reality of who they are and how they come across. So I played football and wrestled in high school. I played football in college but I’m mostly cast as nerdy people. And so now that’s not to say a football player can be nerdy but it’s like there’s this – I remember this realization like why am I being cast as this? That’s just how I come across. And I’ll often meet people and they’ll say I thought – you’re much taller than I thought. Because I think there is – and it’s fascinating in a narcissistic way that people think that I’m shorter than I am.

But think with acting being a character actor which is code for not attractive in the entertainment industry you’re forced to, you know, actors are forced to embrace the idea of auditioning for a certain type so you embrace that. So it’s like the schlubby friend. Okay, I guess I’m a little schlubby if I’m considered for this role. But with standup going on stage this conversation that you have with the audience where you have a microphone and they communicate mostly through laughter and silence. You have to become immediately aware of how you come across. And that communication is I think vital for particularly my type of comedy. So if I didn’t learn that when I would go on stage at this comedy club called Pip’s in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, if I didn’t realize that I was this white bread guy and everyone in the audience was like Italian and Jewish and they looked at me like John Tesh. If I didn’t address that they would think I didn’t have a self-awareness.

So that self-awareness I think disarms the audience that you’re attempting to engage. So like it’s not undifferent from someone talking about the weather and they say or like – so I think self-awareness is really – it’s a great icebreaker. Self-awareness, particularly on appearance and how you might come across, it disarms. It gets rid of barriers of communication. So if you’re underdressed and you bring it up and you’re like I’m sorry, you know, I’m sorry I’m overdressed for this. People can sit back and go all right, this guy does know he’s not dressed properly. And it’s bringing some equality to the relationship you have with somebody.

Being self-aware is one of the more important things a person can be. Knowing one’s physical capability means not doing things that are outside those limits, thereby avoiding danger, injury and undoubtedly some embarrassment. Knowing that a person is allergic to cats, means they can avoid pet dander and keep their health up. We’re self-aware about health, but awareness has broader applications.

It also means being conscious of the different struggles a person can go through internally. Jim Gaffigan, comedian and producer of The Jim Gaffigan Show, was able to self-recognize and understand how other people saw him. Being a pale as snow and heavy round the middle (that's by his own admission - see his brilliant memoir Dad is Fat ), he knew it might be easier to be cast in ‘character roles’ than as the lead. And as a comedian, Gaffigan knows an audience responds to honesty. If he knows how people perceive him, that’s makes for common ground, and from there he can make them laugh.

It all has to do with being self-aware. Exhibit A: when OC actress Mischa Barton very recently posted about police brutality on Instagram, with a photo of herself standing in a bikini on a yacht in beautiful blue waters while drinking a cocktail. Not aware. Painfully unaware.

Exhibit B: Trevor Martin, YouTube personality and CSGO Lotto owner that’s being sued for scamming his viewers. He apologized to the audience he scammed while sitting in his large, fancy home, with a fancy car in the background.

Being self-aware can combat moments like this. Acknowledging the reality and seeing things objectively wards off dislike, and disarms critics, says Gaffigan. When he knows he’s underdressed for a formal evening, he can make a quip about it, showing that he understands what the audience sees, and what they see of him. It lets them know that he too sees reality. From there a comedian can bridge the gap between them and the audience – jokes can fly more smoothly and the audience can start to identify with the comedian. And it’s not just for comedians, a little self-awareness goes a long way for individuals, whether you’re in business, at a social gathering, and to improve the authenticity of your relationships.

Tune in to the The Jim Gaffigan Show.

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