By Emilie Mutert
Paul F. Tompkins is, as his official bio states, a comedian. Besides having a handful of comedy albums, stand-up specials, and stints on Mr. Show with Bob and David and Best Week Ever, he's become internet-famous in the comedy podcast boom era. You'll hear him most often on Comedy Bang Bang! or his own The Pod F. Tompkast in character as one of a handful of his quasi-celebrity alter-egos: rapper and SVU-er Ice-T, cake boss Buddy Valastro, or director Garry Marshall, among others.
Tompkins has stepped outside stand-up, cobbling together comedy and storytelling and old-fashioned variety shows in live performances, web videos, and particularly podcasts, a medium that he says has found its footing and has started to be taken seriously. He's coming to San Francisco from his Los Angeles home base to partake in his at-least-eighth SF Sketchfest. We talked to him about his many projects, following in Adele's musical footprints, and what's worth seeing at this year's festival.
You've got a lot of other things going on this year at Sketchfest -- you're doing the Dead Authors Podcast, The Thrilling Adventure Hour, and the Superego podcast, plus the Paul F. Tompkins & Friends Real and Fake show. You've been coming to Sketchfest for a number of years now, at least as far back as 2005 or 2006?
I believe so, that sounds about right.
I'm sure you've seen it grow a lot since that time. But what's the incentive for a well-established Los Angeles comic to keep coming back up north for the festival?
The thing about Sketchfest is it's just fun. A lot of these festivals, often times they can sort of be industry-driven, so they almost feel like contests. And some of them go so far as to be about prizes and that sort of thing, and what I really like about Sketchfest is it's for the enjoyment of comedy. We don't get a sense of competition with it. The city clearly really enjoys it -- every show is sold out, it's nothing but fun. And getting to hang out with people that you maybe don't get to see often enough -- you know a lot of us comedians we don't get to work together that much really. So it's an opportunity to have a sort of summer camp experience as an adult.
Are there other all-comedy festivals like this?
There's Just for Laughs in Canada and Chicago; there are definitely a lot of comedy festivals out there, but Sketchfest is the only one I can think of that nobody's trying to get discovered out of it, nobody's trying to get a job, there's no ulterior motive other than to just do shows, and that's great.
Should people move to L.A. or N.Y. if they want to be successful comedians, or can they make it happen in the Bay Area?
You really need to go where the cameras are. You know, it's never been easier for people to make their own stuff, which is great. So I mean there are people whose careers have started because they posted stuff online, you know, and they built an audience that way. But if you're talking about national television exposure, it only makes sense to go the places where they're shooting the television. I would imagine there's a possibility you could get discovered, but most likely you're going to be better off being in a place where people are talking about that kind of stuff.
There's something about it too, where those places [N.Y. and L.A.] are like a proving ground; you're more likely going to be taken seriously if people know that you've been slugging it out, you know? There are definitely some people that can emerge out of nowhere from obscurity and become successful, but stories like that are few and far between. It's also, those are great places to learn and to continue to develop because there are more places to perform, there's more opportunities.
Tell the readers a little about your live show, Paul F. Tompkins & Friends Real and Fake.
Paul F. Tompkins & Friends Real and Fake is me hosting an evening of stand-up, and in between the performers doing stand-up I'll be doing character performances, using some of the characters that I do on my podcast and Comedy Bang Bang! and other places that are me in full costume and everything, bringing these characters to life.
And you have other real friends, too, other comics that will be performing with you?
Yes, those'll be the real friends -- Steve Agee from The Sarah Silverman Program, Mary Lynn Rasjkub from Mr. Show and Larry Sanders and 24, and Kevin McDonald from Kids in the Hall.
So I saw recently a video of you singing Adele's "Skyfall" from the James Bond movie Skyfall. You were wearing a handsome suit, looks like it was shot from the crowd. Can your fans expect that that will be incorporated as a regular part of your routine?
No, pulling together something like that, we had a full band and dancers, that doesn't happen all the time.
Were you surprised it became such an Internet mini-sensation?
I was happy about it, I was very happy. I was hoping people would get to see it. I've been doing stuff like that at Largo in Los Angeles for years, a regular variety show there that I would do on a monthly basis, and I would always try to make the show special and make moments like that as much as possible, and we've been recording all the shows. That one we were able to get a guy to come down at the very last minute to record that. I knew I would be disappointed if I didn't have some record of that happening. But, we're going to start releasing more videos from those shows.
Up next, why podcasts are the best means of promotion.