Tom Papa’s new book “We’re All in this Together . . . So Make Some Room” (St. Martin’s Press), is a collection of comedic essays that just might also be a roadmap to a better life.
Papa, whose recent standup special is “What a Day,” now streaming on Netflix, joined The Post for a Zoom chat to talk about what it all might mean.
So, you’re a Jersey boy?
I grew up in Park Ridge and Woodcliff Lake, and sitting at my desk as a boy doing my homework — or pretending to do my homework — I could see the Empire State Building through the treetops.
From there, New York City was everything. It was life, it was comedy, it was theater, it was the Yankees.
I liked where I grew up, but I knew if my father was going to drive us in on the weekend, it was gonna be exciting. We would see more in two blocks than we’d see in six months in Woodcliff Lake.
And you ended up living here?
Pretty much my whole adult life, until about five years ago. It was magical.
You think back, if you told me I’d have to live on the Upper East Side and make it on the $5 a night I was making at the Comic Strip, had to stretch that money ’til you went back there the next day, I would quit. But I didn’t even think about that because of the inspiration that New York was, especially in stand-up comedy.
I remember I was hosting shows and bringing up, at the time, Ray Romano, Jon Stewart, Brett Butler. These people had shows, and I was saying their name and they were shaking my hand. I felt like it was a backdoor into show biz that only New York could give you.
New York Post reader?
Of course, especially when I was writing “Weekend Update” jokes for Colin Quinn. This was such a New York thing, but every morning we would wake up, go to the corner, get coffee from The One Stop and stop at the newsstand. Get The Post, get the Times, and back with your stack to start writing jokes, hoping Colin would use them on Saturday night.
Tell me about “We’re All in This Together…So Make Some Room.”
I don’t like the fracturing of the culture, on a national level and just as a human being. I think people would be wise to remember you’re not the first person to go through all this and you could actually learn from all the people around you — the dumb ones, the smart ones, and everyone in between. People have done this all before.
Your stand-up is funny, but the book seems like it’s more than just funny.
The thing about comedy is you’re always going for the same result, the laugh, but even if you want to say something thoughtful or meaningful you still want that laugh. It’s that one metric only. That’s why I started writing the books, because I had more to say.
It all still goes through my comedian head, but I do like being able to explore other emotions. Some of the stuff would end up going in act but most was like, this isn’t gonna make it in the stand-up but here’s another place I can feature it.
One funny line in there was, “Don’t order a martini in a decaying barroom filled with angry old men or they will punch you in the mouth.”
I love martinis, but I actually went against that advice recently. And, no, don’t order a martini in an Irish bar. That’s not their specialty. Know your place. In Soho, in a trendy place, that’s your time for a martini.
I was in New York recently, did a sold-out show at Town Hall, and there’s this great Irish bar right around the corner. All my friends came out after and they know I like martinis so they’re like ‘Have a martini!’ but it was a mealy olive, oil from I don’t know what in it, tons of vermouth. I think I may have been the first person ever to order a martini in that place.
I’m really proud of this book. It’s funny, I never sell merch on the road, but at all my shows I’m signing books.
I just had a guy in Denver tell me he was on a cruise with my last book, “You’re Doing Great,” and he said he’d be reading stuff aloud to his family the whole trip. He said, “I don’t know if you understand but people are on a cruise, reading your book and sharing it with family.”
It really, really touched me. That’s why I write these books.
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