Tom Papa Landscape

Don’t you love it when someone tells you “you’re doing great”? Talking with brilliant comedian Tom Papa who puts parenting, self care, marriage, eating and making bread into simple perspective. Join me in visiting with Tom who shows us his slightly more serious side (he was concerned he was too serious), but fear not – his natural take on life is not only inspiring but funny at the core.

Listen to the episode here:

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Key Topics:

Tom Papa – Comedy, Family and Keeping Your Perspective

I was like, “I want to talk to Tom Papa.” When you got back to me, I was genuinely pleased. I love talking to scientists and performance people. The whole idea of this for me is to talk to people that are still going after life. I had a guy here who’s a quantum physicist and he solved 1 of the 13 millennial math problems. Let’s talk about life. I want to learn from you. How do you redirect that into your real life? I’ve seen your standup over the years but the one that was on Netflix, I went back and looked at some of your old ones like the New York City one. Rob Zombie is directing your comedy specials. How does that come about?

He became a good friend of mine through a friend who had done a movie with him. He came to the show and he likes comedy. We struck up this friendship. We were at a wedding where we didn’t know anybody, a travel wedding. We’re the only two that knew each other. You meet up and make fun of the rest of the wedding. We hung out. We hit it off. When I was making one of my specials, I was like, “I want it to be a film.” There were a lot of them coming out and they all look the same. I brought it up to Rob and he was like, “Let’s do it.” He did two in a row.

It was great. I was like, “I didn’t see that coming.”

Nobody does. It gives me some street cred.

You’re like, “Papa is punk rock.” What jumps out to me when I watch your stand-up, and I’d be interested to know how it’s changed from when you were single, married, and then married with children, is I feel that you’re saying in your comedy, “Everything we’re feeling is okay. Where you are exactly at this moment is okay.” I was attracted to that, especially in this time with all this chaos, heavy energy, and people being inundated, you’re like, “You’re doing great. You’re here right now.”

It’s funny because this is the most directly that I’ve voiced in this special. I call it You’re Doing Great. As was touring, people were coming up to me and thanking me. They were like, “Thank you for saying I’m doing great. I needed to hear it.” It seemed strange but it was happening over and over again. People were resonating. I knew that, at this moment, leaning into and being a little more sincere wasn’t a bad thing. A lot of comedy is cynical and negative and there’s a lot of humor in that but I was like, “I’m going to stay away from that a little bit and be a little more sincere and a little more positive and see if it can still be as funny.” We’ve pulled it off. It didn’t start out to write a theme.

I watched your New York live show. The Netflix, you’re doing great. It feels like a thoughtful approach to looking at these buckets of life and saying, “You’re doing great.” Even in the New York live show, it feels like you’re still coming back around like, “You’re human. You feel uncomfortable. You feel like you don’t fit in perfectly.” That’s what it is.

I don’t know if I can only talk about this time because this is when I’m here. It’s probably been a human condition that we have this idea of what life is supposed to be, it’s supposed to be joy-filled and you’re supposed to have a lot of money. You have this lofty idea of what life is supposed to be and it’s this nonstop distraction. You keep thinking that you’re not doing enough because you don’t have whatever it is you’re chasing.

The reality is when you meet people that you think have everything, they’re as happy or as miserable as anyone starting out. There is this skewed way of looking at it and then you start to realize, “No.” As you’re running, chasing, working, trying, and fretting, the years are flying by. Before you know it, you spent ten years worrying that you don’t have as nice of a place as someone else or that you haven’t lost enough weight as the other person. Those ten years were filled with anxiety when you could have been enjoying yourself. If you would realize, “This is what it is.” It’s not to say that life is miserable, I’m not saying that. This is the realistic expectation of what your life should be.

I wonder how we could even communicate with our children. I never read the books to my girls. I wrote a book called My Foot Is Too Big for the Glass Slipper because it was upon on, “By the way, no one’s coming on a white horse.” That’s great, too. It’s better than that. Like in sports, losing is a part of winning and you know that. Business entrepreneurs having failed businesses is part of the one unicorn.

I’m sure when you were starting out doing stand-up, having to bomb is part of why you can get out there and crush it, developing your skillset. Also, teaching the kids. I don’t know that I’ve ever had that directive conversation. My kids are certainly old enough to do it and say, “This unhappiness, stress, and joy are all part of life.”

It’s normal. What started to resonate with me is we always have this idea that if you could get away from work and go sit on an island somewhere for two weeks. People pin up pictures of it in their cubicles. You then get there. Maybe at first, it’s nice and refreshing and you have a nice dinner with your partner and swim with the kids, and then it’s like, “What are we going to do? Get me out of here.”

My youngest daughter is like, “Do you know that we’ve never been on a vacation?” I’m like, “First of all, vacation from what? Second of all, doing what? Are we going to get your dad and have him lay by the pool?”

We get these ideas, “The answer must be out there somewhere because this isn’t so great.” You recalibrate and realize, “No.” Over time, you realize, “Sitting with my little pad and writing all the time,” which you think, “I have to go write.” Twenty years later, “That was the most rewarding thing. I didn’t realize at the time that was my vacation.” That was so much more pleasurable sitting there and writing by myself than on any vacation I ever took.

It paid off in the long run, not just in the success of being able to have a career but the thoughts, getting it out, and mulling it around. Any little task like that over time brings out the stuff in you. That’s a difficult thing to articulate right now. It’s a difficult thing to pin up in your cubicle. It’s much easier to see two people with a Corona and a palm tree and think that’s the brass ring but it’s not. It’s hard to sell that other thing.

Especially when you’re 19 or 20 and you say, “One foot in front of the other.” I like to hear the story of how you got into comedy. Realizing that pursuit of whatever it is because of the real desire to do it and not for the rewards of it, you probably didn’t think to yourself, “I could make money and put my kids through school. Some people will know me and I’ll have the freedom to do what I want to do for a living.” I feel like the people who don’t start out with that idea, more times than not, end up realizing, “This entire process was the magic.” To your point. You’re from New Jersey. You graduated high school in New Jersey and then what happened from there?

I went to Rider College, which is described as down the street from Princeton.

Were you already into comedy or writing even then?

I wanted to be a comedian since seventh grade when I was a kid this one summer. I was always funny since kindergarten.

Is that what your parents told you?

No. They thought I was annoying. I thought I pretty much had it. I distinctly remember in first grade there was a popular song, Rhinestone Cowboy.

You and I are the same age. I know all your social cues.

Rhinestone Cowboy was a popular song when I was in first grade. I was eating a banana and it was in the middle of class. It wasn’t time to do this. There was no talent show going on. No one asked me. It got in my little head and I walked up to the front of the room. I took my banana and I started doing a little dance and singing.

[bctt tweet=”Life is just storming forward.”]

I started singing, “Like a Rhinestone Banana.” I was twirling it and shaking my hips and everybody fell out laughing. I got in trouble, “Go back to your room. Give me that banana peel.” I did a whole Rhinestone Banana thing. That’s a weird kid. I wanted to entertain. I wanted to be funny. I was working for laughs in the first grade. It wasn’t until seventh grade that I listened to a couple of comedy albums that my friends had.

Not like Cheech & Chong. What were you listening to?

Steve Martin’s Let’s Get Small. That was in, Tom’s brother, Mark’s room.

That’s pretty heady for seventh grade.

I didn’t understand a lot of it but I saw these other kids laughing at it, all the older brothers. I went to my other friend’s house and he had Class Clown, which was George Carlin’s album. That was an awakening that these are grownups and this is their job. It dawned on me that being funny, I could do it as a grown-up. I don’t have to go into the business world.

What did your dad do for a living?

My father was a sales manager for big early telecom companies and he was successful but he didn’t enjoy working so much. He’s independent and strong-headed. He rode a motorcycle. He was in this corporate world making money and taking care of us and doing his thing but it wasn’t his love, it wasn’t his passion. It’s not like he was telling me, “This is great. Come over here.” I would see him go to work and kick ass but then come home and get on his motorcycle.

Blow it out a little. Do you have siblings?

I got two younger sisters.

Were they a good audience?

Yes, they were a good audience. I can make them laugh and boss them around.

Did they listen?

Yeah. I was the oldest.

They’re two though, 2 against 1.

I divided them.

They didn’t figure that out?


In seventh grade, you have this mini epiphany.

Yeah, looking back.

Is it in your mind? Are you thinking about how to develop that as you’re going through school?

Yeah, completely.

When you’re dating girls, you’re like, “When I get older, I’m going to be a comedian.”

No, I wouldn’t articulate that I’m going to do it but I was funny. I was the captain of the football team. I was an athlete my whole life but I was also the class clown.

They probably let you, too.

What do you mean?

Sometimes if you’re like, “I’m the captain of the football team,” they’re like, “Do whatever you want.”

You could screw around.

You have an army behind you, a little bit. Is it dry humor?

At that time, no. It’s silly Steve Martin humor. I had these popsicle sticks. Do you know this little wood for Italian ice? Those little ones that are curved.

Yeah. I was a spoon but I’m not sure.

I would draw little fingers because it’s like a face. I would Michael Jackson on it or Stevie Wonder and all these different characters. I would sit there in class. Whoever was next to me, I would show the Michael Jackson one and then sing Michael Jackson. I would do impressions and do that thing. It was loud and running around. I was a class clown. I’m not dumb but not that brilliant and not that dry like sardonic wet.

You don’t seem sad to me like you’re missing it. It seems like you’re observing life and then commenting on it in an ironic and funny way. It doesn’t seem like pure misery. You got lucky on that one.

Yes. Chemically and genetically lucky. 100%. I do remember also as a kid being able to wake up. I would wake up cranky. I’d be like, “Let’s snap out of it. Let’s go.” By the time I got to school, I could be in a better mood. I could force that. I always tried to get that. You’re right, it’s luck. I did not struggle. I had a real struggle, I had a real loss, and I had real stuff that happened to me young and all throughout. If I didn’t have that makeup, it would probably have turned dark. Luckily, I had the genetic chemical makeup to rise above it.

When you’re younger too, you think oh, “What’s wrong with that person?” You snap out of it. As you get older, especially after you have kids, you realize on many levels people are born a lot of how they can be. Now they can participate in making it different or creating systems. I’m even-keeled it almost gets to the point that is in itself a problem. Sometimes I wake up and I’m like, “Before you put your feet on the floor, you have to go above that.” You can’t just be showing up. You have to come up a little bit.

Turn it up a bit.

It’s even having that. You graduate. When you go to college, have you messed around any open mic nights or not yet?

No. I did a talent show. I hosted a talent show in senior year and treated it like a stand-up. I dressed up like Pee-wee Herman.

Was that before the movie theatre?

Sunday nights were my workshop nights in high school. I had a mirror in there. If YouTube was around when I was a kid, I would have been huge because I was cranking stuff out. Sunday nights, for some reason, were always a prolific moment. I would be in my room and I’d have these puppets or I would be doing things with the camera. I was always playing and always with the idea, “What are we going to do with this?”

I had this little gnome notebook, it had a little gnome on it. I started writing jokes. In that talent contest, I had a couple of bits and they were horrible. It didn’t work. I was cutting some girls’ hair and put a bald cap on her at the end. It was a rush. I was like, “I’m running this thing. I’m doing bits.” It’s silly. I was tooling around with it.

I was in football from kindergarten till then. I specifically went to Rider college because their football program had been banned. They had some violation trouble. They got in trouble. They had no football but they had a theatre department. My father was set on me going to play Division 3 and keep going. He was an athlete. He was a great football player, much better than I was as a student, and played Division 3.

There are a lot of great lessons. He was my coach on a lot of the teams and coach during high school. He worked his way onto the staff because he always wanted to be there. It was a great relationship thing with him. I learned a ton, hard work, and all the great stuff that comes out of sports. I was done. I knew I wasn’t going to go that far with it. To squeeze another four years out of it, I was tired, and I was done.

It’s a lot of work too.

I wanted to be funny. They had a theater department and I was like, “They don’t have football so it’s out of my hands.” I could tell my father, “If they had it, maybe I’d play but they don’t so I’m going to dress up like a colonial guy and do this play.” That was it. I did the theater in college the whole time. My parents wanted me to have a degree. I was an okay student.

Tom Papa Caption 1

Tom Papa – Everyone has their moments and we all have stuff we have to go through but at the end of the day, you don’t want to be like, “We missed all the good times.”

When you’re the oldest, you’re taking the hit. They haven’t been tenderized yet as much. It’s still the ideals. You go to high school and then you go to college.

It was worth it, I think. I probably could have started earlier.

Did you learn things there that helped you or got you a bigger appetite for creativity and ways to be creative?

What I learned were life lessons. When I was in New York as a young comic, I was able to call people, organize my business, make phone calls, get booked, be responsible, and show up. All that stuff, I got out of that. The whole time, it was acting. I lived in the theater and was learning also how to live that life. It’s like, “This is okay.”

We rented a house and all my friends were at the house at this party and I came off of a long dress rehearsal. I still had some makeup on and I’m in a sandwich shop in New Jersey. I’m on my own. Everyone’s having a great time at this party. I’m going to go. I’m excited to go. I’m excited that I have a play coming out tomorrow and I just did it.

I’m getting fed and it’s almost midnight. I’m by myself because I care so much about this play. I know that my schedule is off from everybody else’s. Everyone else is in this rhythm but this performer thing is askew and different. I was happy doing that. That was like, “I can go for this.” I didn’t make the conscious decision that I was going for it in school at that time. I knew I had to finish. I wasn’t going to bail because I wanted to make my father proud but I was going.

I don’t know if it’s possible to appreciate it at that time but when you find something that you love, the way you did early, you meet young people and they’re like, “I don’t know what I’m good at,” or, “I don’t know what I like yet.” When people find it early, they don’t realize that’s pretty fortunate.

It makes it hard to give that lesson to someone else. I did get a little lucky that I found it. I had this thing and put in a lot of time going after it. Also, I had a talent for it. I found the thing that I liked that I had a talent for.

Those go together, though. You’re drawn to things normally that you look at it and you think, “I can do that.”

I wasn’t saying an opera singer.

I wasn’t saying a gymnast. You still have reality. You look at certain things. I don’t know that there’s any harder life than that of a new stand-up. It’s an ass-kicker.

The hardest part was when I had a day job.

To support your habit of wanting to do stand-up?

Yeah, or just having to make money. You don’t make money for years in stand-up. You have to start out.

Did you go straight to New York?

I lived in New Jersey first and commuted into New York. I got close to the city. I grew up close to the city and then went up near that area. We’d commute into the city to do stand-up. My mother had a small advertising agency so I worked there. I wasn’t committing to a job. I wasn’t working for a stranger. I was like, “I’m going to be this comedian but I’ve got to pay these bills.” I did that for a little bit. My girlfriend at the time, her father passed. I wanted to take care of her and make money. I was making money from advertising.

I stopped stand-up after a couple of years. It took a year when I didn’t do it. I gained 30 pounds. I was drinking with my friends every night, getting high, and playing video games. I remember distinctly laying on my sister’s bed during a family party and saying, “Am I funny anymore? Am I even funny?” It was against my nature. It was physically and mentally against what I was supposed to do and I quit just to lose the weight. The talent thing, I was fortunate to have that.

It’s tough to develop it because it’s a skillset.  

Not everybody has that. You can find something that you enjoy. The big thing watching my children as they’re starting to leave the nest is that maybe it’s not in your work. Maybe your work is your work but you can find other things that will fulfill you. It’s strange to get the thing that you love is the thing that pays you. Isn’t that great?

What if you didn’t settle? I have people write me notes about Laird, for example. He surfs for a living. His teacher in 6th grade or 7th grade said, “You can’t eat your surfboard.” He didn’t take the competitive route. He doesn’t compete, never has. I have people say, “I wish I could live like Laird where I had to train all day.” They don’t realize how great and how difficult that is.

I wonder though within this, saying what you said, “I gained 30 pounds. I was drinking. I was doing all of this. It was against my nature.” Also, if you wouldn’t settle, if you were willing to do what you needed to do to make it happen, people don’t realize how difficult that is. They only see it on Netflix and go, “That guy is fortunate.”

They didn’t see all the times you perform for free or you pay to perform because you got to pay for your transportation to get there or whatever. You are realistic and doing what you need to do to do something but also, you’re not going to settle. There’s a price for that. A lot of us don’t want to pay that beginning price. It’s funny because, as a parent, we would say to our children maybe one thing.

Everything you’re saying, I agree with. I don’t know how to pass that on as a lesson to my kids. What if the thing they like isn’t the thing that pays them? Who knows? Maybe if they like doing this weird thing, maybe there is no business for it. Maybe there will be if she keeps following it. I don’t know.

When I look at the kids and if they are working hard and they seem measured at something, you want to say, “Let’s see what happens.” Are you willing to take the knocks that path, whatever that path is, requires? Think about it, have you ever had a hard time on stage where people weren’t getting it?


At that moment, when you got off and you thought, “Maybe I’m not cut out for this. Maybe I’m not good at this.” The next day you get up and you’re right back at it, I would imagine. That’s the difference. Laird always jokes, he says, “When you’re held down, your intention of why you’re there is clear.” When you get your ass kicked after a set and if people didn’t get it or whatever, you might be like, “This is what I’m doing.”

There’s also the part of not tying it to your career in a way. I get so much joy from my career. The writing of it, the performing, having people applaud, and making progress, that’s all great. I love it. It’s the best but so is a piece of toast and so is having that one little silent car ride with your daughter through a cool mountain when the sun’s going down.

I know it sounds corny but I’m aware that all this stuff that I’m getting from my career, that’s my career. There is so much else to life that is constantly flooding us and constantly in your face. It’s a cliche, stop and smell the roses. Being blissful, being happy, or being any of that stuff, we can think of it in terms of your entire day, being present, being in the moment, and all that kind of stuff.

If you can squeeze ten minutes of that out, it’s pretty great. That is valuable, taking a deep breath, looking around, seeing your dog over there and your daughter over there, or your wife over there. It doesn’t have to be this Buddhist trying to bend that into our work schedule and all that. Keeping your eyes open a little bit does a tremendous amount. That’s the thing when I’m thinking about this puzzle and talking to my daughters. What if you don’t find your comedy? You will find that you can make great pasta or you will find that you love reading. It’s the smallness.

Do you think you can only know that once you get old and run out of gas?

It helps.

You’re like, “I’m thankful now.”

I was way younger.

[bctt tweet=”Sitting down at dinner is a huge priority and some days are family days.”]

What I was going to say is I feel that the people I come across that get to that place of more subtle. Not everything has to be so monumental. You realize in life, it’s noticing a bird, and these things. When I come and go to the airport and I see people when they meet again, I love that. I always feel bad when they’re separating. That one goodbye, a young couple saying goodbye, it’s like, “Ugh.” When you see people reunite, it’s the best.

For example, you’ve had a level of success that allows you to go, “I got to accomplish. I checked off the boxes. Now I’m realizing or I’m reminded it’s still about these simple things.” The reminder would be is if even while in pursuit or even people not knowing yet, it is still right in front of them. Sometimes we get taken so much towards our goals or thinking about what we should be doing and we then don’t realize, “Wait a second.”

It’s hard to be joyful when you’re getting your ass kicked and it’s not happening with the thing you want. I’ve been at this for over 25 years. This is the first special that’s been received the way this is being received. This is a word of mouth, pure positive. I never read comments on social media and I’m like, “Let’s see what they’re saying on Instagram today. Let me take a couple of looks.” All of a sudden, I’m out of posts. There’s been frustrations as I’m making my way. There have been times when you want something and you don’t get it or you get something and it’s canceled or whatever. It’s hard to be like, “The journey in those moments.”

Especially when you’re providing, don’t you think it changes personalities a little bit? You got married you have kids and all of a sudden, you’re like, “I’m not even talking about my dreams right now. I’m talking about providing.”

You’re about tuition. I’m still there. I’m still in that.

Stress is not creative and it’s not funny.

It is a motivator. Not the stress or the fear.

Someone asked me that and they go, “You’ve we’re here and then you looked ahead. How were you always good at knowing where to go?” I was like, “Fear.”

Chris Rock once said that he became successful and he bought a house he couldn’t afford. I always remember that. I practice that. My daughter is going to go to college.

I want to ask you first how much your comedy has changed even before you met your wife.

Even when I was acting in college, I knew I’m going to have the tools to be good at this probably when I’m 40 or 45. What do I know at this point? I’ve been through some things. I’m emotionally open. I had to play a psychiatrist in Equus. Do you remember that play, Equus, with the horse? This kid is obsessed with his horse. He blinds all these horses. It’s a complicated play. It’s beautiful and great. Richard Burton did the film version of it.

I graduated and went back to play it. The year I graduated, they asked me to come back and play the Richard Burton role. He had to smoke a cigarette also. I didn’t smoke. I’m sitting there with this cigarette pretending to smoke and trying to talk like Richard Burton as this 45-year-old man going through a midlife crisis. He’s having a crisis while he’s helping this kid. I’m like, “I am out of my league. This is all pretend.”

“I’m not feeling any of this.”

Not at all. I don’t know what it’s like to have my sex drive dry up.

You’re like, “Are you kidding me?”

I was pretending but I knew that if I get older and when I hit that age, that’s when it’ll start. I lost what I was answering.

We were talking about your comedy or your observations of before and after having a family. I watched part of it with Laird and I watched part of it with Reece, my daughter, and she got it too.

Did they laugh?

They did.

That’s good.

Laird said he’s not here. My point is that we all got what you were talking about. For me, it’s human. Is your wife still vegetarian?


We’re going to get into that. Where did you meet your wife?

We’re married for over twenty years.

Those are good numbers.

20/20/20. We’re in the year 2020. I’m putting my 20 with that.

Are you doing anything special?

We always go away, that was always our thing.

This will come out after so there won’t be any surprise.

There’s no surprise. We decided early on that we don’t need stuff, even if it was one night in town and a hotel or two nights. Some years, we’re in a place where we could go for a little longer. We always go away. We’re having trouble squeezing it in right now. We’re trying to figure out how to do it and where to do it. We’re going to go to Hawaii. I have to go to New Zealand. We’ll maybe hook up when I come back.

Are you still hooking up? That’s good.

Yes, still hook up once in a while. It’s important.

Your daughters threw up but that’s okay.

This is a cool story. We met at the comic strip, a comedy club, on the Upper East Side. I’ve been there a little bit and then she came around and she was a comedian. She wanted to get into my sketch group. I had this flailing sketch group at the time with some funny people but we were a mess. She wanted to be a part of it. It was right before Thanksgiving and we were in the sound booth and I said, “Where are you going tomorrow?”

Did you like her already?

Yeah, I liked her immediately. She came over and asked to be in the sketch group with me and my friend. She was talking to me and we hit it completely. We were like, “We’ll ask him. Come on Thursday.” She walked away and my friend turned to me and goes, “What the hell happened?”

He felt it too.

Totally. He’s a big Canadian guy. He’s like, “What was that?” I’m like, “I don’t know.” We’re in the sound booth and she’s going home for Thanksgiving and I said, “Where?” “You don’t know. It’s a small town in New Jersey.” I said, “Where?” She said, “Park Ridge.” I was like, “Did you have Ms. Conway for kindergarten?”

Are you serious?

She did. She was like, “What?”

Is she a little younger?

She’s a year older. I stayed there till third grade. I moved one town over. We worked in the same hotel as teenagers, I was a busboy and she was a cocktail waitress. We went to some of the same parties. All of this gets filled in, of course, after we meet in New York in the early 20s or whenever. We had all this common stuff. We went to the same school, we went to the same parties, and all this stuff. It felt so familiar. It felt like we’d known each other forever and that was it.

Tom Papa Caption 2

Tom Papa – I grew up in this food-based Italian family and the love and communication were done through wine and lasagna and cheese and bread.

You moved here. Were your children born on the East Coast?

One was born in New York and one was born in LA.

Why did you move to LA? For work?

Yeah. Stand-up is great in New York. A lot of people bailing come to LA to get acting jobs and further along in show business. I said, “I’m not going to go until they come and get me. I’m not just going to go and try and make it. I’m going to get great at stand-up. I’m going to stay here. When they come and get me, I’ll go.”

I did a set on Conan the night before my daughter was born. It’s another Kismet moment. I did Conan. It’s my first time on Conan. Talk about frustration, I could not get on that show forever. I was battling and trying to get on an audition and was denied. Finally, I get a set. I did the set. This is going to be my last night of comedy because my wife is expecting two weeks our first daughter.

You mean the last night until the baby is born.

We’re going to take two weeks off and have the baby. I’m not going to go on the road. I’m not even going to do spots in town. We’ll do Conan. I became friends with Jerry Seinfeld. He’s taking me to see Cosby at Carnegie Hall. This was a great night. Conan’s set goes great. I go with Jerry and his wife to see Cosby. We laughed for two hours. We go back to the apartment and her water breaks.

Right on time.

From that set, LA and NBC called and said, “We’d like to meet you. Do you have any ideas?” I flew out and that was when they came and got me. We split our time forever and that’s why one was born here and one was born there. Anytime we would think we were going to be living in one spot, we’d get a job in the other spot. We went back and forth for a long time.

What about your wife? She was interested in comedy. I’m guessing that she opted to raise the children. That’s an interesting thing where you have two people interested in something and one pursues and maybe her desire to do it was at a different level than yours, maybe it was an experiment.

She was a little different. She was funny. She has real charisma. She started as a dancer. She was dancing right out of high school. She was a professional dancer and toured and did all this other stuff. She was an actress and did stuff with that. She then got into stand-up and was doing that. She loved it. She loved doing it but it wasn’t like this was the sole thing that she had to do. When we had our first child, she was like, “I’m going all in. I’m going to do this.”

We still live the same loose schedule because I was a comedian. We’re around during the day. We can do it together. Through the years, different things came up. She had to carry more of the burden. She did 90% of it. We never lost that vibe of, “We’re not office people. We don’t have to go 9:00 to 5:00. We can be flex. We can travel. We can take Mondays and Tuesdays off when the rest of the world is at work.” It worked. We’re over seventeen years where the kids are on their own and starting to migrate. She’s coming back to, “What am I going to going to do?” She went back to get her degree. She never got a degree because she was dancing. She’s going to wrap that up too.

She’s been doing that. Your oldest is going to university.


How are you guys managing?

We’re getting ready to cry for a year.

Is she leaving the state?

Yeah, East Coast.

That’s the running joke, you don’t even want to be in California. When you move here, you move here for everybody.

I did this for you. I didn’t think this through. I didn’t want this house. I didn’t want this dog. I didn’t want any of this. I did this all for you and now you’re going to leave?”

Go to the East Coast.

My wife loves New York.

Is she a New Yorker?

Yeah. We lived in the city together forever. She was there even before I was. She loves New York.

Even still?

Even still. We’re happy here. LA is a cool place. If I told her, “I have this opportunity,” she wouldn’t even pack, she’d go to the airport. My daughter was toying around with NYU. Our greatest place ever was in the village. It was like, “You think you’re going to live in the West Village while I’m out here in Encino?” She’s like, “No, that’s not happening.” We got her off of that. We’re back and forth forever.

Your youngest?

She’s a freshman. We have a little way.

When you joke about your family, is it all okay?

Yeah. I don’t think the kids pay that much attention. They don’t care that much. I’m funny to them but the act is a different thing. Because it is somewhat autobiographical, they probably choose not to. Every once in a while, they’ll let something out and you realize, “You do see it.”

“You paid attention.”

I have this joke of a made-up daughter. It’s a mean girl. The funny thing that’s going on in the house now because it came out is who is it? Who is the mean girl?

They already know who it is.

Everyone knows.

We have one in our house. I always think it’s funny when you do stuff where you’re sharing your stories but then their stories, you’re not allowed to share it because that’s their story. Even though it’s a shared story, it’s like, “I can’t share all of that story.”

“It’s not mine to tell.”

When I think of you, and I’m not sure if it’s accurate or not, it’s all reasonable.

What is?

Your point of view, it’s realistic and reasonable. If I was going to ask you for advice, let’s say, in a few different areas, let’s say in parenting. You have two daughters and you’ve been in a long relationship. In parenting, when you went into it with certain ideas, what did you learn? What has been true for you that is important to you and/or you and your wife in parenting?

There’s a lot to that. The one thing that someone told me going in when the first kid showed up was when you come home, always kiss your wife and hello first. That held up. Take care of that.

It’s the foundation.

Make sure that that’s always solid and then scoop them up. There’s an urge to go after and pick them up.

They’re juicy.

They smell great. Your wife has been in the trenches for three days while you’re away. That’s the place to go. Now, when the kids are older, you can see, “We’re going to get spit out. We’re going to be knocking around by ourselves at a certain point.” Good thing that stayed intact. That was valuable. It’s so small. I didn’t understand it at first. After it’s all netted out, it’s like, “That pretty good.”

[bctt tweet=”It’s a cliche but stop and smell the roses.”]

The other thing is to be around. You always think that it has to be big trips to whatever. The moments that you can tell that the kids get stuff from you are when you’re not trying to build up some big event when you’re sitting there with your coffee, what you’re doing, what you’re reading, or how you’re working. All that stuff that you think doesn’t matter.

You’re like, “Tonight, we’re going to all get-together.” I’ll never remember it. It was annoying. Those little things hovering around. It doesn’t mean that you can go. Them seeing that you work and care about something is valuable too. We moved into this other house so they have more places to hide. I’m always yelling, “Come here. I want to see your face.” I make them do whatever they’re doing in that same room.

Sharing space.

That’s a big thing.

What about something that maybe you figured out trying to parent teenagers?

That’s a work in progress.

They’re different on top of it.

Totally different but exactly who they told you they were going to be the first week they showed up. I had a joke about that in one of my specials. You think it’s all parenting. They are who they are immediately. My younger one came out and was doing push-ups. A two-minute-old baby laying on the thing. She was pushing up with her arms. The doctor was like, “Humans don’t do that.” She was strong and determined and she’s still that way. She’s different from her sister. She’s going to achieve in a different way. Whatever I learned with that one does not apply with this one other than to be there, love them, and be around. It’s hard to not care but you have to.

You have to not care a little

They’re raging and you don’t know why. They’re in the mood and you’re not going to fix it. I want to be the kid in high school that’s like, “Let’s go. Snap out of it. We’re going to be in a good mood today.”

They’re not you.

I’m like, “We’re not in bad moods when we’re on vacation.” It’s not me.

Everyone’s delicate about gender stuff but I don’t care. You’re a man. My youngest daughter came home and she’s like, “I’m angry about things and I don’t know why.” I was like, “I understand. I’m going to walk away now but I understand.” Typically, the masculine brain is like, “Problem and solution.” Girls are like, “What? These are feelings.” That’s been a big lesson for me. Laird came with a girl, a four-month-old. Eight years later, we had our first together. I remember when I got Reece and she was on my chest. I never checked the gender during the pregnancy.

You didn’t know yet? They didn’t tell you when it came out?

Right when she came out. I didn’t do that with any of my pregnancies, I didn’t check ahead. It’s one of the greatest of life surprises. Everyone’s like, “We have to be prepared.” I go, “For what?” Put some socks, a boob, a blanket, and diapers we’re good. They’re not going to be concerned about the color of the room.

A dear friend of mine, a girl, said to me, “You needed a girl. More feelings and a lot of discussion about feelings.” I wasn’t like that so much. Here we are three deep. I don’t know that it is to be figured out. Someone said to me once when you talk about listening, it’s like listening without fixing. In your mind, you can go, “I can give you ten reasons why not to feel that way or ten things great about what’s going on in your life right now.” You’re like, “I’m sorry.”

They’ve taught me that, my wife and both daughters. Maybe within several months, I realized when my wife comes in and it’s going and she’s angry about everybody and everything. The old me and the dumb me would say, “I know, it’s awful. The sun shining in this nice house and this beautiful family.” I realized to let her go. She wants to get this out and needs to get it out. Great. I always hold it all in.

You get it out in your work, probably.

Yeah. I can go up and yell and scream about everybody.

You can line it up and you can probably get funny bits of it. The other thing for certain people, I feel like I’m a little bit this way, is sometimes you want to get out in a safe way but you don’t want to get it out in a way that makes a problem. You can’t get it out with certain friends because now you’re making problems. If you tell your partner or that one trusted friend where it’s like, “I’m venting.” Now it’s like, “She felt this way and they told somebody.” She can go to you and go, “Hey.” She knows it and lives and dies there and it’s over.

My role is to listen and let her get it all out. Even if it’s something that seems silly, It’s like, “That’s not what’s happening right now. I’m going to let her go.” My little one is funny because she’s direct. She’ll be cranky and I’ll be like, “Have you been on your phone all day?” She goes, “I have my period.” She always puts it out there. She uses it as a weapon in a way.

You’re like, “Didn’t you have your period last week?”

“Last week when you told me to get out of your room, it was because you needed a tampon.”

The guy who goes to work and he’s like, “I’m sorry, my mother died.” “Didn’t your mother die six months ago?”

Honestly, with all of them, and being in the family. I am thinking about it with my wife because of the anniversary and it’s a big one. For some reason, those round numbers are always like kapow. I don’t like unearthing things. I don’t like constantly analyzing things. There are certain times when you’ve been in relationships where the only relationship is talking about the relationship. The unearthing, “How do you feel?” I can’t live there. Why we’re successful is we both don’t unearth.

I have a friend on my radio show, he and his girlfriend have a thing called check-ins. Every once in a while, they know this isn’t going out to dinner, this is a check-in. There’s some part of this that is appealing. They’ll go to dinner and they’re like, “How have you been feeling lately? How have I been? Anything you want to complain about or want to bring up?” It sounds like a nightmare to me. Maybe I’m not sincere enough because I blow everything off and I try to find a joke about it. I try and keep it light and keep moving. Unless there’s a real big problem, we’re probably okay.

I’m sure you’d bring it up if it was a big problem, wouldn’t you?

Yeah. I feel like doing it the other way. Constantly analyzing is making problems.

In long relationships, I always say you want to stay up in the clean air, that fast air with the least amount of resistance possible. You can get caught up on all kinds of things. It’s best when you go, “Is that a big deal? Is that going to be something that’s going to bring down the house in five years? It’s not. I’m going to ignore that.” It’s okay.

Why are you pinning your happiness on whether or not she cleaned something out of the second sink? She doesn’t do that and that’s okay. I don’t clean up after the dog in the back and she likes, “Let that roll.” Why does everything have to be perfect? Why does every single thing have to be meted out or controlled for your happiness that you’re not going to achieve anyway? There’s not going to be this blissful everything’s right all the time thing. Let it roll. I’d see some of my friends and they talk sincerely about their relationships. I don’t know if I have a gene missing but I don’t want to live there.

I also think sometimes that then if we’re spending all that time on that stuff, we’re not creating new experiences, having new conversations, and learning new things. It seems like hell. I’d be divorced.

Have you ever gone to therapy?

Yes, but it was family versus relationship. The good thing about Laird is if I have a strange look on my face. I’m the opposite. I hold a lot of things in. He goes right for it, “What’s up?” If I’m acting strange, he either comes up and gives me a hug and it’s like, “I’m recognizing that you have something going on,” or is direct and is like, “Is something up?” I’ll be like, “Is it worth bringing up? Is it not worth bringing up?” I might say, “It’s my thing.” What are the elements that for you have made you guys able to stay together for over twenty years? What are some of the things that you’ve come out with that are like, “Here are some of my golden rules.”

First, it’s the Big Bang Theory.

I was going to say you have chemistry.

I identify that it was explosive at the beginning and I was like, “This is going to last for long. This universe thing is going to spread for a while. Maybe at the end, it’ll burn out.” This was my thinking in the beginning. I’ve been in a long-term thing and I wasn’t looking for you.

Was that your girlfriend that you left your comedy for?


The fact that she let you should have told you something.

Maybe. I wasn’t looking for anything but it was so powerful that I was like, “Maybe this will end up hurting at the end but it’ll be so far out and then I’ll take the chance.” It held up. There was so much chemistry and it was right off the bat. We’re still living on that energy.

I liken it to when they blast any rocket up into space, that initial thrust has to be so powerful to get that bad boy out. I have friends that say, “Maybe I’ll learn.” I’m like, “Forget it.”

When I hear couples going into therapy while they’re dating, maybe you guys didn’t have stuff. For me, it was like, “You need that rocket, that blast.” I’m not kidding. Over twenty years, we’re living off that energy. I’m convinced of it. The rest is paying attention and not taking things too seriously and not picking out everything. Having kids definitely helps because it’s all hands on deck and life is storming forward.

Tom Papa Caption 3

Tom Papa – You don’t have to be blissful or be happy or any of that stuff. You can think of it in terms of your entire day being present, being in the moment.

Do your kids ever try to divide and conquer?


My girls, individually and in different terms, have all said the same thing to me. They don’t say to their dad. “You and dad are always on the same team,” that was from my oldest. My middle said, “You’re always dad’s number one.” I’m like, “I have to earn it. You guys are part of our life. You’re the daughters.” My youngest has said, “Dad will always do what you say.” I’m like, “Really? Do you know your dad?” The point is keeping that front together.

You’ve done it.

People don’t realize that’s a good starting point.

That was the kiss your wife and hello first. It’s similar.

I always tell guys that if their girl is going to have a baby, right at that point, treat the girl like their girlfriend, wife, or mother. At that moment, you’re in the highest state of being a mom. The last thing you want is for your guy to come in and go, “How’s my mom doing?” Treat her like your girlfriend. I always say to guys, “I’ll never give you advice about this stuff. It’s all personal.”

When your wife has a baby or your girlfriend or whoever, treat them like your girlfriend at that moment. She’s looking in the mirror for a second and she’s like, “That’s me but it’s not totally me.” She just had a baby. You have this new baby and you’re like, “I’ll be nursing here.” It’s all this stuff. It’s powerful. People don’t understand how they can help their partner go through this stuff even easier by some simple things like kissing her first.

Also, kissing on the lips. You make out when your boyfriend and girlfriend. That’s not a part of it anymore. It’s either all in for that night. This is the night.

“We’ve got 15 or 20 minutes. The kids aren’t home. Let’s go have sex,” or, “What time am I doing this and picking up that?”

It’s running the company. We don’t do it as often but it’s those little things like kissing on the lips and a hug in the kitchen out of nowhere for whatever reason, which I’m trying to get better at.

Did you not do that always?

No, not always.

You got positive confirmation that 1 or 2 times you did it and you’re like, “That seems to work.”

Positive confirmation in the form of her saying, “Why don’t you hug me?” Those things are important. I always get a feeling of, “If there’s no trouble, we’re good.” When we got married, we went in with a no-divorce clause. We had a no FU clause and a no-divorce clause. You can’t say FU to each other. That’s not allowed because there’s real power in that word. That’s for other things. That’s for other enemies or whatever. That’s not something we do. The no divorce clause, you’re in. I take it for granted sometimes that we’re here, everyone’s good, everyone’s happy, and we had a good meal so we’re good. You also need a hug sometimes.

We say it’s like watering the garden a little bit. With females, there’s nothing like you said, “I’m going to be in this relationship with this person.” When he or she directs that energy towards me, you do perk up. Your wife’s not walking around the grocery store to the checkout and the bag boy going, “Hey, guys. How’s it going?” When your guy directs it at you or your girlfriend, it’s like, “I feel special. That’s the only person I’m trying to have that energy with.”

Someone could be saying right now, “That shouldn’t be reliant upon.” Talk to me after twenty years. Also, talk to me after you’ve said, “I’m going to have that sexual energy and that romantic energy with this person.” If you’re doing that, when that person is tender and loving, it does lift you up. It’s pretty simple. Conversely, the female can set a tone in the house better than anyone. Indirectly, whether she likes it or not, she’s the most aware of what everyone’s got going. She can do that. If the partner can come in and be like, “I appreciate you,” or a hug, it’s powerful.

My problem is when we hug sometimes, I’m like, “It’s on.” She’s like, “I just wanted a hug. I got stuff to do.”

That’s still good.

It’s like. “I have nothing.”

You’ve been an athlete. We joke that when you walk in the gate, I had a nook who’s sitting here and kind enough to put it together. I was like, “We have to get special bread for Tom.” When you walked in with Lodge bread, I was like, “He got even better bread than we got.”

It’s up for debate.

The way Lodge is prepared is so good. You’re aware of health. You’re conscious of health. Even when your joking, you’re talking about like, “Three pounds. The good you and the bad you.” For me, you’re almost the brilliant Everyman. That’s how you are to me. You’re super smart but yet you’re still like, “I understand what you’re feeling. I’m in it too.” If you told people how you navigate, trying to keep your self-care, your health, or whatever label you want to call it. It’s a million things.

When people talk about training and this and that, I’ve been on the sharp end of that stick. What you start to realize is that self-care is more about the things you’re talking about, which is, can you enjoy those small moments? it isn’t about like, “Have you checked out my six-pack abs?” We know plenty of people who eat perfectly and train for hours and hours a day and they’re missing all of the puzzles.

That’s the balance. When you reached out, I was anticipating meeting you. I was excited. I did a short dive into what you’re up to online and see this positive, healthy, and health-based lifestyle. I work out every day. I try not to go crazy with what I’m eating. There’s high blood pressure in my family and I didn’t want to have to end up medicated. I knew working out and mentally what that was going to do for me. I also grew up in this food-based Italian family. The love and communication were done through wine, lasagna, cheese, and bread. That’s how we love and communicate and do all of that.

It’s also a time you’re all together if you think about it. While the cheese and lasagna are getting passed around, you’re together. There’s probably laughter. There’s probably some discussion that comes up that was maybe not planned or expected.

100%. I make dinner. Sitting down at dinner is a huge priority. Sundays are family days. All our family is pretty much East Coast. There are some out here more and more. The roots of it with my parents and all that is East Coast. I still maintain even for the four of us that Sunday is family day and everybody breaks it but then I know they’re breaking it and that’s okay if they do. If I make it like a statement, I’m fine if they want to go see a show or whatever but I make a big deal that it’s not okay. It’s important.

That’s a gift that you’re giving them.

Ultimately, because I got it.

We call it family dinner. We have it too.

I know I’m giving them a little bit of the healthy obstacle of, “I’m going to create emotional bonds to all of these salty meats.” They don’t eat that. For me, sitting there with some provolone and some crumbled parmesan and a glass of wine and salami does something to me. As I’m trying to lose more weight or do something, I shouldn’t even be looking at that. Even if I’m cheating, that should not be. You’re right, it’s that balance.

Do you ever have times when you say, “I’m going to pull back for a little bit.”

Yeah. I’ll try and do it through the week and cut back on trying to eat. It’s complicated in my house because I’m the only meat eater.

It’s you and three vegetarians. Are they vegan or vegetarian?


It’s been a long time. Your wife has been a vegetarian.

Since she was 16. She started eating fish when she was pregnant with our second. Her body was screaming for it. She grabbed a chunk of fish that I cooked earlier. 3:00 in the morning, she was in the kitchen. I’ve never seen it.

She needed it.

Her body made her do it. She’s done that a little bit since then.

You can do the pastas and the cheeses with them, right?

Yeah. For me, my dialing back and getting dialed in is meat, vegetables, and salad. I live there. As much as I love bread, but only good bread that doesn’t have the high glycemic levels that store-bought bread does, my dialing back does not fit with what they’re going to eat. What they eat is pasta and rice. The vegetable is where we meet.

[bctt tweet=”When you come home, always kiss your wife hello first. Make sure that’s always solid. It was small but valuable.”]

I do a lot of the cooking during the week. I do a lot of the cooking when I’m home. It’s complicated. I still cannot figure out when I want it. I should be grilling a steak and having some broccoli and doing it early in a small portion and done. I should do that Monday through Saturday. On Sunday, you have the big Italian meal. I keep giving them veggie burgers every day during the week. Eventually, I’m like, “I got to feed them. I’m making pasta again.” It’s hard. To have four separate meals is complicated.

Because of the love that I identify with meals, there are a lot of times when I’m like, “I don’t want to have dinner. I’m not hungry. I can go till tomorrow. I’ve had something.” “What do you mean? What are you doing? We’re all at the table.” There was a time even when I was eating vegan for a bit when I was trying to see if that was the thing that can curb my cholesterol and my vegetarian family were annoyed with me.

You are now getting tightened up.

They did not like seeing that I wasn’t eating anything.

Especially because maybe they know how much joy it brings you.

Maybe but it wasn’t me. It was a guy with a mustache who, all of a sudden, showed up at the table shaved.

Nobody wants to see their dad or their guy doing stuff that makes them unhappy. They will abuse you and say mean stuff to you. In the end, they don’t want you to be unhappy. It’s like, “Dad, what’s up? Have your salami. I’ll tell you how awful you are on another day.” You’re always balancing that out. It’s tough if you’re on the road. You have to work late. That’s not always the easiest environment.

The hardest part for a comedian is not eating after the show.

You’re ramped up.

You’d see a little reward at the end.

You’re probably social if there are other comedians around. Do it with them. Hang out.

You always tell yourself, “We’ll hang out but I’m not going to have anything.” Here’s a plate of nachos in front of you. It’s hard. The older you get, it takes so much. If I could be good and feel it and drop four pounds during the week with just water.

It’s inflammation, that’s it. When you eat healthily, people go, “Wait.” You feel like you’re not puffy. You’re full of inflammation.

Eat two Oreos on a Friday night and one glass of wine and it feels like it all came back.

You then go, “Why bother?” You have your wife of over twenty years. Some days, you’d look at me and think, “She’s in automatic pilot.”

I was worried about bringing you bread. I was like, “What if they see this bread and they’re going to light it on fire in the backyard?”

I’m not that.

I didn’t know you yet.

When someone brings you bread, you say thank you. Lodge bread, come on.

Throw it out when I get in my car.

We have a rule. When people offer you a food of any kind, you say yes.

That’s a good one.

It’s rude. Think about the exchange of food when you’re talking about your grandma, your mom, and your culture. Laird is from Hawaii. I grew up in the Caribbean. Food is an exchange and you say thank you. Laird jokes about in Hawaii, eating at one friend’s house and then going to another auntie’s house, and they offer you food and you’re stuffed, and you’re like, “Yes, please.”

That’s the hard part about the vegetarian thing.

What do you mean?

A lot of times, the things that are offered are things they don’t eat.

When I heard your line about the bacon and how are you going to cook it all week and, for sure, they come in. My friend, Elijah, was raised vegetarian. He got introduced to bacon and there was something else. I forgot what it was. He said it flipped him. He couldn’t believe it. He was like, “Bacon? What is this?”

“What is this magic thing?” I broke when I was at Yankee Stadium and they were having hotdogs. I was like, “Baseball, sunshine, and hot dog, childhood done.” That was it.

You write for other shows. How is that experience different for you to write and you’re not saying it?

It’s not great.

Do you call that a bill payer?

I don’t do a lot of that. There’s this radio show, it was Prairie Home Companion. It was the Garrison Keillor thing for 35 years. It’s an iconic NPR show. Now it’s called Live From Here. There’s something about traveling to a gig at 6:00 in the afternoon on your way to go to a gig. I’d always run into that show. Garrison Keillor was prolific and folksy, the way he would talk about writing and then talk about family and small life. He created this world out of his words. I was always inspired. When the new host came in, Chris Thile, he was a musician, and they didn’t have the spoken word part of it. They came to me because I was doing a similar show off of being inspired by Garrison. I was doing my own version of it called Come to Papa.

I love that name.

My buddy from Largo here in LA hooked us up together and I took over the spoken word part of the show. I was in charge of getting the sketches ready. I also was doing my own monologue called Out in America, which was my little homage. I was able to follow Garrison a little bit. In no way comparing but he did the news from Lake Wobegon. I was like, “There needs to be some voice for the show.” I created Out in America where I would shine a light on all the good people out in America.

That part, I love and I still do. The sketch part was always difficult because I wasn’t performing it. Once in a while, I would drop in. Everyone’s different. Everyone has a different way of working. Having a joke and having it missed was difficult. We went through two different casts and they all had their own strengths. Some were better left alone and some were better if they listened to you. It was angst-filled. I didn’t enjoy it.

At least you did it.

It was fine. I’m still doing the monologue. It’s still great. They did away with the spoken word part of it. He’s a musician and the show has become a musical review. They have guest comedians come on and I do my monologue. I love doing it. It’s a lot of work to write it. I’m so much happier because I’m writing it and I know how I’m going to deliver it. Writing for other people is weird.

Probably most people who are not performers do best at writing for others.

I can do it scripted. To write film scripts or TV stuff that I’ve done, I can do that. I’m usually in it. Also, It’s not as connected to it. It’s not like standing there live and performing in front of an audience like that radio show was. Whereas, it’s like, “You got to take control of this.” It was difficult.

And are you doing that show still with Fortune?

Fortune Feimster.

She’s funny.

She’s great.

I watched her show. In moments, she looks like a 15-year-old boy. There are moments when she makes these expressions and you’re like, “That’s a 15-year-old boy.”

She’s funny.

How did the two of you get connected?

I got offered to do this radio show, it’s a Netflix radio show on Sirius XM, their channel. It was running clips because they have this huge library of comedy now. They wanted to do a morning show so they approached me and asked if I would do it. I liked the idea. It sounded cool. I like being in Netflix’s world. They asked, “Who would you want as a co-host? Who would you want to do it with?” They gave me a list of people. They were suggesting a woman. Something that wasn’t another copy of my voice. She was on the list and I was like, “Done.”

Tom Papa Caption 4

Tom Papa – People should take stock and be grateful and understand that you can make these tiny little moments for yourself and not give up.

Did you know her already?

I had only known her from her stand-up. We were on a flight together once. Certain people you get around, they make you funnier and there’s lightness. I knew, without a doubt, that she would be great. I pretended that I went through a whole interview process and stuff but I called her and asked, “Do you want to do it?” She said, “I’d do it.” We start in July 2020. This is our first year.

What does that schedule look like?

Monday to Thursday, I’m up at 5:20. I’m on the air from 7:00 to 9:00.

Are the two of you mostly responsible for that content?

All of it, yeah. Our producer gives us some news.

That you’ll riff on?

It’s more of a podcast. We’re pretty casual about our conversations with the acts. There are times when an act isn’t coming, we have an hour to fill. If I can start talking with her, we can burn an hour easily. Even though we do it every day, something is going to come up. There’s always something to talk about.

Is there a season for that or is that game on now?

It’s game on.

That leaves your weekend open if you want to perform.

We both perform. We’re done by Thursday. She gets some acting things. I have to go away for a week.

Will one of you step in for the other?

No. We double up at bank shows. We did a show and then did another half a show. Our producer, Joe, is great. He’s always puzzling it all together. He knows what we’re going to need in our absence. For comedians, 5:30 every day is a weird space to be in. You’re driving home from The Comedy Store at 10: 30 PM. Sometimes it’s okay and sometimes it’s rough.

When you’re getting ready like your show, for example, on Netflix, I would imagine you tested. You go to smaller clubs, you test bits, and you keep some and maybe get rid of some. I’m not exactly sure.

It’s two and a half years of touring. As you’re writing it and performing it, it becomes a thing. To a certain point, you’re like, “This is full enough to record.”

Do you go to somebody and say, “I want you to watch now and I want you to tell me?”


Is there any person you use as a reference?


It’s just how you feel?

Yeah, and how the audience has been responding. Some people work closely with a director. Greg Jacobs, who’s the director of Magic Mike and Red Oaks on Amazon, is a good friend of mine. He directed this one. I never asked him about the material or what this is going to be. He didn’t even see much of the act until right before just so he can get the angles and know what he was going to do. He was great. Having an ally there, especially in editing and being like, “At that point, we get rid of that joke.” Having someone that you trust and know you, same with Rob when I did the other ones, that’s a huge thing having an ally there. When I’m developing stuff, it’s me.

Do you ever ask your wife about it?

I used to but she’s too tough. She’d be like, “That’s not a joke.”

It’s hard too. Think about this, no one’s more protective of you than your wife and probably your daughters. She’s like, “You’re going to go out with that?”

Maybe. I listen to her for a while and then I was like, “She’s wrong.” I brought it up on stage and the audience loves it.

You’re not the audience.

I’m like, “I’m going to show you when it’s done.”

That’s scary, that process. That’s a long time.

There’s a weird thing about jokes that they get better with age.

After you’ve said a joke a million times and heard it and heard the laughter, it is funny that you still understand the feedback from the audience. It’s like, “This is funny.”

You mean before you try it out.

No. When you keep trying it and it’s still there, you’re like, “This is funny.” Most of us, it’s like, “You’ve done this with movies.” After you see it the third time, you’re like, “I can’t stand this movie even if it’s good.” In a way, what you guys are doing is interesting because it gets better.

There’s something about it. You’re bringing all this extra to it that you’re not even aware of. There’s confidence in it. When you first put it out there, there’s a bunch of stuff I’m doing now that’s new and it’s doing well. Everybody says that once you record and then you try that joke, you start adding extra to it and the freedom that you have and you’re not recording it. Some jokes get better even after you record them. You’re like, “If only they could have gotten this one.” It’s a fun process, though.

What comedians do that is artful and powerful are cadence and tone. I was curious when you were growing up that you already naturally had that ironic tone. When you tell the audience, it’s like, “You’re doing great.” This way, I’m like, “It’s genius.” In that, it’s funny. Is this something that through time, you found even more intuitive? I’m curious how that became part of the art too.

Over time, it always changes. I had Marc Maron on my radio show. He’s been doing it ten years longer than I have. In this special, I said to him, “This is your best.” He’s confident. He was relaxing. His delivery wasn’t as angst-filled as it was when he was younger even though he’s successful. Now there’s the maturity and wisdom and there’s something else to it. That happens to all of us.

There was something there in the beginning and confidence is such a huge part of it. In the beginning, it’s not even confidence, it’s a lack of terror. I used to go so fast. I would almost be screaming and I wouldn’t even stop to hear them because I want to know if they were laughing or not. I would go. I’m like Sam Kinison, that’s all. I was terrified. You get good enough where you can start to speak on stage and be funny on stage in the same way that you are off stage. You’ve gotten to a certain level of confidence where that’s happening.

What’s happening now is you’re able to play with that confidence, you’re able to play with it and add to it and have more pauses. You can do more with it. Now you’re using it at a different level in a way. The voice, that cadence, and that thing are always a work in progress. It’s always evolving. You’re not changing drastically over time or else your audience wouldn’t get to know you. It’s still you.

Are your parents around?

They’re both around.

Do they enjoy?

Yeah, they love it. They’re excited. They took a boat to Key West to see me perform. They were in Florida with their Florida friends and they all got on a ferry and came to a show. It’s great.

That’s got to feel good.

It does. They get annoyed more than anyone about jokes about them. My wife is cool with it. My parents are like, “Will you stop calling us old?”

We’ll get annoyed too. If you said other things, that’d be okay.

The old thing always sticks.

If you could hope or dream anything for your girls, what would that be?

They don’t end up with someone stupid. They don’t end up with someone that’s not good to them.

[bctt tweet=”Your work is your work but you can find other things that will fulfill you.”]

Did they bring home any bad boyfriends, your older one?


She was too focused?

A little.

She’s doing her push-ups?

No. The younger one is doing the push-ups. The older one is in school all the time.

They have boys in school, Tom.

They do but she thinks they’re stupid. She had a couple of them that were tame. It hasn’t been a thing. The younger one had a couple of things at school. I haven’t had to deal with any dudes I don’t like yet. That’s a big thing. Guys are the worst. To find a guy that has his act together, I had a joke about that. I’m like, “I’m the only guy they know and I’m pretty great. How do I teach them what men are capable of?”

They have a standard. They know now. They’ll see right through it.

I hope so.

They will. What else?

I hope they carve out something to do that they are happy with. I’m figuring this out, I don’t even know if it’s correct, nothing is. I don’t know if it has to be their career. If they can find something that doesn’t make them miserable, that would be great. I don’t think that their career has to be their happiness. If it’s not, there’s something in their life that is big enough that satisfies that. “That’s my work but this thing is the thing.” That’s key.

Do you lose sleep over anything?

Probably money. You keep building up this bigger life all the time. I’m in no position to complain but I keep building up bigger things and doing more and sending kids to schools and doing all of these things. I never feel that much different than I did when I was 25.

It can keep you sharp, though.

It’s okay.

That’s one way about it.

It makes you hustle, it makes you go, and it makes you work. That would probably be the thing. It’s not a huge weight. If there was one thing, it’s when I’m looking at my phone, looking at my calendar, and checking things out right before bed.

When someone comes to your show, you want to make them laugh but do you secretly have others that they come away with something that you send them all home with something?

No. That is a byproduct of what I do, which is to make them laugh. To completely give them an escape is a little bit of it. It’s like, “When you come in here, this is going to be a different place than what is out there. From the minute you parked your car and came in, this should be different. This is going to be fun and we’re going to laugh our asses off for a good hour and a half,” which is a lot of laughs in that hour and a half. This isn’t wasting time. You’re going to laugh more, hopefully, than you will until you see me next time. That’s my goal.

I’ve written a couple of books. My second book is about to come out. The first book came out over two years ago so I started going to the lobby after my show to sign books. For the first time, I was meeting everybody and that’s when I noticed the byproduct, which is, “You got me through my cancer treatments.” “When we lost our son, we watched your special nonstop.” “We drove for hours to come to see you because you just make us feel great.” All that extra stuff, I don’t go in thinking I’m doing that. It’s cool to realize it. It does make you think, “Oh.”

My sister runs this great nonprofit in New Jersey and it’s noble work, creating city gardens in all these bombed-out cities in New Jersey, and doing amazing work and changing kids’ lives and stuff. I’m always like, “I don’t do it unless I get paid.” I always feel a little less than. When people come up and say that stuff, I’m like, “My sister should hear some of this.” No one’s looking at her gardens while they’re getting through these tragedies.

“You think you’re helping people?”

From this tour into this special, that whole mantra of, “You are doing great,” I knew that I was giving them some relief. It was more than the laugh. When people started responding to it, I was getting, “It’s so funny. I needed to hear that right now.” It’s been the nonstop thing of the word of mouth on the special spread is people telling each other, “I know you’re stressed. Trust me, watch this guy.” I got a funny message, a girl said, “I wouldn’t have known until I watched this special that I have more in common with a middle-aged white guy than I do with my girlfriends.”

That’s a good example of, we can all be different and we can all have different skillsets. It may be even confusing to us how we can contribute but we all can. Yes, using comedy and it’s your work in these things but subtly, whether it’s intentional or not, it is a contribution. That’s important. Especially now that we’re all connected, meaning good and bad. Sometimes there are nice little slices of overall good getting floated in there. People don’t realize in which way they can contribute.

It’s amazing. Your podcast. When I knew I was coming on, I hadn’t heard it before. I started digesting them and they were so positive. I was learning from them so much, I started telling my wife, “You got to listen to this one that she had with her daughter because there’s a lot of you in it.” That is something that we never would have had before. From you hitting me up online, from seeing this thing, and then I take your stuff, and now I’m taking all the stuff that you guys are doing. I then started seeing your fitness stuff and now that’s in my brain and now I’m sharing it with other people. It’s contagious.

It doesn’t mean you can’t have fun. That’s what’s important. It isn’t about perfection or anybody has answers. It’s about having fun. Can you be like, “I struggle with this. It’s silly.” It’s realizing that we all have it.

I was conscious of that one when we started talking. We are dealing with things, your wife, your kids, and stuff. It’s hard to be flippant about all of it. It should also be fun. The whole thing should be a good time. Everyone has their moments and we all have stuff we have to go through. I get all of that. At the end of the day, you don’t want to be like, “We missed all those good times. We missed all those laughs.” There’s nothing better than when someone in the house comes in with something they’re angry about. This is down on the level of seriousness. You can tell them to make a joke out of it and make them see that it’s silly.

That is the best. I like when people laugh for me because I take myself so seriously.

If you don’t have that coconut water, you’d probably be dead tonight.

We’re all serious in this house.

It is funny how you need to have it pointed out. I was thinking about that with the phone.

Please tell me about all the electronics. Do you have any secrets on that?

We’re losing nonstop. We’re always losing.

My daughter looks like a crack addict. Sometimes I’m like, “Go to sleep.”

The advice I gave to my one friend whose son wants a phone, and I said, “Put it off as long as possible.”
It’s the same way as smoking weed or something. Let their brains develop as much as possible. Be the mean mom. Give them a flip phone if they throw that emergency thing at you. Keep them off as long as possible. I did it probably too early. It’s a nonstop battle.

Tom Papa Caption 5

Tom Papa – When we got married, we went in with a no-divorce and no FU clause. You can’t say FU to each other. That’s not allowed because there’s real power in that word.

I have yet to meet one person that has that one in check.

It’s impossible because we all have it. What I was saying is you need someone from the outside to tell you how you’re behaving. One cool breakthrough I have because I have the power to take it away from her is we’ll communicate about it. I had to take her phone away right at Christmas break because she screwed up on the last day. I took her phone and she didn’t have it for the whole first week of break. She was present. She was coming into the kitchen.

How did it come down for the first half a day? “Come on, dad.”

“What am I going to use for music? What am I going to use for my alarm clock?” All that stuff. I know she’s still finding her way through. A kid with a block of wood will get online. She was clear-eyed, present, the kid that we always liked. In the middle of it, I was like, “You know there’s a difference here.” The point is that we started communicating about it. I’m like, “You see that you’re different.” She was like, “I know.”

When I gave it back, I said, “If you go too deep into the wormhole again, we’re going to have to have another talk.” “I’m not going to.” A couple of months later, all of a sudden, coming into the kitchen bleary-eyed. You know when they’ve been on it for an hour and a half or whatever. I said, “We’re back in that position again. This is not good for you and your behavior has been different. You’ve been short with your mother. You’ve been late for school.” “Give me two days.” “In two days, you’re going to change?” “Okay.” She did.

She figured it out. She put a system in place.

It was the communicating rather than coming down as the hammer. I realized my wife had to be told. I have to be told, “You’re using it a lot. We’re on vacation right now. You’re telling them not to use it and you’re on your phone. I get it.” I don’t accept it, no, I don’t. You then realize you’re right. My wife was playing solitaire like my father. She’s doing important work. She’s playing solitaire. It’s like, “What are you doing?”

We had an intervention with her with a couple of our friends. I said, “Cynthia is like a middle-aged man.” Everyone’s like, “No. that’s too early. You can’t be playing old people games on your phone for hours.” Everyone shamed her into it. It was an intervention. She was like, “Is this something?” We all have to be told. This is a long way of answering the question that we’re on it but we all have to be on it for each other because these are super powerful devices. As long as you can be told, “You’re drinking a lot.” “Am I?” They gave you the opportunity to get off it. If you can’t, you need someone else to take the bottle away.

This is something I lose sleep over, these electronics. I mull it over. If you had any hope or one last thing that you would want for people, because I know you think about it a lot when you’re writing these jokes, and you are having contact with people in your audience. What seems like your ability to say, “Let’s look at what’s important,” is that you have a secret, a little bit. Maybe you were born with that secret. If you had something that you would remind people, let’s say.

I am aware of mental health issues. I’ve met a lot of great comedians that deal with real issues, real depression, and real stuff. This isn’t the lucky part. It’s lucky that I had them. Both my grandmothers lived in this way. They went through the depression, they lost their husbands during the wars, and they had nothing.

These are people that had every reason in the world to walk around upset, angry, bitter, and what have you, and they never let it happen. They did it by sheer will, by a pure drive of, “I am going to enjoy this life. I’m going to do it.” It wasn’t something they kept to themselves. They told us. It was a lesson from both grandparents. Snap out of it. That was ingrained.

As far as passing that along, it does not matter where you are. Everyone in the family. There are people that have more depression and are up against more issues but we all are conscious of like, “Maybe I’m not going to get to this ideal that we all have. Maybe I won’t even get close but I can make things a little bit better. I can make lunch better. I can make this day as good as possible.”

Whether you have a mental illness to a certain degree, I’m sure it falls off. There is a long way to go before you you do. People shouldn’t take stock and be grateful and understand that you can make these little tiny moments for yourself and not give up. That’s ultimately what it is, it’s giving up and giving in to the negative. You should come away knowing everybody’s capable of that. That’s pretty heavy stuff for a comedian, don’t you think?

It’s great. For me, why I wanted to talk to you is the fact that you’re blending those two messages continuously together and it’s funny. It’s so much more powerful and such a gift to whoever gets to see it. Why when I saw it, I was like, “I’m going to reach out to Tom Papa and ask him if he’ll come over.”

It’s great. I appreciate it. The one thing that you should be aware of is I tend to stay friends with people for a long time.

I hope so.

I’m going to be hovering.

I would like to get you in heat when it’s a little sunnier.

That would be great. Do you think I would have been different if I had skipped the heat? Probably.

No. We tenderize you a little.

Why is everybody so into the heat and the ice?

It’s thermoregulating so it’s good for your system. It can be great for the immune system. Also, when you come, and hopefully you’ll bring your wife, you’ll feel. You want to not do ice right after training because. In training, you’re breaking down muscle and things like that. You want to make a separate from that. Heat and ice make ice bearable.

You’re trying to get to the ice.

Heat is the king. If you want to talk about scientific health benefits, heat is king. Heat and ice together, with ice, you have hormone regulation, mood elevation, and all kinds of things. It’s difficult to do it isolated. That’s why we do both. Now your ability to stay warm or get cool or both improves. The most energy-taking thing that we do is regulate our body temperature each day. The system that uses the most energy is us keeping ourselves warm and cool all day. When we get better at that, we’re healthier.

A couple of friends have this mantra also and they love it.

We’ve invited Joe over here many times because we want to put him in the pool for pool training. We’ll try. I want you to come back. I appreciate you driving here. Also, people have to appreciate that we connected via direct message, on the DM.

The DMs because we’re cool.

Thank you.

Thank you.

Thanks so much for reading. If you’d like, rate, subscribe, and leave us a review. All of my music was graciously done by Frank Zummo and Tom Thacker. If you want to see some of the behind-the-scenes action, follow me, @GabbyReece. Remember, don’t miss new episodes every Monday.

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About Tom Papa

Tom Papa Headshot

With more than 20 years as a stand-up comedian, Tom Papa is one of the top comedic voices in the country finding success in film, TV, radio and podcasts as well as on the live stage. He is a regular guest on The Joe Rogan Experience podcast and the late night TV shows. On May 12, Tom released his second book, You’re Doing Great!: And Other Reasons To Stay Alive, a collection of essays on how people really live in modern America and what’s truly good and wonderful about our lives. Tom’s first book, Your Dad Stole My Rake: And Other Family Dilemmas, was released on June 5, 2018 from St Martin’s Press, making “Summer Must Read” lists from Parade Magazine to The New York Post. The comedic book takes a hilarious look at the host of characters in our families with bizarre, inescapable behavior.