I’ve never written a review for my own work. No book, no article, no show I’ve worked on. Nothing.
The only reviews I write for myself are in my head. And they’re usually terrible. And it usually leads me to wondering if someone else has said the opposite.
Like, “It’s great!”
“Couldn’t be better.”
I read a lot of reviews and comments. I get obsessed. Dopamine. Dopamine. Dopamine.
So I asked Tom Papa, “Do you check your Amazon rank all day long?”
“No, I haven’t yet.”
It’s his first book. “It’s about family,” he said. “Mine and yours.”
I cracked a joke.
“I was wondering what that bleeping red light was outside my apartment.”
It’s like he’s been watching us. Tom Papa is a comedian. And a TV show host, writer, podcaster. Now he’s an author, too. But more than that he has a way of telling the truth. He takes the horror that is life, boils it down and gives you insight into your daily suffering so you can laugh. And it works.
I’ll give you an example.
Sometimes he jokes on stage about his wife. I asked if she gets mad.
“No, because I’m not mean about it,” he said. Then he gave this punchline. It was so funny. And I had to figure out why. It was like he slammed a sledge hammer on my gut and made the air come out in giggles.
“How’d you do that?!” I asked.
This was the joke:
“I’m not one of those guys that’s like, ‘Screw marriage.’ I’m just talking about the realities of it. Like, when you start a relationship, it’s built on romance. Romance is the thing. I met her and she met me and there was this chemistry and it’s very real and that’s what gets you in the game. It’s just romance. And then after, ya know, 15 years of car payments and dead relatives and dead pets, there’s no time for romance. You ultimately become business partners in a horrible non-profit organization.”
“OK, that’s a punchline.” I said. “Which I didn’t expect.”
“Yeah, you’re not expecting it,” Tom said. “It should be about new thoughts. And I think that’s the job. I think that’s the job of all of this creation of stuff. Make it as personal as you possibly can. ‘Cause there hasn’t been a you before. There have been hosts. There have been comedians—a million of them. But you are new. You are brand-”
Then he interrupted himself. (A first on the podcast!)
“This is the first time anyone gets to see you. So that’s your job then—convey whatever you have. ‘Cause that’s what’s gonna make you special.”
Tom has the type of confidence that someone has when they’ve spent 25 years doing something.
He started comedy in 1993. And he says he remembers the first day of it better than any other day.
“Why is that?” I asked. “Why do you think it’s so nerve-racking?”
“There’s a lot of things at play,” Tom said.
He talked about being exposed. Feeling exposed…
“It’s just you. And they’re going to reject you or accept you. You’ve never done it before. I had never been in a comedy club before. I’d been funny before, I’d watched on television, I watched everything I could possibly find, but the perspective that I have now that I didn’t have then is that you’re also stepping up and saying, ‘Alright, I’m going to put my dream to the test.’”
Tom’s dream was confirmed.
But so many of us never even give ourselves that chance.
It’s worked out well for Tom.
“What do you make most of your living from?” I asked.
He started to list his income streams (which is key to having any real monetary wealth in life):
- He does a podcast. It’s called “Come to Papa.” And he does live shows with the podcast every month.
- He wrote a book, “Your Dad Stole My Rake: And Other Family Dilemmas”
- He’s the head writer for “Live From Here,” a radio show.
- He does stand-up tours (going on the road and being a true comedian).
- And he has a new show coming out on the Food Network because he has bread hobby.
“I never wanted to make my career purely from being on the road because then I’d be trapped on the road,” he said.
I learned a lot from Tom. It’s all on the podcast. But here’s my summary.
1. Give yourself a chance. Put your dream to the test.
2. Don’t get trapped (try to create as many sources of income as possible).
3. Pay attention to the details around you.
This is how Tom wrote his book. He paid attention to his family and how they relate to other families.
I asked for an example.
He said, “I shouldn’t be shopping with my 13-year-old daughter for clothes. I shouldn’t be standing in Forever 21 waiting for my daughter to come out of the dressing room. No one there knows I have a daughter in the dressing room. They just see a sweaty, uncomfortable man breathing heavy by himself next to the bras and panties.”
Tom noticed he was uncomfortable. (It’s not always easy to notice how you actually feel.) And he noticed other people were probably uncomfortable. And he took it a step further. He made it a bit, put it into a book, combined it with other life experiences, and created a new gig for himself.
Now, he’s going on podcasts, getting his name out there more, promoting the book, etc. Which relates to the next lesson:
4. Be as personal as possible. And don’t try to be anyone else.
5. Keep going.
Tom said it took him eight years to feel comfortable doing stand up. Now he feels more comfortable on stage than he does in real life. Eventually, Jerry Seinfeld told him he was good.
“You need confirmation,” Tom said. “You need some crumb. You need something to keep you going at every stage. You need the club owner to say, ‘Hey, I’m putting you on the regular show.’ You need another comic to say, ‘Hey, I’m bringing you on the road with me.’ You need those things. You need people to bring you up. And the biggest one for me was when I met Seinfeld. When I met him and he said I was funny and then eventually when he said, ‘Come and open for me,’ it was a relief.”
I could keep writing Tom’s stories. But it’s more personal when you hear it from him on the podcast or in his book. Because he’s right when he says there’s only one you. I can’t give you his voice any better than he gives it himself in this conversation.
It’s the only way to get the laugh.
Oh, but one last thing. I started this article telling you I never left myself a review. This is another funny thing about Tom.
The first review for his book is from a mysterious “Tom P.”
I asked if it was him. “Did you really write the first review for you book?”
“Yeah. On Amazon?” He said it so casually.
So I read it outloud, “Yeah. You wrote, 5 stars, ‘Yes! I love it. I wrote it. I hope you do, too.’”
We both laughed. And all the reviews after it are 5 stars, too. I’m going to write the next one.
Links and Resources
- Read “Your Dad Stole My Rake: And Other Family Dilemmas” by Tom Papa
- Watch Tom’s Specials, “Tom Papa: Human Mule,” “Tom Papa: Live in New York City,” and “Tom Papa: Freaked Out”
- Listen to Tom on the radio “Live From Here”
- Listen to Tom’s podcast “Come to Papa”
- Check out Tom’s website to see where he’s touring right now
- Follow Tom on Twitter
- Seinlanguage by Jerry Seinfeld
- Tom’s interview on WTF with Marc Maron
- The Village Voice
- The Marriage Ref (tom hosted) created by Jerry Seinfeld
- The Informant!
- Greg Giraldo
- Paul Reiser
- Red Oaks
- Stephen Colbert
- Conan O’Brien
- Jay Leno
- Dave Chappelle
- Eddie Izzard
- Paul Newman
- Kevin Hart
- Jim Gaffigan
- Opie and Anthony (radio show)
- Larry Wilmore
- Food: A Love Story by Jim Gaffigan
- Dad Is Fat by Jim Gaffigan
- Lenny Marcus
- Amy Schumer
- Inside Amy Schumer
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