Stand-up comedian, actor, and podcaster extraordinaire Paul F. Tompkins takes us on a tour of his many jobs in Comedy Central special Paul F. Tompkins: Laboring Under Delusions. Before the glamour of Hollywood and the stability of full-time comedy, Tompkins toiled away at a few slightly less exciting gigs, but both the menial and the terrifyingly high profile are comedy gold mines in his hands.
Bringing a laconic sensibility to the 74-minute special, Tompkins underlines the common denominator in each job he’s had — his own fear of getting yelled at — and proves he’s a fantastic storyteller, capable of piling on additional hilarity to every tale even after you think the punchline has passed. He mostly sticks to the past employment structure but always has time for a clever aside, ensuring that the special’s single focus never becomes too restricting.
Tompkins’ early ventures into the marketplace, after a brief attempt in the world of higher learning, found him hawking headwear at the oh-so-wittily named Hats in the Belfry and behind the counter of a Beta-only video rental store. The former taught him that people are morons and the existence of the inimitable motivator “If you have time to lean, you have time to clean.” The latter offered up an education in the fact that Betamax was essentially a dead format by 1990, and that it’s always important to make sure a rental store owns a machine that can play movies before accepting the job.
Tompkins’ early jobs in Philadelphia, where he was also plugging away at his standup career, offer up some fantastic moments (his incredulity at some customers looking for a “king hat” is priceless) but the laughs kick into a higher gear with his move to Los Angeles and his eventual work in the entertainment business.
Despite achieving a good deal of success as a comic, Hollywood was still mostly a foreign enterprise at first, making his tales of outsider awkwardness all the more potent. A table-read of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia for which Tompkins is utterly unprepared for builds in mortifying unease up to a Tom Cruise-assisted crescendo, and later in his career, an encounter with Weird Al Yankovic finds Tompkins’ growing confidence totally misplaced.
Laboring Under Delusions is a fantastic showcase for Tompkins, and the DVD offers up a few extra bits of hilarity, including a director’s commentary — not by the director of the special, but by Tompkins as Garry Marshall, who admits that he’s never directed a stand-up special before or even watched this one, a 15-minute encore that includes a performance of “Danny Boy” and a behind-the-scenes look at an episode of the Pod F. Tompkast podcast featuring the equally hilarious Gillian Jacobs.