(Photo: Lisa Whiteman)
The podcast game was pretty well established before you got there (two guys sitting around talking comedy for an hour and a half), so what made you burden yourself with things like production and actual scripted comedy?
My stupid mind. I really enjoy podcasts, and being very aware that that ground was well-trod - the two guys talking with a third guy about something else - I thought, “I’d really want to do something different,” but I didn’t know what I wanted to do. Then I just made a list of all the things that I enjoy doing: stream of consciousness, riffing, sketches, doing voices and interview-style, conversational-style interviews, and I just kind of put them all together in one thing.
Your standup style has evolved from set-'em-up, knock-'em-down jokes to longer bits about your experiences. Was part of that the popularity of the podcast format?
Actually, before I started podcasting, my style was starting to evolve in that way and it was just a natural evolution born out of very trusting comedy audiences in Los Angeles and New York where you can experiment a little more with longer form stuff. And it was great; I really enjoyed it. When I started doing that - sharing stuff from my own life - there were always positive reactions and it felt really good to me, artistically. And that sort of coincided with the podcast in that it became an easy thing to go onto a podcast and just sort of riff conversationally.
You talked about your impressions. What made you realize you were good at that and what made you feel like that was something you wanted to continue to do as a big part of your comedy?
I did voices and stuff when I was a kid but it was not really a part of my comedy until I was hosting Best Week Ever and a lot of the bits that we wrote for that show were just more fun to act out than to write a joke - that’s where Andrew Lloyd Webber and Cake Boss and Ice T came from. Then, when Scott Aukerman started Comedy Death-Ray, (now Comedy Bang Bang) and asked me to guest on the show, he said, “Yeah, you can be yourself, you can be a character, whatever you want to do.” If he hadn’t said that, I don’t think it would have occurred to me to be anyone other than myself, and that was really it. That was the thing that got me thinking about it in a different way.
What was the last thing you had to apologize for?
That’s a really good question. I feel like I am constantly apologizing for stuff. When I was younger, it was just about being right at all costs, and now I realize it’s okay to be wrong sometimes, because you grow as a human being. I apologize to my wife all the time. I will be wrapped up in something frustrating and my wife will want to help me, and so of course the first thing I do is fucking SNAP at her. It’s all one smooth fluid motion, where she’ll say something innocuous to me, and I will snap at her. And then immediately apologize and explain the situation that is going on in my brain. It used to be a huge deal with us and now it’s just like saying “good morning.”
What is your favorite curse word or phrase?
I think it’s “Fuckin’ A,” which I believe I misuse because “fuckin’ A” is supposed to denote something positive, like “fuckin’ A right!” But I’ll drop a glass and it will shatter and I’ll go, “Fucking A!” I think for some reason that’s my go-to, it’s like I don’t even think about it, it just comes out of me. But I think it’s wrong.
What is the worst hangover you ever had?
Oh boy. There was a Thanksgiving, it was the year after my mother died and I was with my soon-to-be-wife and I went to Philadelphia to spend Thanksgiving with my family. That night we got together with my cousins and I was just drinking like crazy and we got into some big protracted fight about gay marriage, you know, me and my cousins, and it was just - we drank until dawn. We drank until the sun came up and then I passed out in their living room and I unfortunately left my phone charging in the other room, so my wife, who had gone home hours before, had no idea where I was and what was going on. And she’s calling me every 10 minutes and assuming that I am dead, and finally my cousin came home from work and I was still there and he said, “Hey your phone is ringing.” So I got picked up by my wife, she came and got me. We were staying with my brother-in-law and my sister-in-law and all day I just sat on the couch immobile. We watched movies all day and I was immobile. There was a plate of food in front of me that I could not touch. That was tough. That took days to recover from.
What was your first car?
My first car was a 2011 mini cooper, because I only learned to drive in 2010.
You grew up in Philadelphia, so you didn’t have to drive that often.
Yes. you could get around pretty well in Philadelphia without a car. You CANNOT do so very well in Los Angeles, where I’ve lived since 1994.
Do you have a scar that tells a story?
Just on my heart. No, not really. I have been very lucky that I have escaped a lot of physical injuries. I’ve never broken a bone; I’ve never really had any visible scars. I have a hernia scar from when I was a kid. I had a hernia when I was like in fourth grade. And for reasons that are obvious if you think about it, you can’t see those scars anymore.
But it certainly does tell a story.
Oh, yes it does.
Do you have a party trick?
No, I tend to be very withdrawn at parties these days, now that I drink a normal amount, I am less extroverted at parties than I used to be and my biggest trick I think is being able to leave without saying goodbye. My wife loves it and is able to do that without even thinking about it.
What’s the biggest thing you’ve ever put in your mouth?
Probably any number of cheesesteaks or hoagies in Philadelphia, I’m one of those people that eat as quickly as possible. And I’ve never been able to slow myself down. It’s a byproduct of growing up in a big family, if you wanted to get not only your fair share, but more than your fair share, you had to get the food in you as quick as you possibly could. I think I’ve almost killed myself 1,000 times eating some sandwich as fast as I possibly could and almost choking. It’s a miracle that I’m still alive.
What’s the one thing you should remember in a fist fight?
“This was your fault.” It is so easy to avoid getting in a fist fight. If you’re at a point where you’re squaring up against someone in public, then it’s on you. There are so many ways to not get in a fist fight.
Who was the last person to see you naked?
That would have to be my wife.
It’s unavoidable. If you’re not some weird cult, it’s unavoidable.
Finish this sentence: If I ruled the world for a day, I would…
Hmm, so many things I would want to do. You know what; I would make litter a hangable offense. The longer I’m alive, the more I can’t believe what fucking slobs people are and how they just ruin things for their fellow man. Like when I go to the gym and there’s gum in the cup holder. Somebody has to clean that up and I find that it’s such a “fuck you” to the rest of society. It makes me so furious, so I’d line those people up against a wall and shoot them.
Find Paul F. Tompkins on Twitter at @PFTompkins.
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