The risk of being a widely known comedian is that the same online echo chamber that spreads ideas you want to get out may also spread the ones you don’t. By the time those ideas are disseminated and deconstructed for optimal hot-take potential, you have no control over their meaning. When it happened to Jim Gaffigan, though, he was fortunate enough to have a TV show with which to turn the tables on the whole phenomenon.
On last night’s episode of TV Land’s The Jim Gaffigan Show, a concise distillation of the comedian’s point of view in sitcom-form, the Gaffigan character finds himself widely championed in the media for his faith. (The real-life Gaffigan is also a practicing Catholic.) The episode stems from an incident in which Gaffigan was praised as the face of a new evangelization, something he wasn’t 100% comfortable being known for.
“It was a little frightening,” he says. “This episode gave me an opportunity to explore my fear of being known as a Christian when most of my friends are Atheists.”
In order to accurately portray how a small spark can turn into a full-blown media firestorm, though, Gaffigan recruited a who’s who of media personalities who weigh in on the subject of the fictional Gaffigan’s faith. Everyone from Jon Stewart (who was just about to announce his departure from The Daily Show at the time) to Glenn Beck (!!!) make appearances in the episode, lending it the credibility of a real-life pile-on.
“We wanted people from the Left and the Right. We didn’t want it to feel like criticism of any one network or anchor–we just wanted to make a comment on how the 24-hour news cycle has mixed with our tabloid appetite,” Gaffigan says.
First, the producers behind the show went to Fox News, where the management rebuffed them. Since Glenn Beck had expressed himself as a fan in the past, however, Jim and co. approached and Beck soon ended up representing for conservatives. Balancing Beck out is his spiritual opposite: Keith Olbermann, whose old MSNBC show is resurrected for this episode.
“I’ve always loved Keith,” Gaffigan says, “and his old World’s Worst segment is such a perfect summation of the media lynching we were looking for.”
Olbermann’s scene marks the only appearance of a show that no longer exists, however the inclusion of another show counts as the most surreal. At a certain point in the episode, when media interest in Gaffigan reaches a fever pitch, Jim Cramer drops by to advise stockholders to sell whatever they have invested in the comic.
“We definitely wanted to jump the shark with one segment,” Gaffigan says of the moment. “We saw Jim Cramer at a fundraiser around that time. I explained what we wanted to do and he agreed on the spot.”
Similar moments of serendipity lead to even more guest spots on the show, from non-media personalities like Chris Rock–who was in town promoting his film Top 5 at the right time–and Orange Is the New Black star Lea DeLaria, who was immediately receptive to lending a hand.
It all adds up to a half hour of television that just might, um, restore one’s faith in good old-fashioned media satire.
Watch another media-heavy clip from the episode below.