You may recognize him as a regular correspondent on The Tonight Show, where he covers major events in taped pieces airing after Jay's monologue. He's also made frequent appearances on The Late Show with David Letterman and Late Night with Conan O'Brien performing his stand-up act.
At an early age, Tom Papa was drawn to comedy after listening to Steve Martin's "Let's Get Small". The New Jersey native eventually started perfecting his act around New York City, getting his first big break landing a half-hour special for Comedy Central (he recently taped a second special). Then came the recognition of one of the top names in stand-up comedy: Jerry Seinfeld hand-picked Papa to open for him on tour.
Aside from the support of the legendary comedian, Papa has gotten much more out of the touring relationship (which continues to this day).
"It's been the best thing (for) my career, just learning from him," he says. "We've become really tight friends, and I've just learned so much about what it takes to be a great comedian. And I've soaked it all in, and I'm using it. And now he probably wouldn't be so generous if he knew that my ultimate goal was for him to start opening for me."
While he may not be at that point yet, he's certainly on his way up. After working on his own short-lived NBC sitcom (Come to Papa), Papa has taken a stab at more writing jobs, including providing additional screenplay material for Jerry Seinfeld's new animated feature, Bee Movie (which he also does voicework in). He's also co-written and voiced the title character in Rob Zombie's upcoming animated film, The Haunted World of El Superbeasto.
"It's all just an extension of stand-up, you know. With stand-up, you write and you perform, and that's the way I go after all the other stuff. You know, I'll act in things. I have a part now in Julia Louis-Dreyfus' show (The New Adventures of Old Christine). So I act and I write in the same way that I perform and I write in my act."
Working in Hollywood certainly isn't something he's looking for as a way to stop touring, though. "All that stuff -- the film stuff, the TV stuff -- it's all just to fasciliate and prop up the stand-up act."
That stand-up act is bringing Papa across Canada as part of the 2007 Lipton Just for Laughs Comedy Tour, which he joined after the Maritimes leg on November 1st in Hamilton. The theme for this year's tour is "relationships", something Papa knows lots about, talking about his wife and kids a lot during his act.
"My whole goal when I write is just to write about the human condition and how complete bizarre it is to try and live every day... I think the one thing that turns everybody on about it is that it's just this very relatable thing. There's a real strong emotion to it and there's a lot of common ground to it."
Papa uses his act to point out the realities of family in the 21st century, which is not always exactly what people sign up for. The reason we all do it, he says, is that "you like the idea of family and you have your kids, and think they're kind of cute. But they're also killing you at exactly the same rate."
Back to Jerry Seinfeld, though. What if the opportunity really did come for Papa to pass Seinfeld and become the headliner?
"I'll take that old man out!"
The Lipton Just for Laughs Comedy Tour, hosted by Greg Behrendt, has stops remaining in Winnipeg, Brandon, Regina, Saskatoon, Lethbridge, Calgary, Edmonton, Red Deer, Victoria, Vancouver, and Kelowna. For more information or to get tickets, visit www.hahaha.com. You can also catch Tom tonight (Tuesday, November 6th) on CBC at 7:30pm on the Just for Laughs Stand-Up Series.
Paul Little is the founder and Managing Editor of ShowbizMonkeys.com. When not interviewing his favourite musicians and comedians, he can also be found at The Purple Room in Winnipeg, where he is Artistic Director. (@comedygeek)