Paul F. Tompkins: Something personal

It’s been a busy year for Paul F. Tompkins. Besides the usual planning and prep involved in putting together his monthly Paul F. Tompkins Variety Show at the Largo Theater in Los Angeles, the comic has been revolutionizing the way comedy shows are booked, creating a podcast and releasing a new one-hour special – June 11 at 11pm EST on Comedy Central – titled You Should Have Told Me, filmed at the intimate Laughing Skull Lounge in Atlanta. All this, while planning a wedding, getting married and trying to enjoy a honeymoon. A clear departure from bits like “Sexy Bee” and debating “Pie vs. Cake,” You Should Have Told Me is Tompkins’ most intimate released set of material to date. He moves from dealing with aging and the maturity that is presumed to come with it, to trying to find the funny in his mother’s death. It’s clear that Tompkins has evolved into a master storyteller; now more than ever, he weaves together absurd situations with deep emotion. Punchline Magazine recently caught up with Paul to talk about this evolution. So how are you doing? I am well. I’m a little on the tired side because I just got back from Madison [a Tompkins 300 show, wherein 300 fans pledge to attend a show in their city and then PFT books it], and then had a couple hours of downtime and then did a long set at the UCB Theater. Do you take red eye flights in to all the Tompkins 300 shows and then get out of dodge the next morning? Not all of them. I just had to do it with this one because I had a show last night and the Madison show was the night before. If I did all that traveling on Saturday I would have been cutting it a little too close to showtime. So yeah, I took the red eye but that’s not my favorite thing in the world to do. If it’s far enough away I”ll try to get in the night before if I can. I thought before I get into the meat of the interview - my editor apologized on my behalf some time ago for that Twitter article fiasco. [ed. Note: Chase once blogged on Punchline Magazine that he was no longer going to follow PFT because he @-replies too much] Right. This is a good opportunity for me to go on the record. I was WAY out of line. It did seem like disproportionate anger over how much I was using Twitter. I was serious about it seeming like a lot. It was a bit overwhelming— Overwhelming. Hold on a second. I just felt— HOLD ON. This apology is off to a BAD START if you’re talking about Twitter being overwhelming. That’s a big word. You’re right. The rational point I was making in my article was that I was getting too many @-replies from you to other Twitter users. It turns out, I was using Twitter wrong. There you go. It was actually all my fault. Look, I’m not trying to assign blame. If anything, I’m trying to remove blame from a situation that does not require it. So that will be in print. Well, I appreciate that, thank you. It’s behind us. Moving on, I think that the Seattle radio station you called into a couple weeks ago was retarded. Oh man. Do they have some sort of conservative bent or something? Well, it’s a classic rock station. But they have comics as in-studio guests all the time. In fact, the day after you called in, Andy Kindler was on. Right. I wonder though sometimes, if they see Countdown [with liberal pundit Keith Olbermann] on my IMDB page they think ‘Oh, this guy was on Olberman.’ But you know, I’m not a politcal comedian and what I do on Countdown is not really political commentary. I’m at the end and I just talk about whatever the goofiest story is. But those guys brought politics up and they just seemed mad at me for some reason. So I don’t know what was going on with that.
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Paul F. Tompkins - Buying a House
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It was odd and unexpected. I assumed that if they were interested in having you on their show, that they must have known about you. But they asked you, “SO what are you all about?” at the top of the call. I don’t think I’ve ever had an interview start like that. And let me say this, I don’t think it was even supposed to be an interview, right? I thought I was supposed to be there as a funny guest and we would joke about stuff. But they sort of treated it like a very poorly prepared interview where they thought that I was the host of the podcast The Sound of Young America. Which I am not. And when I pointed out to them that I am not the host, they went ahead with their preplanned question, ‘What do you think is the sound of young America?’ We’re going to ignore the fact that you are not the host of this show and we’re going to ask you the one question we prepared for this. Exactly. This is the one question we thought would be interesting. And uh, not only were we wrong, but it’s not interesting. But it’s radio, so what are you going to do? Radio by and large is the worst. Yeah, I can see why you would want to avoid it. I wonder if they were mad at me because I had given them my cell phone instead of my land line, and so I was waiting for my land line phone and I did not realize that my cell phone was ringing. They might have had a chip on their shoulder because of that but I started out by apologizing and talking about how stupid I felt. Maybe they had a real segment planned and decided instead to make you play the Defend Your IMDB Credits game. Yeah, we’ll show this guy for giving us the wrong number. I bet he’s not even in this movie at all. Oh yeah, and their idea that There Will Be Blood was a terrible title for a movie and it will keep that movie from being well regarded in film history. It will be forgotten because of that awful awful title that is not memorable, or interesting, or intriguing in any way. I asked some fans on Twitter for some questions and the idea that came up the most was your obsession with pills. Everyone wants to know, what are these pills? I believe it was a reference to some kind e-mail spam or something about erectile dysfunction pills. It somehow related to that. Either somebody said something or I said something that sounded like that. Then I think I wished everybody on Twitter a good night and good pills. You know, I did a bunch of tweets in a row with the word pills in them and that was it. Then I just kept on doing it because people kept responding to it and wishing me good pills and so now people ask me on Twitter and I’m not sure how to explain it in 140 characters. But man, it really snow balled. Sorry everybody. It was just an offhand joke that should not have lasted as long as it has. It seems that with the Tompkins 300 shows you are relying heavily on the old “Honesty is the best policy” policy. How are those showing going? Well, what do you mean by that? People join those groups and say, ‘I am going to go to this thing,’ and there’s a lot of trust on your end to book the show and hope that these people aren’t, you know, liars. Yeah, that is a good way to put it. It is asking fans to think beyond just the theoretical. The way the first group started by Bob Kerr in Toronto, he stressed to everyone, ‘Don’t join this group if you think you’re going to help me out or you just like joining groups because its easy to do. Only join if you really are committed to seeing a show.’ Like, if you are at all able to see a show, you’ll see the show. Obviously, not everybody who is joining the groups is doing that, but most people are. Most people are really taking it seriously— if the attendance at these shows have been any indication. I’ve done Toronto, Halifax, Memphis, Dallas, Seattle, and Madison. The response has been great. The only two shows that were under atteneded were Memphis and Dallas. Memphis we probably should have just done one show. It would probably would have been around 300 I think, but we did end up doing two shows and it was just not that big of a crowd at both shows. I think if we would have done one show, it would have been packed and it would have been fine. Dallas, I don’t think we even cracked 100 people but you know part of that is because of the markets. Certain places don’t have as big of comedy markets as other places. Memphis I’d been to a couple times before and it had never been that great when I performed there. People didn’t really know me that well there. I didn’t have that big an amount of fans there but I thought this would be something different. It ended up being about the same. It just ended up being as good as a really good comedy club show is. But not as good as some of these other shows have been. The shows in Toronto, Halifax, Seattle and Madison were some of the best shows I’ve ever had. I felt like I really had a connection with the audience. Even the Dallas show, not that many people turned out but the people that did turn out were amazing. It was an amazing audience. The Memphis shows being the weakest ones were still great shows. Just not that many people came out. People weren’t as excited as they have been in other places. So you know, I’m figuring this out but so far so good. It seems to be working. I think the venue has a lot to do with it. The venues is Memphis and Dallas were not ideal. The place in Dallas was gigantic theater and the people said, “Yeah, we can shrink it down to any size,” but it didn’t seem like any attempt had been made to shrink it down to any size. So, I’m in this big giant barn playing to not that many people. It’s kind of making sure, you know, that if the place is too big - let’s find a smaller place.
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Paul F. Tompkins - Made a Mistake
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What type of venue do you think works best for these kind of shows? Ideally, I’d love to do all theaters but I just did this place called The Re-Bar in Seattle, which you are well acquainted with, that I would hardly call a grand theater. It’s a kind of down and dirty place that seems well equipped for a band and stuff like that. Some fans had expressed some concern. I wondered if it was a mistake to book that place but when I got there it was filled with people who all wanted to see me, everyone had a place to sit, and we had a great time. So it didn’t matter that the place didn’t have velvet seats. People were perfectly happy there and it was a nice intimate place. I really enjoyed performing there and I would absolutely perform there again. I think if it’s the right size and everyone is there for the same reason it doesn’t matter what the venue is. How long until you’ll revisit a city? Let’s say Halifax sets up another group that reaches 300 in month. I haven’t done any return dates yet, but I’m getting ready to do the first one in Toronto which will be as soon as September or October. The idea is I’d go back to these place once a year as soon as I have a new hour of material to present to them. And I can communicate to them through the group. You know, ‘Hey, I’m coming back.’ So now people are aware of me there and then it’s hopefully continuing to use that group, and Twitter along with other social networking stuff, any kind of press that I can muster, to keep spreading the word and keep letting people know so that there is a base of people already talking about it. The idea is that the groups also will continue to stir up interest amongst themselves so that it’s not all up to me and its not all up to them but that we’re doing it together. I think you may have cracked the code. Hopefully. The return engagements are the next step in terms of the things I have to figure out. I don’t know how much longer people are going to stick with facebook. These social networks seem to only last so long. I am trying to look toward the future to see what the next big thing is and see how I can build this into my own website. It’s going to take some brainstorming. Any International groups, I mean, besides Canada? There have been a couple that don’t really go anywhere. There’s one in Sweden and one in Australia. I think the one in Sweden has 15 people and the one in Australia has 3 people. I also don’t know how many people it would take to make that trip economically viable. I would love to go to the UK, it would be great to know that I have a handful of fans to see a show but I think it’s going to take more than 300 and I’d have to crunch some numbers to find out what that number would be. You have been hinting at a podcast forever. Can we get a taste of what you are envisioning? Or are you waiting for technology to catch up with your vision? No, it’s that I have learn the technology. If it was going to just be me and a couple other people sitting around talking - it would be done already. What I want to do is a much more produced kind of thing. I want to have produced comedy for it. Sketches that I would write and perform specifically for the podcast. I’m going to have sound clips from my Variety show I do at Largo every month. There’s going to be some conversational aspect to it where I will call a pool of people I would talk to via phone, but then edit the conversation. So it’s not simple. It’s a lot of different elements that I have to put together. I’m drawing on all my inspirations and stuff that I enjoy listening to and put it all in one place. I want it to reflect all the facets of my comedic sensibility. I’m trying to spread the word of me as far and wide as I can. I would love nothing more than for the Largo show to be my job but I think more people need to be aware that it even exists and what other kind of things would I need to do with that show to generate enough interest in it outside of just Los Angeles. I would love to do it on the road. I did it a couple times in San Fransisco, which was great fun and love to do it more places. I need to talk to Andy Wood, who runs the Bridgetown Comedy Festival in Portland, and talk to him about maybe bringing my variety show up there. I would love to do that. So, you know, that’s what’s taking me so long. It’s not a simple thing, it’s very involved. Unfortunately, my career involves a lot scrambling around and developing a lot of out of town gigs. So yeah, I haven’t had a whole lot of time to write and record and edit and upload all of this stuff. So if everybody will just give me to two fucking seconds, I will do it. It is going to happen. I’ve already begun putting everything together on paper. It’s just not going to be a simple thing. It will probably end up being a monthly podcast. But also, it’s going to be free… so take it easy.
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Paul F. Tompkins - True Stabbing Story
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I think a lot of people don’t realize how much time and effort goes into producing something like with zero return on investment— as far as money goes. Yeah, and it’s a thing I’ve never done before, you know what I mean? It’s a lot of stuff to learn. First, I have to depend on other people to help me out and that’s not easy. To coordinate other people’s time and to have them give me their time for free, you can’t make too many demands on people’s time when they’re helping you out. But it’s definitely going to happen. It’s something that I really want to do. A format that I really really enjoy and that has added so much to my life. Just pure entertainment. And I really want to express myself in that way and I’m definitely going to do it. But I’ve stopped putting a time frame on it. Instead of saying “in a couple months,’ now you just say, “eventually, so leave me alone.” Yeah, plus I just got married and got back from my honeymoon. OK, everybody? Fucking take it easy. You’re new one hour special You Should Have Told Me comes out June 11 at 11pm EST on Comedy Central. It’s a lot different thematically, from your previously released works. It’s my most intimate material to date in a very intimate setting. It’s not a new direction for me but it’s definitely the next step in my evolution as a writer and performer. You cover a lot more personal subjects. Yeah. Was there a point where you consciously decided to start opening up and being more personal or does that just occur naturally over time? I think it was a natural occurrence but I also think there was a point where I wanted to try it. I had told a couple stories on stage that were just purely comedic stories; they weren’t really that personal. And I thought, ‘ok, well maybe there’s a way I can tell some other stories that really are about me.’ I gradually lost the fear of revealing myself on stage. For me it came with maturity and realizing that a lot of people have had similar experiences and a lot people can relate to these things that have happened to me. That’s the basis for observational material. If you’re going to do ‘have you ever noticed’ Seinfeldian type material, then that’s where it starts. It’s saying, ‘I know other people have had this experience.’ So, I just took it to a place where ‘hey, if I’ve had this emotional experience, then I bet other people have had this emotional experience’ And it’s been really rewarding. It’s a very exciting thing to make that kind of connection with an audience. That’s kind of where I’m at now, Whatever I’m doing, I want to really connect with people. It’s like nothing else. It’s a very exciting moment in performing. I think that a lot of us who perform are always chasing the transcendent moment—that transcendent experience on stage. Where it goes beyond, ‘Well, I got up there and I told some jokes, and some people laughed at it and everybody left happy.’ When there’s really something special that happens and can only happen in live performance those moments are like nothing else. Knowing that it’s not going to happen like that every time— that’s the pursuit. You spend some time in this special talking about getting older. Does getting older bother you? Yeah, in a way. It’s just that time seems to go by so much more quickly now, then it did when I was younger. And once I hit my mid-thirties – I would say probably around 36 when I was that point when I was past my mid-thirties and was starting to get into my late-thirties and realized well, that’s how I have to describe myself now, it just felt like,’ man time just goes by so fast and before you know it, that’s it.’ I can’t believe that I’ll be 42 this year. It’s seems crazy to me. On the one hand there is a new found comfortability in my own skin that I did not have for the longest time. There’s a maturity where I realized, ‘Hey, you know what? I’ve grown up in a lot of ways and I take care of myself better than I ever have before.’ And I like myself more than I ever have and I treat other people better than I ever have. And that’s all good. But at the same I’ve been realizing, ‘Wow man, you really only get a short time on this Earth.’ It’s never going to be enough time. If you live to be a hundred, that’s - so what? That’s all you get is a hundred years? So it’s on my mind a lot. Mortality is on my mind a lot. Not so much that it gets in the way of things, but it’s definitely something I think about. Well, you know what’s good for that? Pills. Exactly. Hence my new found obsession with pills. Well, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us. Oh, my pleasure, thank you. You are doing the Lord’s work. Not on purpose. Watch Paul F. Tompkins’ new hour-long special on Comedy Central You Should Have Told Me on Friday, June 11 at 11 pm EST. For more info on Paul, check out paulftompkins.com.
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