I don’t know if Paul F. Tompkins (PFT hereonout) is the funniest guy in the universe, but I know he always makes me laugh. It seems that a lot of people are more charmed by his haberdashery than they are actually impressed by his comedic sense; well I dress better than he does, and I am here to tell you: the man is all hilarity. BUT: his stand-up shows? Ehh. I would entirely agree with you that if you saw his specials and didn’t think he’s the greatest. And I think it’s the format: stand-up specials are kind of a highlight reel, a sampler platter of a comedian’s potential – so you will dig deeper and check out his appearances in movies and the such.
Luckily for everyone, Paul F. Tompkins is a beast of burden with the podcast thing, which gives you a pretty wide array of funs from which to choose from. Starting with the Pod F. Tompkast: probably the most sensible thing to start with if you just want to get acquainted with what Tompkins does, because it’s entirely his. Well, there’s Eban Schletter too, a particularly petulant pianist performing the musical accompaniement to the entire show – really co-hosting it with musical notes, but the two are working in parallel. The Pod F. Tompkast gathers everything that PFT does, from improvising stories to writing stories, from being himself to being other people, from talking to himself to talking to others. The Tompkast is centered around “The Great Undiscovered Project,” where PFT voices the likes of Ice-T and Buddy “Cake Boss” Valastro as they attempt to complete a movie choreographed by Andrew Lloyd Weber.
And you and I both know how lame impersonations are, BUT PFT’s characters are more real than the real ones, and it works because he puts them in hyperreal situations: characters acting out of character make for outlandish caricature. The Tompkast also has irregular guests and extracts from PFT’s variety show at Largo, and phone calls to his friend Jen Kirkman. And some will tell you these are not the funniest; I’d say they’re right, because funny these days means making fun and often hurting people: slapstick, as it were. The humor in Jen Kirkman’s comedy stems from her disarmingly easy-going attitude about even the worse shit, and taking in stride whatever the world throws at her with the help of PFT. Generally speaking, I would say that this is a trait of the comedy of PFT, and the Tompkast especially: a light-hearted approach to the world’s heaviest matter.
Another distinguishing feature is the literary referencing, which appears more saliently in the rest of his podcast work – I guess because when you put a bunch of nerds in a room, they’re going to do nerd things. The Thrilling Adventure Hour is a stage show for the radio; so there’s an announcer and old-timey music, and it’s theatre, except the handful of actors are reading their parts straight from the scripts, and they over-enunciate and ill-time everything for good decorum. It’s serialized so you kind of have to listen back to the beginning if you want to understand what is going on in any given episode. You have to listen to these in the same way that you watch TV, and it’s better to listen to each in one sitting if you ask me (episodes are typically half an hour long) BUT the first episodes are slowly becoming unavailable (?) so dig in the crates now if you want to be able to keep up.
Even more nerdy, there’s The Dead Authors Podcast, where PFT is a time-traveling HG Wells who likes to bring in other famous (dead) writers to discuss their career in retrospect. These are more or less enjoyable depending on how well you like to relitigate with the lifework of said authors (PFT keeps the conversation moving by asking questions about factoids from the internets) and how well the characters will deviate from their real history to bridge with the modern world. Try Carl Sagan or JRR Tolkien for size.
What’s more, PFT is a recurring guest at Comedy Bang Bang, where the comedy gets incepted as Scott Aukerman plays the role of Scott Aukerman, who provides equal parts stage-dorkery and riff-prodding to match the debauchery of being in-character for too long. The result? Andrew Lloyd Weber adopting a lost child, Cake Boss singing a hair metal christmas carol and Ice-T is exploring the possibilities of his TV career. As a counterpart, you can regularly hear PFT improvise upon his characters in longer form on the Superego podcast since the second half of season two – it’s only available one season at a time, so it’s kind of on-demand in a way.
So what have we learned today? That Paul F. Tompkins is funny. And Silly. He’s not trying to hurt no one. Give it a listen and if you don’t like it, may we part ways as internet friends. Forever. If you love him, there’s an unofficial page that’s dedicated to tracking all his podcast appearances and it’s longer than Gunplay’s rifle. So have fun with that, and give him Five Stars on iTunes, like I did.