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Paul F. Tompkins

Wherever 300 on Facebook say 'Come,' this comic goes

By Steve Birmingham, Fri., June 4, 2010

Paul F. Tompkins

Blame Canada. Although, stand-up comedian Paul F. Tompkins' nearly 24 years of performing had him primed for a better model than the traditional clubs, especially since his material has emphasized an intimate, conversational, and spontaneous tone. To wit: Last year's Freak Wharf CD commandingly opens with three improvised "Riff Suites." By phone from Los Angeles, Tompkins explained to the Chronicle that his eureka moment for having his fans generate bookings (like this week's gig in Austin) came while urgently tweeting word to fill up the Atlanta tapings for his forthcoming Comedy Central special.

Paul F. Tompkins: ... So in the midst of that, a comedian that I'd never met before, Bob Kerr from Toronto, writes to me and says, "Why don't you come and do a show in Toronto?" It's a unique frustration when you're trying to get people to see you in one place and somebody says, "Hey, why don't you come here, where I am?" So I wrote back to him, "Surely," sarcastically and angrily, "you get 300 people to say they'll see me in Toronto and I'll do a show in Toronto." [Kerr] almost immediately started a Facebook group called "I Wanna See Paul F. Tompkins in Toronto!" ... And the [Toronto] shows were amazing. It was one of the best nights of my entire career, and I thought, "Okay, this is maybe the answer to my prayers." Maybe this is how I can do things from now on: to get the audience in place first and take a gamble that way.

Austin Chronicle: You've seen stand-up go through a few cycles. How much longer do you think the traditional comedy club will be relevant? They're certainly still vital to upstart and young comedians.

PFT: I don't think they're going anywhere. It makes it very simple; it's a comedy club. So if you feel like seeing comedy, that's the place to go. Papering the room is really where, I think, these places make most of their money. It's the movie theatre model. The comedy is not really where the money comes from; it's the booze. It's the food. It's the concessions. I think that as long as they can get people in there with the promise of comedy and they can sell their drinks and nachos and stuff, then they'll make money. For me, it became an unsuccessful model. As my stuff became quieter, I needed a quieter place to go. I needed to have a situation where I didn't have to win over a bunch of people who had a different idea of what comedy was than what I do. There are comics that try to tell you that there are rules to comedy. That this is what comedy is, and it doesn't matter how drunk or dumb the audience is, if you're a true comic you can win over anybody. Well, that's absurd. I'm doing my comedy for everybody. I want everybody to laugh at it, but that doesn't necessarily mean that everybody is going to laugh at it. I can only do what makes me laugh and what I think is funny. I don't have a whole other act that I can do for drunk or dumb people.


Paul F. Tompkins performs Saturday, June 5, 8 & 10pm, at the United States Art Authority, 2906 Fruth. For more information, visit www.coldtownetheater.com. Paul F. Tompkins: You Should Have Told Me premieres on Comedy Central Friday, June 11, 10pm.

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