Brown Paper Tickets uses cookies to provide the best experience on our website. By continuing to use our site, you agree to our Cookie Policy and Privacy Policy

Cookie Settings

Spit Take Saturdays: Paul F. Tompkins

Comedy >

PaulFTompkins cover copy

Fans of urbane podcaster and “Mr. Show” veteran Paul F. Tompkins have likely watched his recent Comedy Central special, “Laboring Under Delusions,” which shares much of its material with this audio-only version.

But “Live in Brooklyn” [ASpecialThing Records] also contains 19 more minutes than even the “uncensored” Comedy Central DVD, and since Tompkins is both a gifted storyteller and jaunty improviser, “Live in Brooklyn” is worth the price of admission—at least if you’re dying to hear such elaborately-titled “riff suites” as “Vaudeville Moths – The Great Chandelier Debate – The Organs of the House Skeleton,” which opens the album.

Recorded at Brooklyn’s Bell House, it’s looser than the TV special, which took its name from Tompkins’s stories about odd jobs and general professional embarrassment. Those stories remain in roughly the same order, but their delayed intro blunts the thematic unity when compared to the special. Tompkins’s improv is charming and witty, as usual, but the edited-down version was more presentable to general audiences for a reason.

We get to hear about Tompkins’s fear of “being yelled at”—which quickly becomes a handy callback, given the subject matter—and his hatred of school, but with more embellishments. From the bad (opening for a band at L.A.’s Whiskey A Go Go) to the absurd (working at a Betamax-only video store…in 1990) to the self-conscious name-dropping (working on a handful of films and TV shows), it’s a fun and familiar ride. And hardcore Tompkins devotees will note the tiny, on-the-fly changes to certain bits, like the number of imagined bedrooms in director Paul Thomas Anderson’s house, where Tompkins arrives for what is ultimately a disastrous reading for a small part in Magnolia.

Also unique to this release are stories of Tompkins’s adventures with Steven Soderbergh, so if you enjoyed his takes on Tom Cruise and Daniel Day-Lewis, you’ll dig his interactions with Matt Damon and Tom Arnold. He also goes deeper with his “Best Week Ever” stories, although there’s (sadly) no Shatner-esque rendition of “Danny Boy,” as there was on the DVD’s extras.

Patrick Bromley’s Spit Take review of the original Comedy Central special noted that while the material here falls in the middle of his range of brilliance, he’s still never been better as a performer. That’s true, and with the extra 19 minutes of material on Brooklyn there’s an almost aching need to see Tompkins’s facial expressions and indignant gesticulations, since they help sell the jokes so beautifully. But being audio-only, “Brooklyn” also feels more intimate, and one of Tompkins’s greatest strengths is his ability to articulate the things we only ever think about but never say. In that sense he feels a bit like a Jiminy Cricket, complete with the tailored suit and silk handkerchief.

Even if you’ve experienced some of this before, this is the definitive version of Tompkins’s recent work, the mother lode of material. And as Tompkins might say, “Mine it, you must.”

By John Wenzel

Purchase on

Follow @SpitTakeComedy on Twitter or Like us on Facebook.


This week we feature three events featuring veteran’s of the “Best Week Ever” podcast that are happening in the next few weeks in New York and Atlanta.

Thursday, October 25 I The Bitter Buddha (featuring Patton Oswalt)New York, New York  This documentary takes an unconventional journey with a true “comic’s comic”. For a few decades, Eddie Pepitone has proven to be a startling force in the alt-comedy scene. Within “The Bitter Buddha” we follow Eddie as he deals with a middle-age career surge, while struggling with self-doubt, sobriety, and a challenging family history. Original animation, stand-up comedy and engaging interviews with Patton Oswalt, Sarah Silverman, Marc Maron and others help us gain insight into the life of a beloved career comedian known as “the guitarist that all the other guitarists go to see.” As one of the best-kept secrets in the scene, Eddie Pepitone is documented in this unhinged portrait of creativity, enlightenment and rage.

Thursday, November 1st I The Gong Show Live (featuring Chuck Nice)New York, New York  “The Gong Show” was a cultural touchstone, a pioneering TV show and the godfather of every awkwardly great reality TV moment that has happened in history. Radiochick Productions presents the theatrical recreation of “The Gong Show” in a modern-day stage production. If you liked it on TV, you will love it right in front of your face. Critically hailed as “Jaw droppingly hilarious”  and “Fast, fresh and fun” this uproarious, deranged, completely entertaining show will have you laughing into the next day.

Saturday, November 17 I Comedy Gold Presents Pete Holmes at Relapse TheatreAtlanta, Georgia  Pete Holmes is one of the hottest nationally touring stand-up comedians working today. Conan O’Brien’s production company is developing a pilot for a new late night program that will be hosted by Pete and intended to follow “Conan” on TBS.  He has appeared on “Comedy Central Presents,” John Oliver’s “New York Stand-Up Show,” VH1‘s “Best Week Ever,  Comedy Central‘s “Premium Blend,” “Ugly Americans” and the “Motherload Honesty” series. He also hosts the popular podcast “You Made It Weird.”  And in 2011, Pete was named one of Variety‘s “Top 10 Comics to Watch.”