Jim Gaffigan on "Once in a Lifetime" Madison Square Garden Show, Challenges of Opening for the Pope

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The comedian talked to THR about how his 25 years of doing stand-up in New York have led to his headlining gig at "the world's most famous arena."

Only a handful of comedians have headlined shows at Madison Square Garden, including Chris Rock, Andrew Dice Clay, Kevin Hart, Aziz Ansari and Louis C.K. On Saturday, Jim Gaffigan will join this elite group, performing his "Yeti in the City" show at the world-famous arena.

Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter ahead of his big show, Gaffigan says he never really thought he'd be headlining MSG and doesn't envision doing arena tours, but he's planned a few "special things" for what he sees as a one-time landmark gig.

"Madison Square Garden for a New York comic has kind of become a threshold or the brass ring," says the comic. "It used to be just doing stand-up on The Late Show With David Letterman was the thing that let you know you'd made it, and we all know Carnegie Hall and Radio City are amazing, but performing at the same venue that Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel and the Knicks play, it's an absurd task."

Teasing what audiences can expect, Gaffigan says he'll do some New York-centric material that plays best inside the five boroughs and there will be a "special guest, in that it's special if you know my comedy."

Gaffigan has been nominated for two Grammys, written two best-selling books and stars in, writes and serves as an executive producer of his own show on TV Land. The Catholic comic also is no stranger to high-profile shows, performing at Philadelphia's Festival of Families ahead of Pope Francis during the pontiff's U.S. tour in September. But, as he tells THR, his MSG show should have a more receptive audience.

THR talked to Gaffigan about the significance of and what to expect from his MSG gig, the experience of opening for the pope and what's next.

What does it mean to you to be headlining a show at Madison Square Garden?

It means a lot. I've lived in New York for 25 years, and I started stand-up comedy here. I mean, stand-up comedy has changed so much over those 25 years, but Madison Square Garden for a New York comic has kind of become a threshold or the brass ring. It used to be just doing stand-up on The Late Show With David Letterman was the thing that let you know you'd made it, and we all know Carnegie Hall and Radio City are amazing, but performing at the same venue that Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel and the Knicks play, it's an absurd task. And it was never really something that entered my mind, but living in New York and picking venues to perform in in New York, I hadn't done it in a couple years, and Madison Square Garden was one of those things where not many people have done it, not many people have sold it out, so it became this mini-goal. I don't see myself doing arenas, but if I'm going to do [an arena show] anywhere, it would be at Madison Square Garden.

How will your set on Saturday night be different from your other shows?

It's kind of a once-in-a-lifetime thing; you know, I'm not going to be doing a residency there. The thing that's unique about New York comedians is that you end up developing tons of material that essentially only works in the five boroughs, so similar to an L.A. comic, you develop material just about L.A. that you would never do even in San Diego. Over the course of 25 years, there's unique material that you might do at a New York comedy club that you wouldn't do anywhere else in the country. The thing is you do have an outlet for this material and these point of views, having lived here for 25 years. And there is an expectation — I mean we do have some special things planned. Given that I'm only doing this once, we're kind of orchestrating this where it's a special event.

What was the experience like of essentially opening for Pope Francis at the Festival of Families in Philadelphia?

That was amazing. That was an incredibly unique situation in that I essentially opened for the popemobile and there were over a million people on the parkway, but it was much more that I was a cog in this huge celebration. There's certain things that as a stand-up comedian, like opening for a band, not that I'm comparing the pope to a band, but there are certain no-win situations. So opening for the pope, I didn't have an expectation of like, 'Yeah, I'm gonna kill and the pope's gonna have a hard time following me.' I knew what I was there for. I was there to entertain people who'd been sitting outside on the Ben Franklin Parkway for two hours waiting for the pope to come. It was an incredible task. I wish I could draw a comparison. Everyone at Madison Square Garden is going to see me perform stand-up. Most likely all of them know my comedic point of view, my style and my sensibility. … It was an amazing memory and a really difficult task. Opening for the pope in Philadelphia was kind of like wrestling a giant. You know you're not going to win, but it's an opportunity to wrestle a giant.

Now that you're headlining Madison Square Garden, are there other venues or things on your comedy goals list?

This is probably the biggest venue where I would want to go. I would say I would love to perform more worldwide with my kids. We tour every summer, and I would love to do that through Europe or India. I would love to do stand-up shows, and then have my kids kind of experience traveling. … I never had Madison Square Garden as a goal. I never had an expectation that I would be a comedian that would do theaters and be able to afford to live in Manhattan. … Did you think people who were comedians that weren't named Jerry Seinfeld would be performing at Madison Square Garden? I don't think a lot of people did.

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