When I do these things, I really want them to feel more like a film and not just seem like another comedy channel cranking out the same stuff. I go into it with some sort of artistic idea, and to have a director who gets me and can make all the things happen, and is a really great filmmaker, just gives me confidence that what I’m trying to do isn’t going to end up bastardized or messed up in some way. We have very different acts, but one thing that we both share in common is that we really like show business, the grandness of it – we grew up watching people in movies and television and stuff and thinking, “These guys are cool, they get to do cool stuff - let’s do cool stuff like this. Why should we be shy or reserved? Let’s kick ass!”
Can we expect any White Zombie on the soundtrack?
[Laughs] No, we couldn’t afford it!
He’d be a badass musical guest for your Sirius radio show, Come To Papa.
Yeah, no kidding! He would do it – I’m sure he would do it.
You’ve had some amazing guest stars on that show – Mel Brooks, Jerry Seinfeld… Is there one that really stands out for you?
Mel Brooks, for sure. Carl Reiner blew me away, Dick Cavett was another one. The older guys that are still out there and still funny and still doing it – when it’s somebody that’s been that brilliant for that long, it’s like a different level of respect.
You got your first big break when Jerry Seinfeld invited you to come on his tour. What was going through your head when that happened?
His show had just finished, and he was the biggest thing in the country. I was at a bar in a comedy club and he just comes up to me and says, “You’re really funny,” and I was like, “Oh yeah?” And we kind of just started talking about some of the material. That was just like a blessing, I couldn’t believe it – I was like, well, that’s enough, I don’t need to do anything else, I think I’m good with this.
Your comedy has a reputation for being pretty clean, do you think that’s something that appealed to him?
Yeah - you can’t fool him, if there’s a cheat in the comedy, he’s gonna call it out. I’m sure he respects comedians that maybe are a little blue but are really funny and original, but as far as being part of his produced show, when people open for you, they’re a reflection of you. If people are coming to see him, even if he loves the guy who’s really dirty, he’s not gonna put him on that bill. There’s different schools of comedy, and I’m more in the Jerry school.
What do you think about cursing in comedy?
In the absence of a really good joke or original stuff, frankly, it’s just boring. I walk through the park and every kid is saying, “fuck” - everyone’s a gutter mouth now, so why would I want the ordinary language in my act that I worked so hard on?
You’re always showing up on Leno or Letterman or Conan. Be honest, who’s your favorite late night host?
Letterman. He’s just such a good, cranky character. They’ve all been really great to me, but just as a pure fan and a viewer, there’s something about Letterman that’s just so unique and cranky and I just love it.
You recently starred alongside Michael Douglas and Matt Damon in Behind The Candelabra – how did that come about?
I had done a movie with Steven Soderbergh called The Informant and after that one, he just called me up and offered it. He said, “I’m putting you in the gayest movie of all time.” And I said, “What do I have to do?” He said, “Don’t worry about it. Just do the film.”
AND NOW: TOM PAPA ANSWERS THE SAME 10 QUESTIONS WE ALWAYS ASK EVERYONE!
What was the last thing you had to apologize for?
For not holding the elevator door open, here in Montreal. This woman was running to get on, and I didn’t think she’d make it. And then she gets in and I’m like, “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t see you!” It was really an apology and a lie at the same time.
What’s your favorite curse word?
Shithead. It’s a little bit of a throwback, but it’s a good one, and it’s almost quaint at this point – like, yeah, you shithead.
What’s the worst hangover you’ve ever had?
The worst hangover was in high school, after drinking gin at Delaware College. That’s probably a good 25 years ago and I still can’t drink it.
Do you remember anything about that night?
I just remember my friend being stuck on one of those low walkway chain-link fences - he was stuck on it and like a turtle, he couldn’t get his arms or legs on the ground to free himself. He just kept flailing and as good friends, we stood there and laughed at him.
What was your first car?
A Toyota Corolla, 1976. My father said it was “baby shit orange.”
Do you have a scar that tells a story?
I have a scar on my face from my first seconds on the planet - they pulled me out with forceps and they slipped. I was born into this world bleeding and crying. My parents were probably 20 at the time, and they didn’t even think – they were like, yeah, we have a baby! And then by the time I was old enough to ask, the term had run out, I couldn’t sue on my own.
Do you have a party trick?
Yeah, I can actually inflate my nose to make it look like a balloon. I kind of clog up my nostrils with my fingers and blow and the whole thing expands.
When you first started in comedy, did you ever get desperate enough to do that on stage?
Yeah, actually, my very first set, I tried it! I was in panic – I was like, how about this?
How did that go down?
I don’t remember. Not well enough for me to do it again…
What’s the biggest thing you’ve ever put in your mouth?
Probably an orange.
What’s the one thing to remember in a fist fight?
That you don’t know how to fight!
Who was the last person to see you naked?
And you’re sticking with that answer?
Yes, yes I am.
Finish this sentence: If I ruled the world for a day, I would…
I would make candy a part of every meal.
Photos: Corey Melton