Tom Papa delivers hearty laughs on Valentine’s Day
He may be a little biased, but comedian Tom Papa says to do nothing on Valentine’s Day except for seeing his show. There’s already enough pressure on the holiday.
“Don’t put all of your eggs in that one basket,” Papa said. “You gotta play it cool. There’s nothing worse than going way out on a limb. … Just play it cool, go to a comedy club, let me do the work. I’ll make them laugh and you can take the credit.”
Papa is a natural fit for the annual holiday show at the Silverthorne Pavilion, which has also hosted comics like Paul Reiser, Kevin Nealon and Jim Breuer. Papa starred in NBC’s “The Marriage Ref” and has a wealth of observational material rooted in family topics. In addition to settling marriage disputes for two seasons, Papa is a regular on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” and “Conan.” He also has his own podcast and SiriusXM show, “Come to Papa,” where each week he chats with guests like Mel Brooks, Jerry Seinfeld, Amy Schumer, John Mulaney and others.
Yet Papa’s favorite work is touring the road and performing stand-up. To him, interacting with a live audience can’t be beat.
“It’s different every single night. And you’re totally alone, in the best way. No one ever looks over what you’re going to say. Nobody tells you you can’t do this. It’s just such a pure, innocent, ‘I create, I deliver to you, you tell me whether you like it and we’ll make a night of it.’ That to me is the best.”
Papa doesn’t see traveling constantly as particularly lonely when he performs with friends and colleagues. He considers himself lucky to not be forced to stay on the road for money, having the opportunity for other sources of income such as his 2018 book “Your Dad Stole My Rake: And Other Family Dilemmas.” The hardest part is being away from his wife and two teenage daughters, so he balances work the best he can before they go off to college.
“When I was starting out as a young comic I realized it couldn’t be the only thing you do,” he said. “The biggest trick is to try and not go for long periods of time. So if I can go for two days and then be home, there’s no effect. I try to limit when I go from one gig to another to a meeting in New York and then hit another. Anything over a week starts to feel weird.”
Papa knew he wanted to be a comedian since he was a kid. During the summer in seventh grade he went to two different friend’s houses and listened to two different inspirational comedy albums: “Let’s Get Small” by Steve Martin and “Class Clown” by George Carlin.
“That was the first time I realized funny was actually like, something you could do for a living. Everyone in my life just had jobs.”
His mother and father, who respectively worked in an ad agency and as a salesman, were supportive of Papa, but wanted him to at least go to college. “So I went to Rider University in New Jersey, which was a business school, but I just spent all of my time in the theater. It was like my undeclared major.”
In 1993 he had his first stand-up gig at an open mic in New York where he was allotted five minutes in exchange for buying drinks and bringing friends. From there, it snowballed and eventually his first big break came when he toured with Jerry Seinfeld.
“It was right off of his show so people were like ‘Oh, I guess we should take a closer look at this guy’ — but more than that it was like how to be a comedian and how to write. This was a craft and you could get better at it, if you worked very hard. That, to me, was the most important thing I got from him.”
Now more than 20 years later he is the head writer of “Live From Here,” the latest incarnation of NPR’s “A Prairie Home Companion” variety show that’s now hosted by mandolinist Chris Thile. Papa saw his own podcast as a sort of comedy version of “A Prairie Home Companion,” so when a mutual friend connected the two he didn’t hesitate at the opportunity to be a part of the show.
In addition to the writing, he performs a weekly monologue on the show called “Out Here in America,” which serves as a nice antidote to the sometimes isolating tour life.
“Now you’re like with this group of 25 people and some are world-renowned musicians like John Prine and Randy Newman … it’s just blast. Every show I’m concentrating on the comedy but then writing down the setlist of everybody and then download all the music on Spotify.”
A stroke of luck similar to being connected with Thile is what led Papa to host the new Food Network show “Baked.” For Papa, baking started as a simple hobby with sourdough bread. He has since branched out to goods like scones, bagels and more — he was being interviewed via the phone while at the grocery store buying yogurt to make flatbread.
Papa once mentioned his passion project on a podcast which then lead the television network to reach out to him. Now he visits local bakeries across the country and highlights what makes them special. To him the remarkable thing about the shops is how they become focal points for the community.
“The cool part for me is I get to learn how to make the baked goods. But the people, to me, are the most fun. These are stories of someone who decides to get rid of what they were doing and go into baking — they’re usually good people. Not a lot of bad people decide that they’re going to make cookies for the village. They really put their heart and soul into it. That really makes the difference between commercial baked goods.”
Those hungry for a fresh batch of jokes should not miss Papa’s performance tonight.
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