By Kate McKinney
Me and Hildy, My new Talisman.
Sometimes, things are really, really crummy and your whole life is falling apart.
I feel that way a lot.
Like, for about 6 years straight. Give or take a few weeks.
This was NOT one of those weeks.
I’ve been saying for a while that this is going to be the best year of my life. I’m turning 35 in May. It’s an age I’ve always felt drawn to. Like it was the year I’d start to find some answers. Feel comfortable in my skin. As it’s drawn near I’ve felt a real pull in myself to be better, and work harder, and BECOME.
Back in November I was contacted by the editor of Evansville Living Magazine. The editor had seen me on Twitter and noted that I was a local freelancer. We met for coffee to discuss possible future articles. I knew comedian Jim Gaffigan was coming to town and I said I’d like to interview him. Now, I had never interviewed anyone REMOTELY famous before. I was really putting myself out there. But my chutzpah paid off! She was game.
Jim Gaffigan had been on my radar for a long time. He’s incredibly famous, of course. Hugh and I had watched his comedy specials and really enjoyed them. He has a universal style that’s very non-threatening but also hysterically funny and relatable. I always felt like 80% of his jokes were something that had happened to me directly. But when I read this note I really began to sit up and take notice. I love it when comedians are able to let down their guard and show a more human, vulnerable side. And when Hugh and I watched Mr. Universe together it was like a hysterical mirror into our own lives even more than before. Four children? Check. Homebirth weirdos? Check. (We had already checked off the boxes for “laziness” and “loving food.”)
It was around this time that I began taking myself more seriously as a comedian too. I had been making people laugh for a long time (sometimes unintentionally, but it became more and more intentional every day.) I had been honing my comic writings, and I remembered when I was a little girl my dad’s family used to crack wise about me becoming a comedian someday. It annoyed me at the time, but I began to think of it as some window into the future.
I also think my husband is an unsung comedic genius. My friend Jesika calls him her favorite comedian, and she even read his Facebook posts allowed during The Superbowl. In my opinion, he’s the next Bob Newhart, especially since he has an accounting degree. “Let me get this straight,” he asks, “You want me to quit my job and become and accountant so I can quit THAT job and become a comedian?” Well, yeah! And lest we forget our mentors, Jim Gaffigan was in finance for eight years before he was able to do comedy full time.
It took a couple of months to get the interview scheduled and the timing could not have been more crazy. The interview was scheduled to take place the day AFTER Hugh and I arrived home from his grandmother’s funeral. While my kids watched E.T. for the first time (I have still never seen it, even as a child of the 80s!) I researched countless articles and watched tons of videos.
Jim called me the next morning and we had a very pleasant 40 minute conversation. In a way it was hard to do a “proper” interview because it was so easy and conversational. At first he almost seemed shy and nervous (refreshing!) so I broke the ice by telling him my husband and I like to joke that we are “Just like Jim & Jeannie, only they are successful.” We had a great talk about our families, birth, growing up in Indiana and what it’s like to be a Hoosier in the Big Apple. The article was due the next day (see what I mean about crazy timing?) It was edited for length and they had to take out my favorite quote about Gaffigan’s comedy being an exploration of the Id. “That’ll get you on NPR,” I told him, in response to a quote I had read where he joked that his comedy wasn’t highbrow enough. Here’s the finished piece!
For Valentine’s Day I pre-ordered Jim’s new book for Hugh, Dad is Fat and we were sent two excerpts in the mail, plus a Jim Gaffigan mask on a popsicle stick. (Funny story. A while back I sent out some queries about a children’s book I had written. When I got a manilla envelope in the mail from “Crown Publishing” I started shaking and crying. I was certain it was a packet for new writer’s. When I opened it and the Jim Gaffigan stuff fell out I started to laugh cry. Could I be a bigger goober? I didn’t even QUERY Crown Publishing, just agents.)
You could win VIP tickets to a show if you made a video of yourself reading from the book with the mask over your face. I wanted to make a video about a couple having intimacy issues being prescribed the book as a cure. After reading for just a few moments the wife instantly becomes 9 months pregnant. I had it all in my head, but unfortunately we got really sick with the flu that week. We weren’t sure when the contest ended, and on Valentine’s Day my husband did something he had never done before. He bought me VIP tickets to the show. This included backstage passes for a meet and greet. I would have rather won the tickets (you not only got tickets, but a TWITTER FOLLOW, which is to me more precious than gold) but I couldn’t exactly argue with something so kind and generous from my man!
Finally the week arrived. Originally I planned to just drop off a copy of the magazine at The Centre the day of the show, but I thought about our conversation. Jim likes to collect locally made food items from the places he tours. Why not put together a care package to show him my appreciation?
I gathered up some of items that said “home” the most to me. Ski is a no-brainer. Locally bottled citrus soda that reminds me of my late Grandpa. Double Cola, Ski’s brother, in glass bottles. Made with cane sugar. Big B Barbecue. PJB honey. Mike Lib’s & the Chocolate Factory. And GRIPPOS Barbecue Chips, the classic Westside pairing for SKI. I have seen Ski and Grippos given as wedding gifts. Grippos are technically made in Cincinnati, but you cannot over-estimate their importance to the people of Evansville, IN.
I also consulted with my favorite bakery, Pacetre, to make some themed cupcakes. The Plaid Cookie Company had recently sent over some cookies based on Jim’s routines and I knew Tracy Pace could do something similar. Besides, I always want everyone to try Tracy’s cupcakes. They are to die for. She made him themed cupcakes of a hammock, bowling, DAD IS FAT, and her own special Maple Bacon cupcake!
As I was dropping the goodies off at The Centre I had an inspiration. I had asked my kids to buy me a rubber chicken for my birthday. I have always wanted one and it seemed important as I begin transferring more of my energy into comedy. I wanted a symbol. But I realized I needed to have one that DAY. To have Jim Gaffigan sign. And every time I met a famous, funny person, they could sign it and remind me of what my goals are. I joked that it’s a talisman. I will be absorbing their comedic energy THROUGH THEIR SIGNATURE on the CHICKEN…ok that’s not a joke. That’s my real plan. .
So I immediately drove to the NICK NACKERY and picked the best of the selection of two rubber chickens. (Don’t get me started on how hard it is to get a decent pair of Groucho glasses in this cold world.) I had other business to attend to as well, namely needing some fake vomit and dog poop for my son’s Easter baskets. (This is not a reflection of my feelings on either Pagan or Christian Easter. It’s just that they are getting older and hard to shop for. Gross jokes seemed like a win.) I named my chicken Hildy, after Peter Scolari’s character on Bosom Buddies.
With my rubber chicken in hand and my red lipstick on I was ready to DO THIS THING. (Hugh: Don’t you want to put that chicken in your purse? Me: No! Then no one will see it! Stranger: Nice chicken!)
Right before the show I drank 32 oz of SKI soda in about 10 minutes because I was so nervous and excited.. This was a mistake. During the entire show I had to pee. It was a bit of a nightmare, to be honest. The good news is after about 40 minutes your bladder goes completely numb, so I was able to enjoy the last few minutes of the show.
See how close we were?
Tom Shillue was the warm-up comedian. Affable and fun. A good pairing with Jim. Jim’s set was great, a lot of old favorites near the end, some reworking of classics, but also a lot of good new material. I wish I had more to say about it but I am not kidding when I said I REALLY HAD TO PEE. I actually had to just keep a smile frozen on my face so I wouldn’t laugh. I was clearly wearing my Bad Idea Jeans when I had that drink.
Before the show they told us not to leave with everyone else but to wait until the crowd had cleared and then they’d take us backstage. As soon as it was over I sprang up. “They told us not to leave!” Hugh, ever mindful of the rules. “I’m PEEING.” Geez. There was no way I was meeting my hero while doing the toddler “gotta go” dance.
Hugh is just too tall for me to take a picture of us together. See how excited I am though?
They took us backstage and waited about 15 minutes until it was our turn. I walked right up to Jim, introduced myself and told him we had spoken on the phone. He was extremely friendly and nice (I know that’s expected at a meet and greet but really…he was VERY nice.) I asked him if he liked his care package and he literally took a step back with a shocked look on his face. “That was from YOU?” I told him he had mentioned liking local products from his touring cities. He got one of those smiles on his face… incredulity mixed with joy, I’d call it. “That’s everything you want!”
When he saw Hildy he asked me if I had a collection of these at home. I told him this was the first one, and to sign it on a prominent place. “Someday she might be on Antiques Roadshow and you want your signature to be front and center.”
He then signed two book excerpts. We requested one for our pastor, Brett, who couldn’t be at the show because of Good Friday (even though he had bought tickets! His wife went in his place.)
Jim signed it “YOU SINNER!” Brett now considers it his most prized possession.
What I DIDN’T know is what Jim wrote in our other excerpt. I didn’t even look until the next day.
See that? KATE IS AWESOME. Thank you, Jim. So. Are. You.
Stay tuned for Part Two of Best Week Ever, where I talk about my public breastfeeding article on Huffington Post going viral and my appearance on Huffpo Live!