Jim Gaffigan, the well-known comic and actor, is eating garbage. And he’s grateful for the chance.
Gaffigan is sympathetic and very concerned for both the people and business owners — he is one himself — who have suffered illness and financial pain through this very severe economic downturn. But, as he said in a podcast interview I conducted with him earlier this month, “I’m glad this happened to me now rather than 20 years ago.”
As a standup comedian, Gaffigan has to divide his time between coming up with new material and running his ever-growing business empire. He employs numerous people that help him with his marketing, scheduling, public relations, management and finances. He is constantly trying to come up with new ideas for growing his brand (among them, a new shelter-in-place YouTube show called Let’s Get Cooking where he shows his audience how to make (and of course eat) regional delicacies like Rochester New York’s Garbage Plate). He is juggling all of his professional duties with the overwhelming responsibility of raising a family with his wife, Jeannie.
Other than eating garbage, does this sound familiar? If you’re running a small business, it should.
Similar to just about every small-business owner I know, Gaffigan was significantly affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. “I think I was in a little bit of denial even dealing with my personal appearance agent and my manager,” he now admits. “It was this progression. It started initially with, OK, we’ve got to move these dates in April and May. And then it’s like, OK, we’ve got to move these dates in June. And then it was, OK, in all likelihood, there’s not going to be larger stand-up shows in 2020.”
Gaffigan’s business literally dried up. No more live audiences means no more stand-up, which was the core of his revenue stream. That kind of thing could cause a lot of stress for any manager. But what he’s doing to navigate this downturn is a result of a simple mindset that every smart business owner I know shares, and it’s the key to surviving any economic downturn, regardless of the cause: He has cash and a low-maintenance lifestyle.
Sure, he’s made lots of money speaking to millions of people and appearing in films and TV shows over the years. But he also has significant commitments, not least the expense of raising five children in New York City. The good news is that other than his house, which he bought outright (“I made a point of not having a mortgage”), he’s managed to build cash reserves and keep his monthly overhead low and controllable. No high-end cars. No expensive clothes. No fancy restaurants. “I don’t even need a good bottle of wine,” he jokes. “My tastes are not rich. And what I used to spend money on (before the outbreak) was bringing my family along on international shows.”
If this happened 20 years ago, things would’ve been different. Not that his lifestyle was different. But back then, Gaffigan was still struggling to make a name for himself and had no money in the bank. Most of us who have started businesses from scratch know that feeling. And we never forget it. We, like Gaffigan, appreciate the value of having cash (and maybe just a nice box of wine). We also know that no matter how great things may seem to be going right now, running a small business is a long-term endeavor, and things are never always as good as they seem.
For some small-business owners, this mindset not only helps them survive when revenues decline, but also gives them reserves to invest when opportunities arise. Gaffigan is no different. He’s innovating. He’s plowing resources into his online activities, particularly YouTube, where’s he’s publishing fresh material (for free) and deepening his engagement with his followers. He’s doing stand-up shows for people watching from their cars. He’s publicly eating garbage. All of this in preparation for when he can finally return to the stage. “You’ve got to think long term,” he says.
Many business owners have suffered because of this pandemic, and the suffering is not over. But many others I know, while not necessarily profiting during these times, are seeing their way past the challenges through this kind of innovation, coupled with a low-maintenance lifestyle and a simple appreciation for having cash reserves.
Hopefully, like Gaffigan, you’ve had the resources to see you through these challenging times. Though unlike Gaffigan, hopefully you’re not eating garbage.