The Comedy Couch

 TOM PAPA - November 7, 2007

Tom Papa

"I know that everything's just slightly different than
the U.S. Just enough to make me feel a little dizzy. It's like, 'Oh,
this is just like our buildings except we don't put our windows in
exactly like that.'" - Tom Papa

Guy MacPherson: Sorry for being late. It rang about thirty times and no one
at the hotel picked up. So I called back and they picked up on the first ring.

Tom Papa: Dude, I'm in Brandon. (laughs)

GM: So it was a travel day for you?
TP: Yeah, we went from Winnipeg to here by bus. Two hours.

GM: Lots to see, though.
TP: Yeah. (chuckle) We do two shows tonight, which I don't see as possible.

GM: Well, it's a small town so there's not much to do.
TP: But how do you fill two shows, though?

GM: Just For Laughs is huge.
TP: Yeah, I guess so.

GM: And you guys are good.
TP: That's true.

GM: How's the trip been going?
TP: It's been going really well. Great audiences, great response to the show,
people love me. What more could I ask?

GM: Where are you in the line-up?
TP: I close the show. The big headliner, the big to-do. (laughs)

GM: That's great. So you're having a good time.
TP: Yeah, it's been good so far. It'll be a week tomorrow. Kinda feels like I've
been out forever.

GM: Have you been on the whole tour?
TP: I started in Toronto.

GM: Okay. They did an eastern tour first, didn't they?
TP: Yeah, they did. I don't know who was on that.

GM: Have you played much in Canada other than Montreal?
TP: No. Montreal and Toronto, that's it. I played Vancouver with Seinfeld.

GM: Okay, so I saw you here then.
TP: Yeah. I think so. Didn't I? Yeah. Yeah, I did.

GM: Did you know much about the country before this tour? Do you know
much now?

TP: No. You know what I know? I know that everything's just slightly different
than the U.S.

GM: Just enough to throw you off?
TP: Just enough to make me feel a little dizzy. It's like, "Oh, this is just like
our buildings except we don't put our windows in exactly like that."

GM: They're a centimeter off.
TP: Yeah!

GM: Or an inch off, sorry.
TP: Yeah, it's very similar and very different all at the same time.

GM: And the money.
TP: And the money, yeah.

GM: Now it's good.
TP: Yeah, I'm asking to be paid in Canadian.

GM: Exactly! Did you know all the other comics prior to the tour?
TP: Yes. No, I didn't know John Wing. And there's an opening guy, Aton, who

GM: You don't hang out with jugglers?
TP: I do, I just didn't know this one. (laughs)

GM: So you're all on the bus together. Is it like we'd imagine with a group of
comics all together, or are you all just sitting there separately doing your own

TP: If you imagined a group of slightly cranky, road-weary funny people, then
yes, that is exactly what's happening.

GM: It's good, though, right?
TP: It's good. You're not going to find a lot of comedy in first class. You get on
a bus through Brandon to Regina, there's going to be some good comedy
coming out of there.

GM: Do you all try to one-up each other? Is that what it's like?
TP: There's a couple guys who kinda started that way. They got it out of their
system. As comics, you just want to relax. When it's your time to throw
something in, throw it in. No one has to keep topping here. We're going to be
with each other for over two weeks.

GM: You talk about the subtle differences that you've noticed in the cities.
Are there any subtle differences in the crowd reactions to your material?

TP: They love when you talk about hockey. (laughs) No, it's hard to say. It's
sort of a generalization, but you can be a little more subtle with some of the
stuff. I think maybe because we're playing in theatres, everybody's a little more
well-behaved and really listening to it as a show as opposed to in a comedy
club venue.

GM: No waitresses interrupting.
TP: Yeah, no waitresses or people throwing up in the aisles. They're actually
paying attention to your material, which is nice.

GM: You don't bus the whole tour, do you?
TP: We fly most of it. It was just so close to Winnipeg that we bussed down.
There was a big controversy about whether we should go back to Winnipeg and
fly to Regina. It's kind of split up. Some people are going back and flying. Some
of us are just going to drive it.

GM: It's not snowing there yet, is it?
TP: No, not yet, but it feels like it could.

Tom Papa

"Some reporter was like, 'When you're in Edmonton, don't say
anything about Calgary. Calgary hates Edmonton; Edmonton
hates Calgary.' I guarantee you when I get there, they'll look
exactly the same."

GM: You've probably seen more of Canada than many Canadians have.
TP: Yeah, and I don't know, I haven't seen that much difference between the
places yet. So wherever those people are, you're pretty good where you are.
Some reporter was like, "When you're in Edmonton, don't say anything about
Calgary. Calgary hates Edmonton; Edmonton hates Calgary." I guarantee you
when I get there, they'll look exactly the same. It's like the people in Pittsburgh
and Cleveland hate each other. Same exact place.

GM: Doesn't that just make you want to say something about Calgary in
Edmonton, though?

TP: Oh, I will. (laughs)

GM: Don't kowtow to their little insecurities.
TP: My whole job before I get to Edmonton is to try to find a Calgary jersey. (laughs)

GM: So when did you know you wanted to be a comedian?
TP: Uh, when I was--

GM: I'm kidding!
TP: Thank God.

GM: I wish I had the nerve to sweat out that response. I read your blog on
your MySpace and I had to ask. You were about to give me a serious answer.

TP: You know what? I've done so many interviews, really, they don't stop
coming. But it wasn't going to be a straight answer. It was going to be, "When
I realized I was hysterical."

GM: Here's the issue. I read your little blog about it, and you say it's something
that you've always been. You're just a funny person. But not every hilarious
person enters the profession. There are lots of hilarious authors, actors, and
accountants out there who've never had the balls or the desire to do standup.

TP: True. That means they're just not as hilarious.

GM: It could be.
TP: (laughs)

GM: But you must have friends outside the profession who you think are

TP: Hilarious? No. Kinda funny, pretty funny, not hilarious.

GM: It's a different thing. You actually have to craft your hilarity into a cohesive

TP: Yeah. Saying a couple funny things to your drunk friends is a lot different
than putting together a real act. That's like the difference between digging a
hole in the sand and making a castle.

GM: So when you were just a really funny non-professional comedian, and that
first time you go up on stage, how well-crafted was your act? How good were
you when you started out?

TP: It was crafted; it wasn't well-crafted. It was jokes. I had a plan. And it went
well because I just had a ton of adrenaline. But after that I bombed for the next
couple of years.

GM: Why didn't you stop?
TP: I loved it.

GM: But they didn't love you.
TP: Yeah, they did. They just wanted me to be better. (laughs)

GM: You hear that a lot from comics. They do well their first time up then

TP: It's the adrenaline of being a performer running through your life. Then you've
got to do it again and you don't have as much of that crazy adrenaline and you
start to become exposed. Well, alright, what have you got? Why were able to
run safely through the jungle last time? Now we want to see exactly what tools
you have.

GM: How many years have you been doing this?
TP: Fourteen.

GM: And you started in New York?
TP: New York City.

GM: That's the best, I would imagine, for exposure and making yourself get

TP: Yeah, because you're surrounded by such great comics. If you start
someplace where there's not too many great guys, you might think you're good,
but in New York you know exactly where you stand.

GM: Those who stick with it in smaller towns are going to be weeded out pretty
quick in New York.

TP: Exactly.

GM: Are you still a correspondent on The Tonight Show?
TP: Yeah. They just called me to do something and I couldn't because I was
going on this tour. The last one I did was January.

GM: Did you replace Mitch Fatel?
TP: I never replaced him. There's a whole bunch of us that just kind of rotate

GM: I saw three of yours on your website and I gotta say you're the best of
what I've seen.

TP: Oh, thank you.

GM: How did it come about that you got that job?
TP: I was doing a lot of standup on there and they asked me if I was interested.
Then I just went out and did it.

GM: It must be a lot of fun.
TP: It is a lot of fun. There's a couple that didn't air, which is always hard. You
go out there and go crazy. I did a polar bear plunge in the middle of Detroit and
it didn't air because it didn't really look that cold. Meanwhile, it was like 20
degrees [-7 celsius] and I'm diving in in a Speedo. Maybe it's a good thing they
didn't show it.

GM: I was thinking these pieces could be a whole show unto itself, with you
just going around and meeting people.

TP: Yeah, I know, that could be good.

GM: The tattoo one was amazing.
TP: Yeah? Why'd you like that one?

GM: Well, I'm kinda fascinated with people who look like that. And you got to
say what most of us are thinking but would never have the nerve to even talk
to them because we're intimidated. And then you realize, hey, they're just normal
people who look like freaks. But that's the case with standup in general: you get to
say things that most of us don't say.

TP: Right, exactly. It's the freedom we have.

GM: Plus being there with a camera and a microphone, they're not going to beat
you up, probably.

TP: It's also one of my... I don't know if you call it a skill, but I'm able to say
things to people without them getting angry. With my demeanor, or whatever,
people don't really get pissed off when I say things to them that other people
might get a punch in the nose for.

GM: Do you think that's coming one day?
TP: Yeah, probably. (laughs)

Tom Papa

"When you're a comedian it kind of levels everything out. [Seinfeld]
has a lot more money but I have a nicer cell phone so it
doesn't really matter."

GM: How many tours have you done with Seinfeld?
TP: Pretty often. Probably for the last five years.

GM: How did you meet him?
TP: We started hanging out in New York when he was coming back to the clubs
and doing standup. And we just kind of hit it off and became really friendly. And
then he started going out on tour and he could always bring somebody with him.
So he brought me along. That's where it all started.

GM: Is it awkward being friends when there's this power imbalance?
TP: No, not at all. When you're a comedian it kind of levels everything out. He
has a lot more money but I have a nicer cell phone so it doesn't really matter.

GM: Was he an influence in your comedy?
TP: Huge. And then all of a sudden you're opening for him, knocking out jokes
with him and working on material. It was pretty crazy.

GM: Some articles describe you as old school. I assume you're okay with that.
TP: Yeah. I don't really get it completely but I'm fine with it.

GM: So you have a healthy respect for the comics we watched growing up?
TP: Oh, yeah, totally. I'm a complete student of all comedy. I have a ton of
respect for Cosby and Dangerfield, Carlin and Steve Martin and Jack Benny...
I love it all. You can watch this stuff and know exactly what they're going
through, exactly how they crafted that joke, why they're making that move
during that set. To not pay attention to it and learn from it would be kind of

GM: I'm always amazed when I hear some comics saying, "I don't listen to
comedy." I always think, "How do you know you're being original, then?"

TP: Yeah, exactly. Whenever those people say that, it's usually people who've
been accused of stealing.

GM: Were you a comedy nerd growing up?
TP: No, I wasn't a comedy nerd. I didn't suck it all up. I had those I was really
into and really liked, but I had a lot more other things going on to pay attention
to all that.

GM: So what was the impetus to get you to try comedy when you had these
other options in your life?

TP: I just loved it and always wanted to do it. I was always really funny and
always kinda felt that I could do it. When I got out of school, I went on a job
interview at an advertising agency and I was like, "I guess I better try
something because I can't do this the rest of my life."

GM: I imagine you were really funny in a dry kind of way, where people go,
"That guy's really funny" and other people go, "Really?" And then they listen
and go, "Yeah, he is funny." Rather than in a big over-the-top way.

TP: I was really over-the-top when I was a kid. It wasn't that subtle. That came
when I had a better understanding of different ways to be funny. But when I was
a kid I was pretty broad.

GM: Did you have different styles when you were starting out in standup?
TP: When I first hit the stage, I was loud. It was all out of fear. I was just loud
and fast. I would move around. I would be sweating when I came off the stage.
Now I know, when I look back, I didn't want to give the audience a chance not
to laugh so I would be loud and just keep going to the end (laughs). For myself,
there's nothing funnier on earth than watching one of those old tapes. It looks
like it's my crazy younger brother.

GM: It takes confidence to accept or embrace the silences.
TP: Yeah, completely. I'm still learning to do that. It takes a lot of confidence.

"Anonymity makes me a little uncomfortable. I want people to
know it's me."

GM: You're in Bee Movie. You have two roles in it, right?
TP: I have two roles. So they both add up to a medium role. Yeah, it was
great. Really exciting. The most exciting thing is all my daughters and nieces
and nephews and everybody getting to see it. I got a screen credit also for
additional screen material. I did some writing on it as well so that was a nice
big credit at the end. So it's all really pretty exciting.

GM: Do your kids know that it's you? Do they get the voice?
TP: Yeah, yeah they get it. It's fun. I have another movie coming out with Rob
that none of those kids are going to get a chance to see.

GM: Yes, it's R-rated I heard.
TP: Yeah. It's supposed to come out the beginning of next year.

GM: What makes it R-rated?
TP: Nudity, violence, foul language, all the stuff that's going to make the
audience for that very excited.

GM: What's your role in that one?
TP: I'm the lead. I'm El Superbeasto. And Paul Giamatti plays the bad guy.
He plays Dr. Satan.

GM: Rob Zombie wrote it?
TP: Rob and I wrote it.

GM: In doing voice-overs, do you appreciate the fact that you still have a level
of anonymity?

TP: Anonymity makes me a little uncomfortable. I want people to know it's me.
That's what was so great about watching the movie with my daughter. She was
like, "That's Daddy!" I'm like, "A little louder. A little louder."

GM: Seinfeld must hate it with his level of fame. He can't do anything.
TP: He does everything. There's a limit but we go to baseball games, walk
around town, walk through the malls when we're on the road. People start to
gather sometimes and it becomes annoying. I don't know but it seems to me
from watching celebrities that if you act like you can't do anything, then you
won't be able to. But he acts like a regular guy and he goes out and it's no

GM: It sounds like everything's on the way up for you.
TP: Yeah, things are good, things are good.

GM: But you're in Brandon.
TP: I'm in Brandon. I can only go up from here!

Return to Top