In 10 Words or Less
Dapper, yet hilarious storytelling
Loves: Stand-Up, monologues, Comedy Bang Bang
Likes: Paul F. Tompkins, his suits
Dislikes: Stupid people
Hates: King hats
The alt-comedy scene has been incredibly influential in movies and TV, but the original source material, the folks standing behind mics in small clubs and theaters, remains remarkably anonymous outside of its dedicated fan base. Now with the growth of podcasts as a comedy medium, this relatively tight circle of creators has expanded its reach to the ears tethered to smartphones and computer towers. Among the bright lights of this boom in hilarity is one Mr. Paul F. Tompkins, long known to fans of Mr. Show and fine suits. A master at characters, his appearances on Comedy Bang Bang are incredibly funny, especially when he brings Werner Herzog to the party, but it's his ability to craft a story that makes him so enjoyable to listen to. And that's just what you get on Laboring Under Delusions.
Standing before a Soviet-style backdrop depicting him as a czar-like leader of failed industries, Tompkins tells tales of his own personal employment history. For fans of pure stand-up, this is not such a creature. This is a monologue in the vein of a Spalding Gray, as he spins yarns about his labor struggles, starting with his stint as a 17-year-old comedian. As anyone who has heard him on a podcast can attest, his ability to become a character is outstanding, and his stage presence, including his control of hyperbole and indignation, makes him a master storyteller. Armed with a topic everyone can relate to, before expanding it into the fantastical world of movies and TV, Tompkins brings the audience along for the ride, acting like a tour guide on a very funny life.
His early work experience, made up mostly of retail jobs, is a perfect entry point into TompkinsWorld, as it places him at his least confident with his powers at their lowest point. Suffering through the mundane madness of a hat store and the pointlessness of a Beta-only video store, Tompkins perfectly captures what it's like to work a job you know is beneath you. Even when he documents the transition to working full-time as a stand-up comic, things aren't much better for him, and he puts you right in the shoes of a struggling performer trying to find his voice, topped with a hysterical tale of opening for a musician on New Year's Eve. Even if you've never taken the stage, you'll get what it's like to be at the mercy of a crowd that doesn't want you there, enhanced by his mastery of pacing and hyperbole.
Moving on to his career in entertainment, where he talks about his work with director Paul Thomas Anderson (a humbling experience in many ways), things just get better. The understanding he shows of when to raise his voice or slow down makes his stories about meeting Tom Cruise and ruining a table reading for Magnolia that much better, even if they are great on their own. Unfortunately, it's followed by a segment on his time on the show Best Week Ever, which closes the special. It's not that it doesn't have it's funny moments (because it does, especially the way he describes his stress-induced weight gain and efforts to conceal it) but it features a lengthy, cumulative bit involving Weird Al Yankovic that, in comparison to his stories of shocking Jason Robards and getting yelled at by Daniel Day Lewis, just doesn't stack up. However, if that's the main complaint, I don't think I'll be firing or yelling at Mr. Tompkins any time soon.
The 74-minute special arrives on one DVD, in a standard-width keepcase. The disc has a mildly animated, anamorphic widescreen menu with options to play the film, select scenes, adjust the set-up and check out the extras. Audio options include English Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 tracks , while English SDH subtitles are available, but there's no closed captioning.
The anamorphic widescreen transfer is impressive across the board, be it in the fine detail offered up (which shines in the texture of the stage's floorboards and the hairs on his well-coiffed hair) or the quality of the color, which captures the warm red of the stage and the cool blues of his suit accessories. There are no issues with digital distractions either, making for an enjoyable viewing.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation is a proper recreation of the theater experience, putting Tomkpins from and center while placing some echo with the audience in the surround speakers. Something worth noting is the way Tompkins sounds, which makes it seem like his voice was captured in the room, rather than directly from a mic feed, as it has a bit more of a depth than usually heard on a stand-up DVD. Either way, everything sounds nice and clean.
While I can't say with 100-percent certainty that it's not him, I'm pretty certain that the "Director's Commentary by a Director" is not delivered by the person who he claims to be, if only because imitating directors is a thing that Tompkins does well. The track has pretty much nothing to do with the special, but is an entertaining, if meandering listen nonetheless, and features some good info, like how to realize your potential mate is a dictator and the challenges of making movies about holidays. The only real negative is it's not Werner Herzog (who was probably destroyed by nature and couldn't make it.)
The show's encore is included as an extra, as Tompkins, joined by his podcast collaborator and composer Eban Schletter, spends 16 minutes on a nonsensical set-up and performance of the classic "Danny Boy." If you like Tompkins, it's a pretty sure bet you'll enjoy this.
The final extra is a neat 10-minute look at the making of a recent episode of Tompkins' Pod F. Tompkast, with Tompkins and Schletter joined by Community's Gillian Jacobs. Since it's a Tompkins' production, it's not really surprising to see how it's put together, with what looks like genuine effort at crafting a show, unlike so many podcasts, which are just sit-down chats. Watching him record a conversation between Herzog and "Cake Boss" Buddy Velasco is almost as funny as anything on the entire DVD.
The Bottom Line
While not a traditional stand-up special, Tompkins is funny enough to make this monologue about his work experience click with anyone who's never quite enjoyed the art form, as it walks the line of what separates stand-up from one-man show, yet never veering from funny (unlike his darker previous outing.) The DVD is solid throughout, from the presentation to the extras, which are pure Tompkins. If you're a fan, approach enthusiastically, while newcomers should give it a shot, as it's a very accessible introduction to the man, the myth, the mustache.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.