As comedian Tom Papa was building material for his latest stand-up special, he found himself reminding audiences, Youre doing great.
I got this feeling that people have an overwhelming sense of anxiety right now, Papa tells me on this weeks episode of The Last Laugh podcast. They feel like everythings going to hell and that in their personal life theyre not doing enough, theyre not as fabulous as people they see on social media, theyre not making enough money, theyre always up against it.
Thats why he chose to name his new special, which premieres on Netflix this week, Youre Doing Great!
Its an illusion that your life is shit, he adds. Thats not true. Youre actually doing pretty great. I decided Im going to be less cynical with my stand-up and convey what I really feel, which is more hope than malaise or unhappiness.
Like his longtime friend and mentor Jerry Seinfeld, who first put him on the map by making him his opener in the late 90s, Papa has never been a cynical comic, instead choosing to focus his comedy on observations about everyday family life. He may be just as outraged about Trump as the next guy, but unlike Americas political-minded late-night hosts, he doesnt find it that funny.
Life isnt perfect, he says from the stage. It never was and it never will be. Weve all got stuff to deal with. Youre doing great.
On keeping politics out of his comedy
Ultimately, it is an escape. At my shows, youre not going to be hit with all this heavy political stuff. But if I was really good at it, Id probably be all in on it. My stuff is more about things that last over the lifetime of a human being, its not about the politics of the moment. There are people that are great at that and they should lean into it. I like reading about politics, but I dont find it that funny. I cant help at this moment [but] to watch Alec Baldwin come out dressed as Trump [on Saturday Night Live] and think, Youre really helping him more than what you think youre doing. And youre making this palatable.
How he became friends with Jerry Seinfeld
I think why I was able to talk to him and become friends with him while he was coming back to do stand-up in the clubs in New York [after Seinfeld ended] was because I was hustling so hard that I wasnt watching TV. I wasnt watching the show. So I wasnt so in awe like everyone else was. He was the biggest star in the country at that time. I remember asking my girlfriend, should I be telling him that I like episodes? But I think he was relieved that I wasnt like, Hows Kramer? I wouldnt have stuck around if I was trying to ask that stuff.
Why The Marriage Ref ultimately failed on NBC
It wasnt a big success. But I tend not to look at all of my failures as devastating. Ultimately I guess it is a failure because it should have been on for 10 years and it was on for like two. There were a lot of things wrong with the show. But I had no control. Part of what hurt was that the first year, it was Jerrys rolodex. So you had Larry David and Ricky Gervais and Madonna and all these crazy high-level people. It was cool, but it was complicated because it was Jerrys thing. We thought the show was going to be this little, quiet Sunday night family show. And now it is Seinfelds return to Thursday nights! During the Olympics! In the promos, they wouldnt even show me. Theyd just show my hands. It wasnt well-received in the first year. And that affected Jerry. And Jerry stepped away the second season, so it was kind of dead at that point. With Jerry not being behind it, [NBC] wasnt behind it.
How NBC used his sitcom to try out Steve Carell for The Office
I get a little sitcom called Come to Papa and it does really well in the pilot phase and everybody loves it. The president of NBC at the time, Jeff Zucker, leaves and Kevin Reilly takes over and hes not into our show. The show is just goofy and fun, me hanging with my friends, and he says, no, it should be a workplace and Im going to work at a newspaper all of a sudden. So they put Steve Carell in as my boss, because they have a deal with him. It was a try-out for The Office. As he was starting to film our thing, they were already making a deal with him to do The Office. And we had no idea. They were like, we have this property The Office or we have this Come to Papa thing and they had to choose and we got screwed. They had to kill us to free him to put him in that.