Jim Gaffigan Reveals Why He Did the $5 Download and the Risks That Came With It (Q&A)
The comedian talks to THR about other options he was entertaining for the release of “Jim Gaffigan: Mr. Universe,” expectations and the biggest risk.
Comedian (and sometimes actor) Jim Gaffigan joins the likes of Louis C.K. and Aziz Ansari in self-releasing his comedy special Jim Gaffigan: Mr. Universe online for $5.
“I wasn’t initially going to do the download thing. I ended up looking at other options and I felt as though the alternatives I was presented [with] by corporations were not that appealing,” Gaffigan told The Hollywood Reporter. “In some ways I was forced to do this.”
The 75-minute stand-up special, which was taped Feb. 25 in Washington D.C., is available on Gaffigan’s official website, with $1 of each purchase donated to charity. To promote Mr. Universe’s release on Wednesday, Gaffigan made an “infomercial,” poking fun at the difficulties one has opening a DVD.
“Louis showed that if you kept it inexpensive and easy to buy, then it can work out,” Gaffigan said, referencing his colleague’s successful turn in the $5 experiment. (On Thursday morning, Gaffigan jokingly addressed those who didn’t purchase Mr. Universe: “To everyone who didn’t, may your printer always be out of paper.”)
Though he remains modest about expectations, Gaffigan – who self-financed the entire thing – reiterates that this is a gamble.
“I’m not producing an indie film, but it is an enormous amount of money and there could be some embarrassment,” he said.
In a chat with THR, Gaffigan, who has nearly one million Twitter followers, revealed why he chose to go this route, what his expectations are and the biggest challenge.
The Hollywood Reporter: It seems like the right time to do this, wouldn’t you say?
Jim Gaffigan: That’s what I’m hoping.
THR: Why was this the right time for you to self-release?
Gaffigan: Ironically, being a clean comedian, I was very surprised that I encountered some censorship because I talk about bran. I know the networks have to sell advertising space, but it was a surprise that I had to deal with censorship and made me look outside the box. I wasn’t initially going to do the download thing. I ended up looking at other options and I felt as though the alternatives I was presented [with] by corporations were not that appealing. In some ways I was forced to do this. They didn’t see this as an opportunity that I saw it as, that Louis and Aziz saw it as. Once Louis did his, I was looking at maybe doing a lot of different ideas, whether it be Netflix or having people watch an ad on the website before they have to watch. Louis showed that if you kept it inexpensive and easy to buy, then it can work out. We’ll see.
THR: It also comes down to the content. If it’s good, people are going to buy it.
Gaffigan: I’m a substance guy. People that are coming to my shows or like my comedy, they like my stand-up. I’m not on a TV show or a critics’ darling. I haven’t been on television for three years, or something like that. (His last series role was TBS comedy My Boys, canceled in 2009.) It is a bit of a gamble. Aziz is on a very popular show (NBC’s Parks and Recreation) and Louis is undoubtedly the top comedian of the day.
THR: Do you see the $5 download as becoming some sort of standard, if it hasn’t become one already?
Gaffigan: I don’t know. I guess we’ll really have to see. I’m fortunate enough that I sell tickets to my theater shows – that’s what made this appealing – but I hope so. I imagine that it’ll be but I don’t know.
If you look to the past, George Carlin released all these CDs, then he did the HBO specials. Then the DVD explosion with Dave Chappelle, it’s a national progression that the download thing will happen. I think there are some rules with the Internet that are unwritten: “Don’t be a greedy bastard.” And also, have clarity of your motives.
THR: What was the biggest challenge for you in getting this to happen?
Gaffigan: The biggest challenge was that it’s a risky undertaking, harvesting the crops. I’m lucky enough that I have a healthy touring business so even if this fails, it’s not the end of the world. I’m not producing an indie film, but it is an enormous amount of money and there could be some embarrassment. But I go on stage and make strangers laugh so I kind of like the thrill of some of the risk. I guess the risk is the awareness that it’s available for download. There are some people who know who I am but there are a lot of people that have no idea who I am -- which is not to say that that’s a bad thing.
THR: Do you have expectations or is it just, we’ll see what happens?
Gaffigan: There’s part of me that wants to wait a week and not find out [how it’s doing]. Whether is works or doesn’t work, it’s not going to affect whether I [succeed or not], but I’m hopeful that I can break even. Friends of mine that have millions of followers [on Twitter] can’t sell tickets to theater shows or comedy clubs so it doesn’t translate. I’m kind of relying on the goodwill of my Twitter and Facebook friends, you know?
THR: Sometimes that pays off if there are loyal fans.
Gaffigan: I’m sure you’re on Twitter and you might do a tweet and think, “This one’s gonna be huge!” and nothing! It’s important to go into this humbly.
Watch a preview of Jim Gaffigan: Mr. Universe:
Watch an “infomercial”: