Comedian Tom Papa Has Plenty of Things to Do Besides Just Stand-Up

See Tom Papa this weekend.
See Tom Papa this weekend. courtesy Tom Papa

We live in an age that's ripe for biting satire fueled by a sea of bottomless negativity. It seems like it would be hard not to just spend an hour on stage yelling into the mic about how much things suck.

Comedian Tom Papa makes the art of positivity look easy.

"People like always remark that my comedy is very positive, which is unlike a lot of comedians," Papa says. "I'm also cynical to some degree, but when you see the tone of my books and the radio show and what my stand-up is and the bread stuff, it's all very positive."

Papa has a lot of jobs and projects beyond just his stand-up, which he'll perform Saturday at the Wyly Theatre. He's also an author, a podcast host and the star of his own travel show, Baked, on The Food Network. He's the head writer of the National Public Radio variety show Live From Here. All of them seem to challenge him to up his positivity quotient, and he still finds ways to be funny without frowning for his audience.

"I'm an optimistic kind of guy," Papa says. "I had a grandmother who wouldn't allow you to complain too much and she was always yelling at us to get over ourselves, and I think after that, it was drilled in my head. Every generation has something they have to deal with and everyone has troubles. I think the more we know, the more we seek perfection and more disappointed we're going to be."

Papa has been performing stand-up for more than 20 years, and he continues to tour even though his various projects keep him plenty busy. But they also give him more material. It's helped him come up with enough material for three comedy specials for Amazon, Hulu and Netflix, the first two of which were directed by film director and heavy metal icon Rob Zombie. 

"I'm writing a ton right now, and you're always balancing all that," he says. "It's a huge, huge part of my life so whenever writing goes through that lens, it's not just my family but the culture and the community and that kind of thing. Between the book and radio shows and the act and whatever scripts I'm noodling around with, I'm constantly, constantly writing. If I'm looking at things through that lens, things are going to constantly come out of that."

"People like always remark that my comedy is very positive, which is unlike a lot of comedians." – Tom Papa

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He doesn't just have stories to tell on stage for his stand-up act, his books or his podcast Come to Papa. In addition to overseeing and writing material for Live from Here, Papa also tells his own travel stories on NPR's show for his regular segment "Out in America" in which he pontificates on observations he's made while touring the country.

Live From Here is the spiritual successor of former NPR star Garrison Keillor's A Prairie Home Companion that Keillor gave to its newest host, Chris Thile, in 2016. Thile hired Papa as head writer shortly after he took over the show, which was a dream for Papa, who calls it a "smart" show with "a great sense of place that's character driven." 

"I was inspired by A Prairie Home Companion forever, and I had a radio show with SiriusXM and it started off as an interview show but then I thought, what if Prairie Home was in the hands of comedians and was a pure comedy show?" Papa says. "I did Come to Papa for three years and when they [A Prairie Home Companion] were looking for someone to take over the comedy, I was doing the exact thing they needed: writing sketches and getting comedians."

As if that weren't enough to keep him busy, he also launched his Food Network show Baked back in September in which he tours the country showcasing the best bakeries and pastry shops. Papa says the network offered him the show without the traditional pitch after they learned he had taken up bread-making as a hobby with his two daughters.

"I feel like in this point of my career, I should just be doing things that are an expression of what I want to do," he says. "I don't want to do gigs that don't say what I want to say. I don't want to play a dad on a sitcom. To visit with bakers and sit and have a good time is something that's a passion of mine, and I can be funny. That's the kind of gig I want to continue."

Tickets start at $29.50.
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Danny Gallagher has been a regular contributor to the Dallas Observer since 2014. He has also written features, essays and stories for MTV, the Chicago Tribune, Maxim, Cracked, Mental_Floss, The Week, CNET and The Onion AV Club.