Event: Tom Papa
Venue: Ponte Vedra Concert Hall
Date: March 26th at 8pm
In an entertainment profession where it is extremely hard to distinguish yourself, Tom Papa is a diamond in the rough: a stand-up comedian who seems psychologically well-adjusted. Sometimes to great effect, the comedy scene is flooded with angry neurotics, insecure self-loathers, and over-the-top substance abusers who, while often hilarious, aren’t exactly the poster boys for positive mental health awareness. While one’s stage act certainly doesn’t tell the entire story, the cleancut and fastidiously presented Papa doesn’t come across as any of those things. Even if you are thinking you don’t know who Tom Papa is, you probably still know who Tom Papa is. He’s been a stand-up comedian for over 20 years as a regular guest on all of the major late night talk shows and has had recurring roles in shows like The New Adventures of Old Christine, among others. Having worked with directors like Steven Soderbergh and acted opposite industry heavyweights like Robert DeNiro, Michael Douglas, and Matt Damon, Papa’s film credits are quite impressive as well.
Currently, Papa hosts Come to Papa on Sirius XM, a weekly hour-long program that features, along with segments with live scripted sketches sometimes set to jazz, in-depth interviews with famous comedians (sort of like what I do here but with, you know, audio). Later in 2015, Papa will host Boom!, a unique twist on the traditional quiz show format that will have three contestants trying to defuse slime bombs filled with mystery goo lest they detonate all over the losers. In anticipation of his show at Ponte Vedra Concert Hall on March 26th, Papa recently spoke with EU right before his appearance on The Late Late Show in February.
EU: On Patton Oswalt’s most recent comedy special, he has an entire segment on Florida and how horrible he thinks it is, saying it is, “all alpha males trying to create physical conflicts”. What has your Floridian experience been like?
Tom Papa: [laughs] My first tour ever opening for somebody was in Florida; I got asked to open for Kenny Loggins (the singer) and I had never done it before. “Papa” is on my dressing room door the first night and I’m sitting in there, pretty nervous, not knowing what to expect and then Kenny Loggins just bursts through and says, “Oh, I’m sorry, is this my dressing room?” And I said, “I don’t think so, it’s kind of a crummy little room and I’m Tom Papa, your opening act”. He said, “Oh, on tour, my nickname is ‘Papa’”, which is true.
EU: Sure, it’s easy to look back fondly now, but when you were in the middle of battling through those very tough times on the road back then, were you miserable or enjoying the ride as it occurred?
TP: No, I really wasn’t (miserable). I enjoyed it. I was excited. I mean, I had no money at all, I was just so excited that they let me be part of any fraction of show business. It’s only now when I look back, I can’t believe I was able to live that way. Like the idea of living on five dollars a day at the time was like, “Yeah, okay, I’ll buy a bagel, eat half in the morning and half at night. Now I feel like I spend a hundred dollars before I even open my eyes”.
EU: With kids, it seems like you can’t drive down the road without breaking a few Benjamins, and, as a husband and father, isn’t it amazing how many trips you can make to the grocery store in one day, as if your vehicle is nothing but a shuttle that goes back and forth between house and store?
TP: [laughs] Exactly. All my money goes to these little people that I made. I look in the kitchen and I’m kind of complaining to my wife about how we’re out of food again and she said, “I went shopping yesterday. I spent 200 dollars yesterday.” Well, there’s nothing now, looks like I’m going back out. And at the last minute my kid says, “Oh, by the way, I need rice for my school project.”
EU: You seem like one of the more emotionally stable comedians. Is this an accurate assessment?
TP: Yeah, the bar isn’t set too high in the world of comedy, but I think you just kind of are what you are. We all have anxiety about different things. I think a big part of it is coming from a big family and then making a family of my own, you have very little time to think about yourself. I think people who don’t have families in comedy–you’re thinking about yourself all the time anyway–don’t have any distractions and they go crazy. Friends I know go crazy, but it’s hard for me to really worry about myself too much when I have my daughter screaming that her gecko lizard just escaped. There’s enough people generating fear out there, I’ll go for a couple laughs. It all depends on who you naturally are. I dont’ have a real dark, dark side to me.
EU: With that in mind, many fans of your straight-laced, family-centric style of humor may be surprised to learn that two of your specials were directed by Rob Zombie. In retrospect, do you think you may be the only person on earth who has toured with both Kenny Loggins and Rob Zombie?
TP: [laughs] Good point. I never thought of that. People keep asking me, “Do you die at the end? Do you get attacked by zombies?” But no, he’s been a friend for a long time and he’s a really good filmmaker of music videos and he’s a real artist and I wanted to make these specials more like films. And when you take picture backstage with you and Rob Zombie it’s like, “Well, maybe Mr. Sunshine is a badass after all.”
EU: I think a comedian getting eaten by zombies at the end of his hour would be awesome. You host a show on Sirius XM show called Come to Papa. Is it an accurate analogy to say that podcasts are to today’s comedians what sitcoms were to 80’s comedians?
TP: Yeah, the only difference is that now they’re doing it for free. [laughs]
EU: What would you be doing if you weren’t a comedian?
TP: I always say if my career crashes and burns I’ll just get a bagel shop down by the beach.
EU: Well, at least then it would come full circle: from eating bagels in bad hotels to serving bagels on the beach and, hey, a bagel is even in the shape of a circle, right?
TP: Exactly. [laughs] The Bagel of Life. A lot of this (material on his current tour) is settling into the fact that people are all the same. You know, you start off in your career and you’re fighting and scrambling trying to be better than everybody else and then after awhile you just realize everybody’s exactly the same. We’re just a bunch of crazy animals running around in pants, trying to fight the urge to mount each other and make smaller versions of ourselves. So I’m shining a light on that and kind of breaking through that facade.