According to most cable TV guides, Paul F. Tompkins will be talking about the pros and cons of neighbors tonight when his new special, "You Should Have Told Me," debuts on Comedy Central. In reality, his new hourlong set, recorded last year at the Laughing Skull in Atlanta, is much more about other things, such as why he does not smoke pot anymore, and how he dealt with the death of his mother. But it's funny! Look. Here's a clip of Tompkins talking about getting a house, so he won't have to deal with neighbors who are so close to him. Roll it.
The special should be released as a full-length DVD on AST Records, Tompkins told me earlier this week. He'll be performing at The Bell House in Brooklyn on Sunday as the latest stop on his Tompkins 300 tour, and he talked to me about all of that, and some other things.
So what can we expect on the DVD? "The set will be around a full hour and then there wll be bits that got cut out because of flow, and then maybe some other stuff. I want to do some commentary with my director, Neil Mahoney, and who knows what else?"
And then you'll be in Montreal for Just For Laughs, but that's also billed as a UCB show. So does that mean you'll be doing ASSSSCAT with the UCB, or something else? "To my knowledge, I'll be doing a half-hour set. To my knowledge." So why is it billed as the UCB? You and Rob Riggle get different billings from the other one-man shows. "I think that's because we're alternative." Um, right. Like Donald Glover isn't alternative? "We're going to be doing crazy stuff that a mainstream act like Donald wouldn't even dare to attempt. I know Donald won't see it because then he'd slit his throat."
Are you still planning on starting your own podcast? "The podcast, I'm just beginning to wrangle that all together. Because I want to do a more produced thing, rather than the conversational thing…I get why people would want to just sit around microphones and chat. That requires so many fewer buttons. It requires work. But it's going to happen." And the name is still Pod F. Tomcast? Or is that one of the many fakers out there on Twitter? "Actually, no, somebody did reserve that name as an account but they did let me have it."
How did all of those fakes sprout up on Twitter last week, which included the likes of RuPaulFTomkins, MallFTomkins, TallFPumpkins, and many others, how did that happen? "I have this jokey desire to be verified on Twitter, because I wasn't quite sure who determined who needed to be verified. I know they did some people at random. They lead you to believe it's an expensive process. But then there was a real issue behind it because people have a real problem spelling my name. And they're addressing replies to a name that does not exist. I was asking what does it take to get verified. I don't know if I'm really me. Ted Leo, the musician, he has a verified account, and he had somebody do an imposter account, so he asked them to verify him for that, and they did. I said tongue in cheek wondering if someone would impersonate me to help me out, not intending it to be this…and I don't know if it was a lot of different people, but all these fake Twitter accounts with variations on my name started popping up. Some of them were really, really funny. Some people got very agnry. Some people said this was the same unfunny stuff you did tha ruined Best Week Ever! And they're still following me! A year later!
"I still have not been verified. There are still people who cannot spell my name. It does get confusing and I'd rather have the badge so people knows it's from me. People will doctor my Wikipedia page and put fake information on there. For me, Twitter's not a vanity thing, where I want to step down from my castle and talk to the regular people. This is how I promote my projects. So it's important to me to have that official little ribbon that says this is the actual guy."
I seem to recall some celebrities took photos of themselves as if they were hostages holding up the current day's newspaper, except instead of the newspaper, they held up a piece of paper that had their Twitter handle written on it, and that seemed to verify them. "What piece of paper do you have to hold up to make Twitter care about you?"
The last time I saw you was almost exactly a year ago, when we were both seeking out weekend matinee movies in NYC on the weekend you learned VH1 was canceling your version of Best Week Ever. Have you been able to process your New York City experience yet? "It was an adventure. It was really an adventure. I'm nothing but happy that it happened. It was a tough adjustment. That's the great fortune of moving forward with life, the kind of tribulations they fade away, but what I'm left with is that was a real adventure, me and my then-girlfriend, then-fiancee and now wife. The cementing of our relationship, I cannot put a price on, and me having that experience was invaluable. I loved working in Manhattan and walking to work in the morning. There was a lot of great stuff. There was stuff that was not my cup of tea. That's hard for New Yorkers to hear, but I am my own man."
Here's what Tompkins had to say about New Yorkers last year when he hosted Live at Gotham. Roll it!
Not that he didn't enjoy his brief 10-month sojourn here, as he recalls: "I went back to record the John Oliver Stand-Up Show and had a great time. I instantly snapped back into
it. It's so much more than one expects in so many ways, just in terms of going from a much larger living space to a much smaller living space. Also being in a massive crush of people all the time. I have grown to not really enjoy crowds that much. I think it's also getting older and not wanting to live like that. I think if I had gone to New York when I was 25 instead of going to Los Angeles, I think I would have grown to love it, but having come here, it made it very difficult. If it had been longer, it would have been a much more difficult decision. But before the show got canceled, before the show got taken away from me, we were looking at apartments and loving it, looking for the place that we would come to love and enjoy. But then it was a couple of weeks after that, we heard the show was going away. The high hopes for the show and the frustration of not having advertising from the network and a lack of support from them, it was tough. It took its toll on us for sure, so we were ready to move back to our old life."
I won't make you retell me the Tompkins 300 origin story, since it's already been well-documented — and you can read Tompkins explain it in full detail — but once you think about it, it seems like it's such a genius idea that people should have been touring like this already for centuries, doesn't it? "There's part of you that goes, why wasn't I always doing it this way? Social networking has evolved over the years. The interaction has become much more direct with people. And there's also the idea that there's a lot of work to make these gigs happen. The comedy club model, the anxiety was not where, will there be a place to play that's suitable, will there be an audience, the only anxiety was about the show itself. Where will they put me up? What radio shows will they make me do and get me up in the morning? Am I going to have to fight to get them to like me? Are they going to be rough? Now the anxiety is all about the logistics, which it should be, and the show is just fun to do."
"The worst attended show was Dallas, where they had what seemed like 100 people in a large space, but I feel like I connected with them. And it was great. The quality of the shows has gone up. Everybody's on the same page. I'm there to entertain these people. I'm there because they asked for it. And I'm going to make them happy."
I read your recent declaration, I think on Twitter, about getting rid of your current hour of material. How much of that turnover of material is now because of the 300, since you're performing now just for dedicated fans who know your routines? "The hour that I'm doing now is what's in that special that airs on Friday and will be on the DVD. Now that that's out there, I've got to move on. That older stuff is out there and I'm selling it after the shows. And it's better for me to do an hour of material and then say, I've got these two CDs that are different material from what you just saw. It's better for business. I feel it'd be shabby for me to do material that's out there. If you're paying more to see me live than what's on the CD, you deserve to see more. I've enjoyed performing that hour, but I can't do that forever."
Do you feel any peer pressure knowing that so many other stand-ups are turning over their material and putting out more CDs and DVDs in the past few years? "I think the technology has changed. It's honestly, I think it's what youre supposed to be doing. I'm competing with myself. This is what I'm suppoed to be doing. This is what I love doing. This is the challenge of it. Doing stuff for too long, you keep adding stuff to it and you could do it forever. The idea of leaving it behind is hard. I've loved doing it, but it's time to move on. Yeah, I've proven I can do this hour of material. It's time to." So it's not because of what you see Louis CK or Patton Oswalt or anyone else doing? "I can't be on his time frame or anyone else's timeframe." Patton is good about keeping tabs on who is stealing his material, though! "That's also part of the social networking angle. There's no shortage of people willing to tell you if someone stole from you, or misquoted you, or said something about you. Sometimes it's helpful. Just some weird things. Like you know who you look like? You know, I don't want to know."
I'm sure they tell you you look like someone else who's well-dressed. I remember hearing Eddie Brill, I believe, joke about how David Letterman got angry about how some of the young comics who appeared on his show weren't even wearing jackets.
Have you always been such a dapper dresser? "I'm a bit of a dandy. I'm old enough, when I was watching comedy on TV, when I'd see stand-ups, everybody wore suits, it was a thing. When I was first aware of comedy, it was Johnny Carson, and it was a holdover from those days, that nobody went on without a tie, much a less a suit on, so when I started, it was not such an uncommon thing. And now it's a thing to where I'm asked about it. I get it. But I guess I must have been doing this for a long time. I think I've always loved clothes, and been a clotheshorse, and loved dressing up. I was in theater. So now the stuff I wear on stage is dandified. I enjoy wearing clothes. It's not, oh, I have to wear this navy blue suit and red tie to work. No, I enjoy it."
I remember seeing Patton wearing suits when he was headlining comedy clubs back in the 1990s, too. "When I was coming up, there was this idea you dressed up for the weekend shows, becuase it as date night. People were making a night of it, so you should, too. Things have gotten so casual, which is great. The thing about this age is, you can wear whatever you want. It's not the '50s where everyone's in a uniform. The only time I feel like people really have to dress up is a wedding." Or a funeral. "I haven't seen too many people break that code. Guys act like it's such an imposition to dress up for a wedding. It's more comfortable than jeans. The linens are soft. The problem is you haven't dressed up in a while. And you're fat. Get a properly-sized shirt. You're not being self-absorbed for two seconds to look nice for a wedding. As soon as the service is over, unbutton the top button and live it up."
You're also continuing to do a monthly "Dead Authors" show, right? "That's a benefit show for 826LA. It's a nonprofit that was started by McSweeney's. They have them in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York, they get kids reading and writing, It's really an amazing group. This is a fund-raising thing we do once a month. Only five bucks. And it's me hosting it as H.G. Wells, and I've used my time machine to teleport dead authors to the present day. I get to fool around with really funny people from the UCB talent pool." Have you been able to really become H.G. Wells yet, to the point where you're like Hal Holbrook with Mark Twain? "Oh, c'mon! I'm not there yet. That guy is still doing that show! I think he is now 20 or 30 years older than Twain was when he died. God bless him. I've got no beef with Hal Holbrook. Keep chopping that wood."
So, what else is on the horizon for you? "I'm developing a script for Comedy Central with Tom Scharpling. That was a fairly recent pitch we made to Kent Alterman. We're going about it very quietly." I take it, then, that you'll also be on Tom's radio show while you're in New York City? "I don't think it's a very good surprise to save.
I'm going to go ahead and pull the trigger on that."
Well, I have plenty of other questions for you, but I feel like they're so old from things long ago, and why dredge all of that up now, right? Like do I really need to find out your take on Bill Maher now? Although do you think about how you could still be on Real Time with Bill Maher?
"That is from a long time ago. 2003. What people don't realize, I had to sit on that stool for the whole hour. In case Bill wanted to spin around and refer to me, as a sidekick. For 10 episodes I had to sit there on that stool for the whole hour."
Glad I asked.
Paul F. Tompkins, "You Should Have Told Me," debuts tonight on Comedy Central. Tompkins also performs live tonight at the UCB in Los Angeles, June 13 at The Bell House in Brooklyn, N.Y., June 18 with "Dead Authors" at the UCB-LA, and June 19 at Largo in Los Angeles.