Comedy comes from tension, as many comics will tell you, and that’s why so much of Tom Papa’s material is about family.
“The family starts out with two people in love, romance, then after 15 years of car payments, mortgage payments, dead pets and living relatives, they realize they’re partners in this horrible nonprofit organization,” said Papa, married and the father of two teenagers. “It’s just so funny to me.”
Papa, who is the head writer and a featured performer on the weekly public radio show “Live from Here,” will bring his family-based stand-up routine to Portland’s Port City Music Hall Thursday.
Earlier this month, he launched his own Food Network show called “Baked.” In the first episode, he made doughnuts in New York City with fellow comedian Jim Gaffigan. But the show is not a parody or send-up of food shows. Papa is passionate about bread-making, and he visits with bakers around the country while sharing that passion with a TV audience. The show airs Mondays at 10 and 10:30 p.m.
“I love bread, and I started making it and thought the process, this ancient way it’s always been made, is so cool,” said Papa, 49. “I thought I was getting great bread for my kids from the supermarket. Then I realized it has, like, 30 ingredients. We’re the first generation ever that has a problem with bread, that says it’s no good for you. But that’s because our bread has 30 ingredients.”
Besides starting a new Food Network show, Papa is also in his first year as head writer on “Live from Here,” which is the renamed and revamped version of the legendary radio show “A Prairie Home Companion.”
Papa acknowledges it’s a challenge to write for a show that was so well-known under former host Garrison Keillor. He says he tries to carry on the traditions of the original show, the gentle humor and small-town feeling, while creating new characters and new material.
Instead of doing a “News from Lake Wobegon” segment, as Keillor did, he does his own “Out in America” segment, where he tells stories he’s heard or ones about people he’s met while traveling the country with his stand-up act.
So be ready, Mainers. If you run into Papa, he may tell your story on the air. He’s also looking for bakeries to explore for his Food Network show, so Maine bakers should be ready as well.
Papa grew up in northern New Jersey, where his mother ran an advertising agency and his father sold telecommunications equipment. He remembers being told at an early age by other kids that he was funny, but he didn’t really start thinking about comedy as a career until he discovered the comedy albums of Steve Martin and George Carlin in the 1970s.
“Until then, I didn’t know being funny could be a job. I thought adults drove trucks and sold stuff,” Papa said.
He began doing open mics in New York City in the early 1990s and later toured with Jerry Seinfeld. In 2004, he starred in the short-lived NBC sitcom “Come to Papa,” which also featured Steve Carell. From 2010 to 2012, he hosted the NBC show “The Marriage Ref,” which was produced by Seinfeld and featured a celebrity panel deciding real-life marital disputes. He’s also been a frequent guest on late-night shows like “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” and “Conan” and has starred in his own comedy specials.
Papa says his live show is filled with the kind of material he uses on radio and is featured in his book of observations, “Your Dad Stole My Rake: And Other Family Dilemmas,” which came out in June.
“The book is about things I’ve seen in my family – family past and family present,” said Papa. “I feel it’s my job as a comedian to observe everything in all of our lives and reflect on the things that are funny.”
One of Papa’s stand-up routines about marriage talks about the monotony of having to hear the same stories repeated by your spouse, over and over again, year after year.
“That’s why we have children,” Papa says in the routine. “Because we need new material.”
WHERE: Port City Music Hall, 504 Congress St., Portland
WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursday
HOW MUCH: $27.50 in advance, $30 day of show, $45 preferred seating, 18-plus.