When thousands of University students on Myspace.com received a message from Jim Gaffigan about his forthcoming show along with a friend request likely had one of two responses: “Thank God” or “Who?”

Jessica Boullion
Jim Gaffigan will perform tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the Michigan Theater. (Courtesy of Jim Gaffigan)

For those among the latter, Gaffigan’s roles on television, film and standup specials have made him one of the most visible yet unknown men in comedy.

Originally from a small town in Indiana, Gaffigan explained that his initial venture into showbiz actually came from a dare his friend made after he moved to New York City. His popular shows New York’s alternative hipster haven, Lower East Side Manhattan, ultimately led to his current career highlight: performing on “The Late Show with David Letterman.”

“For every standup, you want to get on the late-night shows,” Gaffigan said. “You can tell people you’re a comedian, but the first question out of their mouth is ‘Have you been on ‘Letterman?’ ‘ “

Aside from the opportunity to cement himself as one of comedy’s rising stars, Gaffigan’s 11 appearances on the show allowed him to interact with Letterman, a fellow Hoosier who has had a significant influence on him. “I think we have a similar sensibility,” Gaffigan explained. “He definitely influenced me when I was starting out.”

Gaffigan’s humor, often bordering on the absurd, relies on everyday topics not usually tackled by other comedians. Rather than dealing with sexual humor or political issues, he focuses on more pressing issues, like Hot Pockets. Or manatees.

His riff on the ever-expanding line of the Hot Pocket brand and their creepy commercials built up a cult following, with fans even asking him to sign Hot Pockets for them. Equally memorable are Gaffigan’s musings on the manatee and the ridicule it faces as an aquatic creature. Gaffigan explained that these topics often come up through writing sessions with his wife.

“We’ll think of a topic that hasn’t been beaten to death and we think is kind of funny, whether it be revolving doors (or,) you know, something inane.”

His success hasn’t been limited to standup, with roles on series like “Ed,” “The Ellen Show” and the requisite standup comedian job, “Law & Order.”

“It’s kind of a rite of passage in New York to get on ‘Law & Order,’ ” he said jokingly. He will also appear in writer/director M. Night Shyamalan’s (“The Village”) upcoming thriller, “Lady in the Water,” on which he said he enjoyed the signature secrecy enveloping the filmmaker’s sets.

Gaffigan said he has no plan to choose one career path to follow. Instead, he sidestepped the question, saying, “I feel if I did just standup, I’d go crazy, and if I didn’t do any standup, I’d go crazy.” The immediacy and control keep bringing him back to the stage, while the opportunity to play different characters draws him into the film and television roles he’s filled during the years. One thing he is certain of, though, is his disdain for the auditioning process, which he described as “begging for a job.”

For now, Gaffigan is happy touring the country to promote his recently released comedy CD, Beyond the Pale, and expects an enthusiastic crowd in Ann Arbor. “I think college crowds are great in a lot of ways . and it’s St. Patrick’s Day. I expect everyone to be drunk. And I’ll probably have to join in.”

Jim Gaffigan
Tonight at 7:30 p.m.
At the Michigan

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