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BLAX returns with new album ‘Be Well’

By Joey Grihalva

Milwaukee rapper BLAX is back with a new album Be Well produced by Reason. It premiered today on the national hip-hop website HipHopDX.com.

Born Adebisi Agoro, the wordsmith became known as a spoken word poet in the early 2000s. Agoro is also an original founder of the defunct but beloved Milwaukee hip-hop band Fresh Cut Collective.

In 2010, Agoro moved to New York City with $250 in his pocket, eventually landing an internship with entrepreneur Damon Dash. Agoro worked behind the scenes with Dash, producer Ski Beatz and the Jet Life family, while networking and creating with different artists from around NYC and the globe.

Agoro moved back to Milwaukee a few years ago to focus on his family. He continues to hone his craft and build on the momentum he had in NYC.

As an advocate for the Milwaukee hip-hop scene, Agoro supports young emcees while championing the old guard. Those inclinations are evident on Be Well, which features an impressive mix of guest artists from sultry singer Fivy to Milwaukee rap icon Coo Coo Cal.

On Be Well, Agoro draws from his NYC connections as well, including a guest verse from Brooklyn rapper G.R.A.M.Z. on “Nothin,” the first video from the album.  It is directed by Eli Salcedo of Visual Index Films.

Be Well opens to reworked sound bites from news reports on the Sherman Park riots that ensued after the shooting of Syville Smith last summer. The album’s dark undertones do well to express emotions that Agoro and his community have been experiencing as they continue to witness black Americans being killed by police with impunity.

In anticipation of the release of Be Well, Agoro shared some of his thoughts regarding the new project and his future ambitions.

WiG
What was your goal with the new record?

BLAX
My personal goal for this record was to make a time capsule of a sound and place. This record for me defines a moment in life. When people look to my music I want them to look to it as a reflection as to what was going on in those days and times. I wanted to capture my Milwaukee reality, my world view on how I am feeling in these modern times.

This record is a culmination of skills learned and wisdom gained as a traveled independent artist. For me it symbolizes the closing of one door and perhaps the opening of a new one. This record is a farewell note to the past, while being an introduction to the future. Hence the album title, Be Well.

There is definitely a boom bap aesthetic in the music, but we are definitely cooking it up in the digital trap. We spent maybe about 100 hours in the studio mixing this project with Moses, meticulously mixing each individual sound to get the feel we wanted. Incorporating new artists such as Wave Chapelle, as well as veterans like Coo Coo Cal was also important.

WiG
What does Coo Coo Cal mean to you and how did you get him on a track?

BLAX
Having Coo Coo Cal on this album was important to me because his career and the impact that it had for a moment in time laid the foundation for what we are doing as independent artists in the city of Milwaukee right now. At this point there are no other artists who can lay claim to having a platinum single and have had the same national acclaim as Coo Coo had. We have to respect that as a community of musicians and artists if we hope to attain those same heights one day ourselves. And he is still currently dope.

That record came together how things do in the Mil. It’s a pretty small world. My cousin reached out to him about us collaborating on another song with a totally different producer and that song actually happened. However, I ended up scrapping that idea and sending him the track for “Maybe,” which was a better fit. Cal has a reputation for being a wild dude in the past and I knew with the topic of the song he could give me some real good game on it. It worked out perfectly.

Indirectly, the same initial collaboration with Coo Coo was how the Wave collab happened. I had this idea of crafting a song with the two features to the first song with Coo Coo. I sent that to Wave’s camp and it was a go, but again I switched it up and eventually we came through with something new and different with the track “Shades.”

WiG
How did the video for “Nothin” come together?

BLAX
The video for “Nothin” came together rather serendipitously. We shot the video in Brooklyn with Eli Salcedo of Visual Index Films. He has been on the come up and I liked what he was doing. We have mutual friends so it wasn’t too hard to get in contact with him. It was definitely important to me to have someone with a fresh perspective help with my visuals and I love the vision and professionalism he provided.

We discussed some motivations for the visual beforehand, but most importantly, I let Eli do his thing. The guy tied up in the chair is a friend of my cousin named Robert Jackson Jr., an acting graduate from NYU. He provided that essence for what we needed as realism in that scene. He is an amazing talent. We are symbolically putting an end to the wack rapper who “ain’t talking about nothing.”

WiG
What’s next for BLAX?

BLAX
More of the same. Growth, building and expansion. It’s funny to talk about what’s next when it that seems my art exists in cycles. By the time the new art reaches the people it’s already old art to me. The next goal is to keep things moving. To continue on with a successful album roll out, to touch and reach as many people as I can with this music. I would like to lay an independent blueprint for distribution and marketing for my company to follow in the future. It’s bigger than BLAX. Its Level 13 Entertainment and we are preparing for takeoff. Be well.  

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[ IN CONCERT ]

BLAX will play a record release show at Cactus Club on April 14, details TBD.

Growing wave of anti-Semitic attacks blamed on Trump rhetoric

An attack on a Jewish cemetery in Rochester, New York, is the latest in an avalanche of anti-Semitic incidents in the United States, including bomb threats at more than 90 Jewish community centers and schools around the country since the year began.

The Jewish Community Center in Whitefish Bay, a northern suburb of Milwaukee, was one of those threatened.

As many as 16 headstones were toppled at Rochester’s Waad Hakolil cemetery on March 2, and an undisclosed number were desecrated.

On Feb. 27, about 100 headstones were overturned in a Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia. Vandals damaged or tipped over as many as 200 headstones at a Jewish cemetery in suburban St. Louis.

The vandalism in Rochester came two days after a gunshot was fired into a Jewish synagogue in Indiana. No one was hurt. The FBI is reported to be investigating the incident as a hate crime.

Yesterday, New York City officials reported that the number of attacks and threats targeting Jews there is nearly double the number reported during the same period last year.

The New York Police Department has documented 68 anti-Semitic hate crimes since Jan. 1, and more than half of them were against Jews. There were 44 hate crimes during the same period last year, which also saw a spike in anti-Semitic hate crimes.

New York City is home to the world’s largest Jewish population, and the attacks have come at a time when New York crime in general is down 9.7 percent.

The rise in anti-Semitism in the U.S. has been mirrored by Europe. Anti-Semitic hate crime reached a record high last year in the United Kingdom.

In the U.S., Jewish leaders and others have blamed the hateful rhetoric of Donald Trump’s campaign for fueling the rising hatred. His chief strategist Steve Bannon was the executive chairman of Breitbart News, a neo-Nazi website.

Muslim groups all over the nation have responded with supportive messages and offers to help the Jewish community. In St. Louis, two Muslim organizations spoke out against the vandalism of a local Jewish cemetery.

On Twitter, Muslims — including U.S. veterans — have offered to guard Jewish Community Centers, synagogues and cemeteries.

In Philadelphia, a number of Muslims volunteered to help clean up a cemetery desecrated there. In St. Louis, Muslims raised $100,000 online to help rebuild that city’s Jewish cemetery.

“We encourage our members to reach out to their local synagogue and Jewish neighbors to express their solidarity and support and to generously support the rebuilding of the recently desecrated cemetery,” said Azhar Azeez, president of the Islamic Society of North America, in a statement.

Jews have reciprocated the kindness toward America’s Muslim community, which has borne an even large brunt of rising hate crime activity. A Muslim man who started an online fundraising campaign for a mosque in Tampa that was damaged in an arson attempt was surprised to discover that many of the donors were Jewish.

After arson destroyed a mosque in Victoria, Texas, “Jewish community members walked into my home and gave me a key to the synagogue,” Dr. Shahid Hashmi, a cofounder of the Victoria Islamic Center, told The New York Times.

Four Christian churches in Victoria also offered their churches to the Muslims to hold services.

 

 

 

Jeannie Gaffigan on family and finding her way

By Joey Grihalva

I’ll never forget the time I saw comedian Hannibal Buress open for Louis C.K. at Caroline’s in New York City. Or Ron Funches open for Reggie Watts at Helium in Portland. Or South Milwaukee’s own Jackie Kashian open for Maria Bamford at the Just for Laughs Festival in Montreal.

In each instance it was my introduction to the opener and I instantly became a fan. Comedy (and music) careers can be launched from a great opening set for an established headliner.

That is decidedly not the intention when comedian Jim Gaffigan brings out his five adorable children to entertain audiences before he performs. While the Gaffigans aren’t a “show family,” the children have grown up around show business. This is because Jim works closely with his wife Jeannie and the family regularly travels together.

The first time I saw Jim Gaffigan at the Pabst Theater I was surprised to see his kids come out to Irish dance and introduce their dad. But then I remembered that his wife Jeannie is a Milwaukee-native and his annual run of Pabst shows allows them to spend the holidays with her family.  

In fact, Jeannie is the eldest of Dominic and Louise Noth’s nine children. I attended Rufus King High School with two of the Noths’ daughters and recall Jeannie’s headshot outside the theater director’s office. She was an accomplished actress, director, producer, and non-profit leader before meeting her husband, but the careers of husband and wife would reach new heights once they teamed up.

I spoke with Jeannie over the phone from her office in New York City a few days before Thanksgiving.

A LIFE IN THE ARTS

Jeannie Gaffigan — a devout Catholic — was raised on the East Side of Milwaukee near the UWM campus. Her father was the theatre and film critic for the Milwaukee Journal and continues to write for Urban Milwaukee. Jeannie and her siblings were exposed to the arts early in life.

“It was pretty chaotic in our house. I kind of got put into the role of director-producer pretty early just by default,” recalls Jeannie.

“When we had block parties I would say, ‘Okay, let’s do a number from Grease,’ and rope everybody into doing it. I was a little bit of a bossy big sister,” admits Jeannie.

As a high schooler, Jeannie took to acting but didn’t believe it to be a realistic pursuit after graduation. She was majoring in communications at UW-Madison until a summer job working with young actors pulled her back to the theater. She qualified for a merit scholarship to Marquette University, where she transferred and became a theatre major.

In the 1990s, Jeannie became immersed in the Milwaukee theater scene. When she wasn’t rehearsing and performing she enjoyed seeing live music particularly at Shank Hall and hanging out at Fuel Cafe and Lixx Frozen Custard.

But, while interning with the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, she realized that if she wanted to catch a break in Milwaukee, she might need to expand her horizons outside the city.

“It felt like there was a niche group of actors that were always getting work and they weren’t from the rank-and-file interns, they were coming in from New York and Chicago. It  became pretty apparent to me that I needed to find my way beyond Milwaukee,” Jeannie says of her decision to abandon the directing master’s program and move to New York City.


NEW YORK AND A NEW MATE

Upon moving to NYC Jeannie discovered that her theatre job provided just enough money to pay the rent. Like many aspiring artists in the big city, she hustled work to survive. Jeannie became involved in the catering industry, booking shifts around her theatre schedule. It wasn’t long before she joined a sketch troupe, took improv classes, and became part of NYC’s grassroots theatre community.

She also supplemented her income with freelance artist-in-residence teaching gigs in public schools where arts funding was being cut. This experience inspired her to start a nonprofit, after-school theatre organization called Shakespeare on the Playground.

Around this time Jeannie met Jim Gaffigan they were living on the same block in Manhattan. A neighborly relationship turned into a working friendship as Jeannie recruited Jim to volunteer with Shakespeare on the Playground. In return, Jeannie became Jim’s acting coach for his first sitcom, CBS’ short-lived Welcome to New York. This led to producing a stand-up comedy CD for Jim.

“He was one of the smartest and funniest people I’d ever met,” Jeannie says. “I liked that we had the same work ethic. Also, he’s from a family of six kids, so there was a language that we understood right away. And he grew up on Lake Michigan, but he was on the Indiana side outside of Chicago.”

Over the years Jeannie and Jim’s relationship evolved. They became a bona fide comedy team. She has helped refine and hone his comedic voice, while producing his tours and specials. As a result, Jim has become one of the most beloved comics in the country, particularly among those doing clean material.

CHILDREN AND A NEW SCHEDULE

Shortly after they were married, Jeannie became pregnant with their first child.

“It was a whirlwind. We didn’t really have time to plan a family. We just started having kids and moving our life around them,” says Jeannie.  

The couple successfully brought their first baby on the road. But when Jeannie had two kids in diapers and Jim started doing theaters, Jeannie decided to stay home, which put a strain on their relationship. Around baby number three the Gaffigans restructured.

Longer tours are now scheduled around the kids time off. The family travels in a large tour bus, which provides arguably more privacy than the kids had in the two-bedroom apartment they lived in up until last year.

“People have asked me, ‘Aren’t your older ones at the point where they want to stay home with friends and not go out on the road?’ But I haven’t experienced that yet,” says Jeannie.

“Of course, they fight and argue like all kids, but they really enjoy being together as a group. They’ve developed this camaraderie and I think it’s a testament to how great the whole experience has been for my family.”

HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS

Since Jim is the youngest of his family, by the time he married, all his siblings had their own families and each did their own Christmas. Jeannie’s family still came home to Milwaukee, so that became their holiday tradition.

“Jim was quickly adopted into the family as the 10th kid. He and my dad really get along,” says Jeannie. “They have very similar minds, they like to debate about stuff. And my mom of course loves Jim.”

“The holidays are a time when people have off and want to go see shows. So we used to have to get out of town pretty quickly or at least Jim did to do a show between Christmas and New Year’s. At one point Jim got the bright idea to see if he could do a show in Milwaukee,” says Jeannie about the Pabst Theater tradition they started 10 years ago.

“Once Jim did a show at the Pabst he was like, ‘This place is phenomenal!’ Having played theaters all over the country, the Pabst is definitely the cream of the crop. The employees, the audiences, the venue, it’s all just a terrific experience.”

This year the Gaffigans have merged two of their traditions. An additional show was added to the Pabst run, with 100 percent of the ticket sales going to the Riverwest Food Pantry, where Jeannie’s brother Vincent is the executive director. The family volunteers at the Pantry when they’re in town and saw this as an opportunity to give back even more to the community.

LABOR OF LOVE — EMPHASIS ON ‘LABOR’

The Gaffigans have achieved much success with their stand-up tours, specials, and two best-selling books (Dad is Fat and Food: A Love Story), but besides Welcome to New York, the coveted sitcom deal has eluded them until last year.

The TV Land debut of The Jim Gaffigan Show was a decade in the making. Originally optioned by NBC and piloted twice by CBS, both networks passed a blessing in disguise.

The deal the Gaffigans landed with the small cable network gave them full creative control. Like Louie (FX) and Maron (IFC), The Jim Gaffigan Show is a single camera program centered around the titular comic’s real life. It’s a smart, funny show with an excellent supporting cast and tons of heart.

“A lot of times what happens is that a great comedian will get a TV deal and you’ll watch the show and say, ‘Well, this isn’t funny,’ or ‘This isn’t the point-of-view that I know and am a fan of.’ Because it’s been given over to a committee. Other people are deciding what’s funny and not funny, what’s marketable and not marketable,” explains Jeannie.

The Jim Gaffigan Show explores aspects of the Gaffigans comedic perspective that are limited by the stand-up format and highlights Jeannie’s contribution and talents as a writer and producer.

She originally considered playing the “Jeannie” role herself, but realized it would elongate the production, considering she was already a head writer and executive producer. As it turned out, the time and energy required far exceeded their expectations — and that led to their decision to call it quits after the second season.

“The irony is that one of the reasons we wanted to do a show in New York was so we could spend more time with our family, so we wouldn’t be traveling as much. But what happens when you’re writing, producing and later directing a show is that it becomes an all-encompassing life. We were doing 80 hours a week for six months of the year,” exclaims Jeannie.

“If you’re writing a show about being a comedian with five kids in New York City, you have to actually experience being a parent of five kids in New York City, or you’re not going to be true to yourself. At some point I was spending more time with the TV kids. Our family comes first. We’re responsible with raising good human beings to go into this insane world.”

BEYOND ‘HOT POCKETS’

The TV Land show marks a turning point in the Gaffigans’ careers. They are now looking to develop limited-run, episodic projects and are tinkering with the idea of producing other people’s scripts.

Meanwhile, their fifth stand-up special will be released in early 2017 and the couple are currently writing their sixth.

Jim is also being offered more complex roles in TV and film. He is in an upcoming film, The Bleeder, alongside Naomi Watts, Ron Perlman, Liev Schreiber, and Elizabeth Moss, and has joined the cast of the cable TV show Fargo.

“It’s going to expand the perception of Jim beyond the ‘Hot Pockets guy.’ I think our show is really funny and we talked about Jim’s obsession with food and that’s great, but there’s so much more to him,” says Jeannie.

She is happy with her own career path and rejects criticism that she’s taken a backseat to her husband.

“I have the best of both worlds. I could leave certain things about raising my kids up to somebody else, but that wouldn’t sit right with me. I have this great family, I have five kids, and I’m still able to have success on my own.”

“As I’ve supported Jim so much over the years he’s also supported me. And he completely trusts me to be his third eye. That’s an amazing position to be in because he knows that I don’t have a hidden agenda. I’m in it for life. It’s a pretty great deal for both of us.”

ON STAGE, ON SCREEN Jim Gaffigan will perform four shows at the Pabst Theater December 29 – 31. The Jim Gaffigan Show Season 1 is available on DVD and Season 2 is currently streaming on Hulu.com.

[FULL-INTERVIEW]

WiG
Did you go to Rufus King?

JEANNIE
Yes.

WiG
Okay, right. Because I went to Rufus King and I remember being in the theater director Mr. Mackinson’s office and seeing a prominently placed headshot of one of the Noth sisters.

JEANNIE
That was definitely me.

WiG
Mackinson spoke fondly of you. So you were doing theater back then and I read that you were exposed to theater early on it life…

JEANNIE
Yeah my father Dominic Noth was the theater and film critic for the Milwaukee Journal for like 30 years. I saw a lot of theater and film and we went out to a lot of theater festivals growing up.

WiG
And you have 8 brothers and sisters?

JEANNIE
That’s right.

WiG
And where do you fall in that order?

JEANNIE
I’m the first.

WiG
And what was that like, being the oldest child?

JEANNIE
It was pretty chaotic in our house. I kind of got put into the role of director producer pretty early just by default. I was always really organized and when we had block parties I would say, “Okay, we’re going to do a number from Grease,” and I’d rope everybody into doing stuff. I was a little bit of a bossy big sister.

WiG
What part of town did you grow up on?

JEANNIE
We grew up right around UWM on the east side.

WiG
It sounds like you were doing theater pretty young. When did you have a sense that that’s what you wanted to pursue after high school? What precipitated that?

JEANNIE
I went to UW-Madison and for the first couple years of school you just get your requirement credits going. I didn’t actually pursue theater there at all. I mean I saw theater in Madison and I enjoyed it. But then I was thinking, “Obviously you can’t make a living doing that.” I thought I had to go into something like, you know, my father is a journalist so I  started working on journalism and communications.

In the summer when I was back in Milwaukee I got involved with a theater company working with kids for my summer job. There was a program called the Schneider Arts Academy, which was a privately and publicly funded summer theater program for kids from different Milwaukee public high schools that would have to audition. That was run by Ray Jivoff, who is now with the Skylight Theater. I knew a board member from when I was in grade school at Lloyd Street School and she kind of singled me out and said, “Why don’t you take a job with this company?”  

I started off as a choreographer and assistant director. I found so much joy in doing that. It was something that really made me feel alive. And it started to be apparent that I wanted to pursue more of directing and acting. What happened was that because my father was an employee at the Milwaukee Journal and I got pretty high grades at UW-Madison I qualified for a merit scholarship for the kids of Journal employees. So I got a scholarship to Marquette University, which is a smaller university but had the great theater department. I transferred there and became a theater major.

Everybody who graduated from Marquette at least at the time would then take a minor in philosophy or theology. I hadn’t taken any theology at UW-Madison, so the summer before I transferred I wound up studying at UWM, which was walking distance from my home.  So I really started getting into the Milwaukee scene a bit as a young adult. I discovered that there was  a lot of great theater going on.  

While I was at Marquette I went to do Shakespeare at the Shaw Festival with Milwaukee Chamber Theater. Then right after I got my BFA I continued at Marquette to get my master’s in directing. Then I got an internship with the Milwaukee Repertory Theater.

When I was working at the Rep it became pretty apparent to me that I needed to find my way beyond Milwaukee to get into theater in Milwaukee. It felt like there was kind of a niche group of actors that were always getting work and they weren’t coming from the rank-and-file interns, they were coming in from New York and Chicago. It became pretty apparent to me that I needed to find my way beyond Milwaukee in order to gain experience rather than just be in school. So that’s when I went to New York with really it in mind to pursue this and that’s how I wound up being in entertainment.

WiG
What time period was it when you moved back to Milwaukee as a young adult?

JEANNIE
That was in the mid 90s.

WiG
What did you get up to in Milwaukee? What memories of the city do you have?

JEANNIE
Oh my God, I was working so much. I guess I would go to Shank Hall. I love live music. Milwaukee is great for live music. A lot of times at night I was doing theater,  so I wasn’t socializing that much. But I love live music and I would go to different venues around Milwaukee. I remember Fuel Cafe from back in the day. I liked Lixx Frozen Custard, it was on Downer.

WiG
Can you recall any of the shows you did during high school at King?

JEANNIE
I did a play called “Nuts.” I did “You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown.” I did a lot of one act plays. Mr. Mackinson was fan of one act plays. They weren’t doing mainstage productions at that point. I went to Lloyd Street School for elementary and I remember big kids in my neighborhood being students at King and going to see them in big musicals in the King auditorium. But by the time I got there it was all in the Little Theater, so there were a lot of one acts. I wound up coming back to King in the late 90s to direct “A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the Little Theater and that was amazing.

WiG
Awesome. Did you find that when you were doing theater early on that you enjoyed performing more, or being behind-the-scenes?

JEANNIE
I guess when I was in high school it was performing, but then later when I worked at the Schneider Arts Academy I loved being a part of every aspect of the performance; the staging, the costumes, the acting. I felt like as a director you got a chance to play all those roles. I love acting but I think that my niche is directing and producing.

WiG
For a lot of people when they get to New York, especially people from the Midwest, it’s kind of sink-or-swim, in that the city is trying to kick your ass and you got to kick back or get out. How did you find New York when you first moved there?

JEANNIE
I found that I made about exactly the amount of money that I needed for rent, so that was a big eye opener. I was one of those people who vowed not to carry any debt besides my student loans. But the first time I wanted to go home for Christmas I had to put it on a credit card. It was really hard and really expensive to live in New York.  

I found a way to do it by being involved in the catering industry. You could design your schedule around shows you were in. It was the kind of job where you were your own booker. I found a way to survive doing that. Later I got involved with a theater company that consisted of a bunch of graduates from Carnegie Melon. That was also a Milwaukee connection because there was a guy who was an actor who graduated from Carnegie Melon with my brother Vincent. We’d meet in the basement of a church on Monday nights and it became this pretty exceptional theater company. We’d create all these original plays and staged them and performed them and that was really great to get to know the theater scene and the grassroots movement of theater in New York CIty.

Then I wound up taking freelance artist-in-residence teaching jobs at various schools because at that time a lot of the funding was being cut from public schools in NYC for arts programs. So non-profit companies came up with the idea to create a fund for visiting artists, whether they were visual artists or performing artists or musicians, people would do residencies at schools. I got involved with that teaching improv and reading scenes with public school kids. Through that I decided to start a not-for-profit company in the late 90s called “Shakespeare on the Playground.” I would stage plays with middle school kids and I enjoyed some success doing that.

WiG
It seems like you were pretty successful being involved in the more “serious” theater community in New York. When did you start frequenting the comedy scene, the improv troupes?

JEANNIE
Well, I was always involved in improv. That is one of the things that I feel is a really important tool for actors to have. It creates a relationship between the group that’s performing. It’s an exercise in talking and listening. The challenge of acting is being in the moment and responding, truly talking and listening to each other. So improv is a part of every actor’s exercise program. They have to workout that part of their brain. So I was always in improv groups when I was doing theater.

Improv groups tend to be comic based. I got involved with a lot of people in improv groups in New York and eventually got into a group that started writing original sketches. That was called “King Baby.” We started writing and performing comedy sketches in different venues around New York. That’s how I got involved in the comedy scene. But it was just one of the many things that I was doing.

At the exact same time I met Jim, who was a neighbor of mine. I didn’t really know what he was doing but I knew that he lived on my block so we crossed paths a lot.  I think we crossed paths at a comedy club and then eventually we went out to lunch and got to know each other. He did some volunteer work for my organization,  Shakespeare on the Playground. Then shortly after that I started working with him because he got his first sitcom. I was helping him with his acting, sort of breaking down the scenes. kind of a “You work with me, I’ll work with you” thing.

We found that we worked really well together. I was already aware of the fact that he was a comedian. At that time comedians started to produce their own CDs. So Jim said, “Do you think you can produce a CD for me?” And I was like, “Yeah, I’d love to do that, that’s my thing.” So I produced Jim’s first CD. It was a pretty successful endeavor, so I produced the next one. We moved on to DVDs and started writing together, then we got married and here we are.

WiG
What did you like about Jim when you first got to know him?

JEANNIE
He was just one of the smartest and funniest people I’ve ever met. Also the fact that once we started working together he had the same work ethic that I did and it is very difficult to find that kind of…it’s difficult to be in a relationship with someone when they don’t have that same thing. Like, “Why do you care so much about your job?” So Jim was the same type as me in that way.

Also, he’s from a family of six kids, so there was a language that we understood right away.  And he grew up on Lake Michigan, but he was on the Indiana side outside of Chicago. So we grew up kind of in the same region. We liked the familiarity of each other and we liked the way that we worked together.

WiG
It seems like family is really important to you, as you come from really large family and it seems like you’re fairly tight knit. The evolution to start a family with Jim, did that happened pretty quickly? Were you both on board right away? Was there any sort of sense of maybe we should wait and keep working on our careers?

JEANNIE
Not really. At that point we had been together and working together for about two years before we got engaged and it was a whirlwind. Right after we got married I got pregnant with my first child so we didn’t really have time to plan a family. We didn’t really think about it. We just started having kids and moving our life around them. It wasn’t something that we thought out or planned, we were just open to it  and now we have this amazing big family.

WiG
So the Pabst series of shows,  how did that first start?

JEANNIE
Jim is the youngest in his family, so when we started dating all of his siblings had their own families. Aside from reunions, where the whole family got together, they all did their own Christmases. But my family still all came home to Mom and Dad for Christmas. So it became a tradition for us to go to Milwaukee for Christmas, which is usually the worst weather possible, but family calls. So Jim really got into that. He was quickly adopted into my family as the 10th kid. He and my dad really get along. They both love to talk about everything, they have very similar minds, they like to debate about stuff. And my mom of course loves Jim.  

The holidays are a time when people have off and want to go see shows. So we used to have to get out of town pretty quickly — or at least Jim did — to do a show between Christmas and New Year’s. At one point Jim got the bright idea to see if he could do a show in Milwaukee so we didn’t have to come in and then go out. That’s how the Pabst started all those years ago. Once Jim did a show at the Pabst he was like, ‘This place is phenomenal!” Everything about the Pabst and the people who run the Pabst is A+. Having played theaters all over the country, the Pabst is definitely the cream of the crop. The employees, the audiences, the venue, it’s all just a terrific experience and has become a part of our tradition.

WiG
Speaking of going out and doing stand-up, I read that you plan his stand-up gigs around the kids time off so you can bring the whole family with. Is that still true?

JEANNIE
Yes, we didn’t really have it together early in our marriage because when I had one baby we just took the baby on tour with us. Then when I had two babies that were still in diapers it became difficult to drag them all over the place. That was corresponding with starting to do theater work. That kind of tore us apart in a lot of ways. We couldn’t really connect because he was on the road and I was still writing and producing with him, but the phone was bad and with the babies and the schedule it was really difficult. Around baby number three we were like, “Let’s restructure this whole thing, so that we can maintain our healthy family environment.”

What we’ve done is the longer tours are scheduled around the kids school vacations. So if Jim does a oner, which is what we call doing one night in the city and then flying out, we won’t travel with him. But if it’s a longer stay we’ll book all those things around the kids time off. That way we can go on tour and give the kids the experience of being with us while we’re working.

WiG
And you get a tour bus sometimes?

JEANNIE
Yes, we tour on a huge Greyhound-sized rock and roll bus with bunk beds. Of course we stop in hotels too and things like that, but we go from city to city with our kids around the country on a big tour bus.

WiG
I was at a Pabst show a few years ago and instead of having a comic open the kids came out and were Irish dancing and being super adorable. It’s very sweet that you do that and expose them to the industry in that way. It makes you think of like the family bands of the 60s and 70s.

JEANNIE
Yeah we get a lot of jokes about that.

WiG
And you got some shows coming up in London. Are you going to bring the family out to England?

JEANNIE
Yep we’re all going to London and we’ve done that before. We’ve traveled internationally with our kids and it’s surprisingly easy. My kids are so travel savvy that it’s kind of scary. I think this year was the first year in the last couple of years that they did not just start taking off their shoes when we get to security. And I’m like, “You don’t have to take off your shoes anymore!” They recently made a rule that if you’re under 12 you don’t take your shoes off anymore. But my kids are so used to growing up in airports that they just instinctively take off their shoes.

WiG
Is your oldest babysitting age yet?

JEANNIE
She could but I wouldn’t leave them alone with her because if something happened God forbid I’d probably be jailed. But she is amazing. One of the testaments to how great the whole experience has been for my family with all the traveling is that we’ve become so close. People have asked me, “Aren’t your older ones at the point where they want to stay home with friends and not go out on the road?” But I haven’t experienced that yet.

Of course they fight and argue like all kids, but they really enjoy being together as a group.  They’ve really bonded in a way between having them come with us on tour,  sometimes they’ll do a fun opening for Jim where they sing a song or dance and introduce him. And they’re not show kids at all, they just do it for dad and for the family. They’ve developed this camaraderie and I think it’s a testament to how great the whole experience has been for my family.  It’s something that happens in an entertainment situation like when you talk about people who are doing movies or TV shows or a play together, there’s just this bonding that happens amongst the group.

WiG
And I’m going to guess that living in your two-bedroom apartment for so long probably brought them closer together.

JEANNIE
Oh yeah, I totally think so.

WiG
Let’s talk about The Jim Gaffigan Show now. I know it was a long journey, as TV shows can be, with different development deals and what not. The fact that you were able to get it where you had full creative control, that seems so rare and lucky in today’s media landscape.

JEANNIE
Yeah that was pretty incredible. But I wouldn’t say that it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, because that’s just the way it has to be. I just feel like we’ve been through so much. You can’t write a show about your life and then give it over to somebody. It’s your life. I think you can be a part of somebody else’s vision and make a great contribution to it. But I think a lot of times what happens is that a great comedian will get a TV deal and you’ll watch the show and say, “Well, this isn’t funny,” or “This isn’t the point-of-view that I know and am a fan of.” Because it’s been given over to a committee. Other people are deciding what’s funny and not funny, what’s marketable and not marketable.

And that’s just the way it is in the traditional paradigm of sitcoms. So us being able to kind of take what we had, which was a  sitcom that was designed for network television and then once we did get creative control we still had the same model but then we could sort of incorporate more of what our audiences over the years have gotten to know and love about Jim’s comedy, we then applied that to the TV show without having people giving notes on it and stuff.

WiG
What were some of your major influences for the show? What are some of the shows that you and Jim really love?

JEANNIE
I can’t speak for Jim, but I grew up watching Seinfeld. So I really liked the different storylines, and the crazy characters, which all revolves around the voice and the point-of-view of the main character. And also how we would go to a silly level after establishing a grounded reality. And that’s kind of what we do in our comedy. So that was one of the influences.

Even some dramas have influenced us. We love dramas, we love our Netflix shows,  the dramas that we follow. Especially in Season Two, and to a certain extent in Season One, there’s a lot of flashback and fantasy sequences, which doesn’t limit us to just the apartment and the way the characters behave in the formula that was created for the show. It gave us a lot of things to go on. That’s another thing that’s great about stand-up comedy, you can have a grounded idea and then you can put it in outer space if you want. It’s about taking it to the next level, and I think once you ground something in reality then the audience will come along with you and enjoy the humor of “What if” this or that happened.

WiG
Yeah that makes me think of different episodes from the show. I’ve been binge watching the first season and I really love it, it’s fantastic.

JEANNIE
Thank you so much. We had a great time doing it, it was really a labor of love.

WiG
For sure. But like you said it was a labor, and it was very labor-intensive. I read that you were working so many hours that you were forming what felt like a family with your production team, but that it was taking away time from your actual family.

JEANNIE
The irony is that one of the reasons we wanted to do a show in New York was so we could spend more time with our family, so we wouldn’t be traveling as much. But what happens when you’re writing, producing and later directing a show is that it becomes an all-encompassing life. We were doing 80 hours a week for six months of the year.

At a certain point it becomes clear that if you’re writing a show about being a comedian with five kids in New York City, you have to actually experience being a parent of five kids in New York City, or you’re not going to be true to yourself. It wasn’t so much a matter of that the kids are going to be traumatized forever because Mom and Dad were both gone 80 hours a week for six months out of the year. It was more about looking ahead at what will happen as the show gets more successful and it won’t be possible to stop it.

If it had gone to the point where I think it was headed, being an established successful show, then you can’t just be like, “We’re not going to do this anymore.” You’re stuck, you’re not getting out. And so I think we have to be serious about what is that going to do to our kids? Because when we went for the live-action TV idea we had four kids and they played the kids on the show in the first pilot. Then they got too old to be the kids on the show.

In the first pilot my youngest at the time Michael was playing the two-year-old in the show and then the next year my son Patrick was playing the two-year-old in the show and the other kids were too old to be in the show. So I ended up spending more time with the TV kids really. At a certain point it’s like, one parent can do that, but if you have five kids you have to take responsibility for your life. I think that every once in awhile, if you look back over Jim and my trajectory of our careers, every few years we regroup and we do something else. We don’t want to get caught in something we can’t get out of, because it won’t be healthy for us as a family. The family comes first.

Now we can plan our next project like we do with the tours. We can plan it around serving our kids first, because we’re responsible with raising good human beings to go into this insane world, and that is our primary responsibility.

WiG
I think one of the things that the show has accomplished is that it’s really sort of brought you and your contribution, your partnership with Jim, more into the public eye. I’m a big comedy fan so I know from listening to old episodes of Comedy Bang Bang and WTF with Marc Maron that you and Jim are a strong comedy team, but I don’t think that was apparent in the public. What I think the show has accomplished is that it has brought that out. I know that sometimes people criticize you, saying things like “She put her career in the back seat for Jim’s,” but to me it’s really important and inspiring that you’re such a comedy team.

JEANNIE
Yeah, I got asked questions several times about how is it that this person who’s like me, a show runner and a director and a writer and a female, how am I not doing either my own project or making the character of Jeannie Gaffigan in the show be more of a superstar. I really think that I have the best of both worlds, because I get to do what I love and keep my family together.  

I think one of the reasons it’s so hard to keep a family together in the entertainment world when both of the parents are crazy workers like Jim and I, is that you just start doing your own stuff and you’re not serving the main goal, which is your family. In that sense Jim is a powerhouse, and I’m not saying that I’m not, but I’m the one who has the babies. That’s just my gender. I have children. I could leave certain things about raising my kids up to somebody else, but that wouldn’t sit right with me.

So I’m able to have the best of both worlds. Here I have this great family, I have five kids, I’m still able to work, I’m still able to have success on my own and be recognized as talented, and I don’t feel like I’m pushing the women’s movement back a million years, because I’ve found ways to game the system, if you will. I can have it all. And I think that if your ego gets caught up in it that’s when you know you have to make decisions and sacrifices in this world to get what you want. If you think you can control your life and say, “You know Jim, I’m actually going to go to Vancouver and direct a series and now you’re in charge of the kids,” that’s not the best decision for our family right now.

As I’ve supported Jim so much over the years he’s also supported me. And he completely trusts me to be his third eye. That’s an amazing position to be in because he knows that I don’t have a hidden agenda. I’m not trying to ride his coattails or to use him as a résumé builder, I’m in it for life. It’s a pretty good deal for both of us.

WiG
As someone who is sort of a recent parent in that I’ve been living with my girlfriend and her two kids for the last year, this show has kind of made me more confident with being a parent and has made parenting cool in a way.

JEANNIE
Well that’s amazing, that’s a huge compliment. And I think because we don’t want to alienate single people or people without kids or people who don’t want kids, we try to mix it up a little bit with the points of view on the show. But at the same time, you write what you know. You can’t think that your life is over when you become a parent, because it’s definitely not.

WiG
Yeah I mean I love the transition and all the new challenges. Just a couple last questions, in terms of where your careers are now, I saw that Jim is joining the cast of Fargo, which is a pretty heavy show. Would you like to see him go into more dramedy, leading man type stuff? Sort of like what Patton Oswalt has done with some of his films.

JEANNIE
Oh I definitely think that’s already started. When I met Jim I didn’t know anything about comedy, I didn’t follow stand-up comedians. And when I met him I knew he was a comedian but that’s not what we start working on. We started working on acting. Because I was coming from an environment of trained actors, Jim was an untrained actor and there was something so genuine and natural about his acting that was just inspiring to me about the level of talent that he had as an actor.  

That’s been true over the past two years and especially now that Jim just did a dramatic role in a Liev Schreiber film called The Bleeder, which is going to be coming out next year. Fargo was actually one of our shows. It’s a very dark comedy drama kind of thing and I really got into Noah Hawley. He’s another renaissance man who writes, directs, produces and does it all, so I automatically want to read what he has to say. One of the things that really inspired me about him as a showrunner is that he welcomes network notes.

And that’s sort of the way that I feel about it. If you put all your heart and soul into something and someone has notes on it, you should be able to defend all of your ideas. There might be something in there from an audience’s perspective that might not be clear. So I really liked hearing that when I read the article and saw the interview with Hawley. So we really got into Fargo and when the Fargo opportunity came along I was like, ‘This is incredible, this is the type of show that is an important move to make. It’s going to expand the acting horizons and it’s going to expand the perception of Jim beyond ‘The Hot Pockets guy.’” Even though I think our show is really funny and we talked about Jim’s obsession with food and I think that’s really great, but there’s so much more to him. There’s so much more that I know about him that I want to share with the world.

WiG
So kind of coming full circle to where you guys started. Last question, what are some of your creative goals?

JEANNIE
Well, we definitely are really excited that our 5th hour special is coming out in 2017.  We’re also starting our 6th hour of comedy. We started writing it because we just filmed and wrapped our 5th comedy special. And I directed and produced that as well. Jim and I had a lot of fun with framing it in a way that is unlikely. We’ve done four comedy specials where we had a fun opening sequence with the marquee outside of the theater and backstage, but this time we got a lot more theatrical and a little more dark with the opening. Just kind of having that ability to be like, “We’re going to do this and not have anyone go, ‘Oh my God, that’s just too weird.’”

It’s just like, “Okay, you can go ahead and do that.” So creatively we want to continue to produce our own stuff. We might want to look at producing scripts that we respond to that are other people scripts. But I think that our next goal besides writing our 6th hour of comedy is probably to develop something that we could do over like a six to eight episode arc. Something with maybe a streaming service, so it’s breaking the model of traditional commercial television.

WiG
Awesome. It sounds like you got a lot going on and you’ve been doing fantastic work and I really appreciate you taking the time out to talk to me today.

JEANNIE
Thank you so much for the interview. I also wanted to mention that we added another show in Milwaukee to benefit the Riverwest Food Pantry.

WiG
Yeah I saw that, how did that come about?

JEANNIE
My brother is the executive director of the Riverwest Food Pantry, which has become a tradition for us to volunteer at when we visit Milwaukee. And as the whole world knows Milwaukee is constantly in the news in a negative manner because of the intense segregation and the alienation that people feel from each other. Particularly in this political climate it’s important for us to try to make a bridge between cultures. When we come to Milwaukee, like I said, family is the tradition. So we get together with our family and one of the things that we did starting several years back was bring our kids to volunteer at the food pantry, stock the shelves, take people shopping and give people a little bit of assistance.

Since Vincent became the executive director, one of the things that he’s trying to do is that rather than giving people fish, he’s trying to give them fishing poles. He’s started a lot of workshops between job fairs, healthy cooking seminars, stuff like that. It’s just a blossoming thing that’s happening in Riverwest, which is sort of like a bridge between the communities. And so a couple years back my brother was backstage at the Pabst after a show and he’s a huge supporter of us and we’re a huge supporter of him, and Matt Beringer and Gary Witt who are the geniuses behind the Pabst Theater and the revitalization of downtown, they got to talking with Vincent and they started to do some work together to better Milwaukee.  

This idea started germinating a couple of years ago about doing something really special for the 10th Anniversary. It just seemed appropriate to do something to help enrich the culture in Milwaukee and to help bridge the gap between communities that traditionally are separate. It’s a starting point to go along with the refinement of downtown, where they’re developing the river and there’s some really incredible things happening in Milwaukee and we just want to be a part of it and in our own way give back to the community for all they’ve given us.

WiG
That’s great. We appreciate it for sure.

JEANNIE
It’s an important thing that needs to happen and you’re starting to see the results about people caring for their community.

WiG
Definitely. Have a great week and enjoy the holidays.

JEANNIE
You too, Happy Thanksgiving.

WiG
Take care.

Clinton, Trump plan New York parties on Election Night

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump could hardly be farther apart politically. But they’ll spend the decisive night of their polarizing presidential campaign barely a New York minute away from one another.

For the first time in recent memory, both major-party candidates are holding election night parties in midtown Manhattan.

Trump, the Republican New York native who embodies what people variously love, hate and love to hate about the nation’s biggest city, is headed to a power hotel that boasts of having hosted every president for more than half a century.

Clinton, the Democratic transplant who won over New Yorkers to start her political rise as their senator, will be at a sprawling convention center with a perhaps symbolic glass ceiling.

Smack in between is Times Square, where election-watching crowds have gathered for decades.

If the faceoff between the would-be first woman president and the billionaire businessman seeking the presidency as his first political job is an only-in-America story, its denouement stands to be an only-in-New York election night.

“It’s grand theater, it’s culturally contradictory and it’s completely par for the course” in a race that’s been an outsized spectacle featuring two New Yorkers, said David Birdsell, the public and international affairs dean at the City University of New York’s Baruch College.

On Thursday, workers were building a stage shaped like the United States, complete with outlying pillars for Alaska and Hawaii, at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, the block-sized venue where Clinton announced last week she’ll gather with supporters.

Its atrium has a glass ceiling, like the metaphorical one Clinton hopes to shatter by becoming the nation’s first female commander in chief. Her campaign website invites the public to sign up for information on tickets to the event.

Trump’s campaign revealed late Tuesday that it had chosen the New York Hilton Midtown, a few blocks from his Trump Tower home, for an invitation-only gathering.

The Hilton claims to have hosted every U.S. president since John F. Kennedy, and its big ballrooms are go-tos for many of the city’s major business, social and political gatherings. Trump used one in July for a news conference introducing Republican Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his running mate.

New York City has been a crucible for political ambition and drama since the nation’s formative years, when it was one of the first capitals.

But this year’s presidential race is the first since 1944 to feature two major-party candidates from New York state. (Clinton lives outside the city, in Chappaqua.) While both are part of the city’s power structure, the campaign has highlighted the discontent of voters far from it and their anger at what they view as disconnected elites holding sway in Washington and on Wall Street.

It’s “ironic that they’re both going to be here election night,” said Aaron Barlow, a CUNY City College of Technology English professor who wrote a 2013 book about the country’s cultural divide. “The two candidates have both argued that they can represent the heart of the country, yet they both retreat at their most important moment to the city that a lot of the country sees as the heart of the enemy.”

The New York Police Department, working with the Secret Service, will deploy thousands of extra officers to secure the candidates’ venues. They’ll include plainclothes and heavily armed counterterrorism officers and uniformed officers assigned to crowd control, with an emphasis on watching for spontaneous protests and closing streets if necessary.

Some New Yorkers are taking their own steps to try to keep an emotional lid on the night.

Event planner Linnea Johansson said she became concerned as the campaign went through its bitter autumn “that people might start getting a little angry with each other.”

So she made sure the Brooklyn watch party she’s planning for a singles-oriented volunteering group will offer alternatives to talking politics, such as a team trivia contest. They’ll also have some opportunities to let off steam, like writing some thoughts on paper that will be tossed like confetti at the end of the night.

The party theme? “Leave Your Vote at the Door.”

NYC lawmakers pass a requirement for free tampons

New York City is on track to become the nation’s first city to require free tampons and sanitary pads in public schools, homeless shelters and jails after lawmakers approved the idea Tuesday amid a national discussion of the costs of having a period.

The proposal, which Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration supports, marks a new direction in activists’ push to dismantle what they see as unfair financial barriers between women and needed sanitary products. New York state lawmakers voted last month to become the sixth state to eliminate sales tax on the items.

City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras-Copeland’s proposal would make pads and tampons free in restrooms that serve 300,000 schoolgirls, and it would guarantee the products’ availability to 23,000 women in homeless shelters and add the force of law to jail standards about sanitary supplies.

Supporters say New York would lead cities by having a law, rather than more changeable policies, in a wide range of locales.

“They’re as necessary as toilet paper,” so they ought to be just as freely accessible, Ferreras-Copeland, a Democrat, said before Tuesday’s 49-0 vote.

During the discussion, the council’s female speaker waved a wrapped tampon aloft in the spirit of bringing a once-taboo subject into the open. Even a male lawmaker who found the subject a bit uncomfortable praised the proposal.

It’s unclear when the mayor will take up the measure, which would provide an estimated 2 million tampons and 3.5 million pads per year in shelters alone. Once dispensers are installed, it’s expected to cost about $2.5 million annually in the city’s $82 billion budget.

To some extent, schools, shelters and lockups in New York and elsewhere already provide the supplies for free, and the issue has started bubbling up in various lawmakers’ chambers. The Dane County Board in Wisconsin, for instance, voted late last year to experiment with providing free tampons and pads in some buildings in the capital county, an idea adapted from a test project that Ferreras-Copeland helped spearhead in 25 New York City schools last year. A Wisconsin state legislature proposal to require the products to be free in public schools and state buildings has stalled so far.

Advocates say the measure also would make the free sanitary supplies more readily available by putting them in restrooms, instead of nurses’ offices, in schools with female students in sixth grade and up. Girls who need pads or tampons now have to scramble to try to get to the nurse and then the restroom in breaks between classes, says Lineyah Mitchell, a graduating senior at Brooklyn Technical High School.

Rather than do that and risk being late, girls learn to “know the friend in that class who has extra pads,” Mitchell, 17, said at a rally before the vote.

Homeless shelters and jails already provide free menstrual supplies on request, according to the city administration. Women’s advocates suggest the supplies are inadequate, but officials say they provide what’s needed.

Social Services Commissioner Steven Banks, who oversees homeless shelters, applauded the proposed requirement Tuesday, saying it “expands on and enshrines into law” existing policies.

Meanwhile, New York’s statewide sales tax exemption on menstrual supplies is awaiting Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s signature, which is expected.

Several states have weighed eliminating the tax this year, with mixed results. While New York said yes, a Utah legislative committee voted down the idea in March.

NYPD investigating sexual assault at Stonewall

New York City police are searching for a man suspected of sexually assaulting a transgender woman in a bathroom at the historic Stonewall Inn bar in Greenwich Village.

Police said this week the 25-year-old woman was in a unisex bathroom at the bar when a man who has not been identified entered and sexually assaulted her.

Police said the suspect fled the bathroom, but then returned a short time later and assaulted the woman a second time.

Police said the assault happened around 11:40 p.m. on March 26. The woman was treated at an area hospital.

There have been no arrests but the New York Daily News reported that surveillance video shows the suspect sought by authorities.

Stonewall Inn is the site of 1969 riots that helped give rise to the LGBT civil rights movement.

Anyone with information regarding the assailant’s identity is urged to call New York’s Crime Stoppers at (800) 577-TIPS. All calls will be kept confidential.

There have been no arrests but the New York Daily News reported that surveillance video shows the suspect sought by authorities.
There have been no arrests but the New York Daily News reported that surveillance video shows the suspect sought by authorities. — PHOTO: Courtesy Daily News

NY mayor to march in St. Pat’s parade after LGBT ban dropped

Mayor Bill de Blasio is ending a two-year boycott of the nation’s largest St. Patrick’s Day parade now that it has fully dropped its longstanding ban on allowing LGBT groups to march under their own banners.

De Blasio, a first-term Democrat, told The Associated Press that for the first time he will take part in the parade along Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17. He skipped the parade in 2014, when no gay groups were allowed to openly march, and he skipped again last year, when only one small lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender group was permitted.

“The St. Patrick’s Day Parade is a New York City tradition, but for years Irish LGBT New Yorkers could not show their pride,” de Blasio told the AP. “Finally, they can celebrate their heritage by marching in a parade that now represents progress and equality.”

This year, more than 300 people will march under the banner of the Lavender and Green Alliance, an Irish LGBT group that had worked for 25 years to reverse the ban and, when those efforts stalled, founded a competing parade, called St. Patrick’s For All, which marches every year in Queens and allows all groups to participate.

“Our hearts will be dancing,” said Brendan Fay, the head of the group.

Fay gave credit to de Blasio, who was the first mayor in more than 20 years to refuse to participate in the Manhattan parade, saying his boycott put pressure on the parade’s organizers to change their policies. A year ago, organizers allowed OUT(at)NBCUniversal, a gay organization at NBC, which televises the festivities, to participate, but de Blasio and several other elected officials said that wasn’t enough and continued to abstain from participating in the 255-year-old march.

“It wasn’t truly inclusive until it included an Irish gay group,” said Councilman Daniel Dromm, a Democratic member of the City Council’s Irish and LGBT caucuses. “This allows us to express, in full, who we really are. When you’ve been excluded for something for so long, when you finally realize your dream is coming true, it’s very emotional.”

Dromm will be joined by several members of the City Council, including its speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito, a Democrat who also boycotted the last two years. Aides to de Blasio said he would march in the first portion of the parade with police officers, firefighters and other members of the city’s uniformed services and then spend some of the parade under the Lavendar and Green Alliance’s banner.

It’s customary for the groups marching, some of whom have been participating for decades, to proceed in the same order, with new groups relegated to the end. But parade organizers said the new gay group would not be placed at the end of the lineup.

“We want this to be our most inclusive parade ever,” said John Lahey, chairman of the parade. “We hope that it will bring New Yorkers from all backgrounds together in a way that maybe our previous parades didn’t.”

Lahey, who also is the president of Quinnipiac University, said that no groups dropped out this year after the decision to include the gay organizations, though some had complained the previous year when OUT(at)NBCUniversal was allowed.

But some longtime parade participants condemned the changes.

“The mayor is a disgrace who bullied everyone to having the type of parade that he wanted,” said Bill Donohue, of the Catholic League, who stopped marching a year ago over the decision to allow LGBT banners. “They are making this just an Irish parade, not a Catholic parade. It’s contemptible.”

This year’s parade, which will mark the 100th anniversary of an insurrection that led to Ireland’s independence, will feature former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell as grand marshal. Mitchell, a Democrat and a primary architect of 1998’s Good Friday peace agreement in Northern Ireland, had told organizers he would not participate if LGBT groups were not permitted.

 

Radioactive material found in groundwater under nuclear power plant

An apparent overflow at a nuclear power plant north of New York City spilled highly radioactive water into an underground monitoring well.

Officials at the Indian Point Energy Center in Buchanan, 40 miles north of Manhattan, reported that water contaminated by tritium leaked into the groundwater under the facility. The contamination has remained contained to the site, said Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who ordered the state’s environmental conservation and health departments to investigate.

“Our first concern is for the health and safety of the residents close to the facility and ensuring the groundwater leak does not pose a threat,” Cuomo said Saturday in a statement.

The leak occurred after a drain overflowed during a maintenance exercise while workers were transferring water, which has high levels of radioactive contamination, said Neil Sheehan, a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Normally, a sump pump would take the water and filter it into another treatment system, but the pump apparently was out of service, Sheehan said. After the drain overflowed, the water seeped out of the building into the groundwater.

It was unclear how much water spilled, but samples showed the water had a radioactivity level of more than 8 million picocuries per liter, a 65,000 percent increase from the average at the plant, Cuomo said. The levels are the highest regulators have seen at Indian Point, and the normal number is about 12,300 picocuries per liter, Cuomo said.

Contaminated groundwater would likely slowly make its way to the Hudson River, Sheehan said, but research has shown that water usually ends up in the middle of the river and is so diluted that the levels of radioactivity are nearly undetectable.

A spokesman for Entergy Corp., the New Orleans-based company that operates Indian Point, said the overflow was “likely the cause of the elevated tritium levels.”

“Tritium in the ground is not in accordance with our standards, but I think people should keep in mind there’s no health or safety consequences,” spokesman Jerry Nappi said. “There is no impact on drinking water on or off site.”

> There has been a history of groundwater contamination at Indian Point.

There has been a history of groundwater contamination at Indian Point. A federal oversight agency issued a report after about 100,000 gallons of tritium-tainted water entered the groundwater supply in 2009, and elevated levels of tritium also were found in two monitoring wells at the plant in 2014. Officials said then the contamination likely stemmed from an earlier maintenance shutdown.

An Associated Press investigation in 2009 showed three-quarters of America’s 65 nuclear plant sites have leaked tritium, a radioactive form of hydrogen that poses the greatest risk of causing cancer when it ends up in drinking water.