Scout Q&A: Comedian Tom Papa

Funny man and diehard Yankee fan Tom Papa talks show biz and baseball from backstage at The Don Rickles Gala at Montreal’s Just For Laughs Festival.

How are things going in Montreal?
I love Montreal. It’s always good to be here.

How’d the show go last night?
It was a smash hit.

Hey, no modesty here, Tom.
It’s not me, it’s just the report of the audience. [Laughs] I had a great time. Alonzo Bodden, Caroline Rhea and an Australian guy Adam Hills were on the show as well. It went really well, it was a lot of fun, but I have to tell you, the set was second to being around Rickles. I wasn’t even going come to Montreal this year. I was supposed to be with my family on vacation, but they mentioned Rickles and I was like, I’m gonna have to meet you guys a couple days late.

How did meeting him live up to your expectations?
It was pretty much exactly as I thought it would go. He’s got his crew and you just feel the classic show business vibe around him. When those guys walk in, they just look and treat each other with a reverence that people don’t have anymore. They’ve got tuxedos on and starched collars and shined-up shoes. Everybody in his operation is just classy, happy to be there. He was backstage in a silk robe, wearing these fancy little black velvet slippers, drinking vodka with olives in it. He’s not doing the whole martini part, it’s just some ice, vodka, and throw some olives in there.

Did he rip on you at all?
Oh, yeah. I gave him every opportunity. After I met him, I came around the corner and I said, “Don, I feel like we should be hanging out more,” and he said, “Don’t push it.” Later on, after my set, he came up to me, took my hand, and he said, “I watched your set.” And I said, “Oh, that’s great.” And he said, “Have you thought about a career in groceries? It’s a really nice career, you drive around, deliver food, and to make yourself happy you throw a joke in once in a while, nobody gets hurt.”

That’s awesome.
For years I’ve been walking around saying I haven’t seen Rickles. I really regretted never seeing Rodney Dangerfield. So now I can check that off and I can rest a little easier.

Later this summer, you’ve got this Cinemax show, The Knick, coming out.
Yes, with Clive Owen. It’s Steven Soderbergh’s new project.

That’s not too shabby.
I have a small part in it, but it was great to do. It’s a period piece in the 1900’s in New York. I was in Soderbergh’s Liberace movie, so anything with Soderbergh, I just show up and put on weird clothes.

One of the things that people might remember you from is The Marriage Ref. Do people still ask you for advice on their love life?
Yeah, you know, it’s funny, that show was only on for two seasons, but at every live show I do, someone always comes up begging for the show to come back.

Has anyone ever asked you for an on-the-spot ruling about their personal problems?
One time in Yankee Stadium a guy yelled out, "Hey Marriage Ref, tell my wife she’s wrong!" And I yelled back, "I don’t know her!" And he was like, "Trust me, she’s wrong."

Are you a Yankees fan?
Oh yeah. We’re all quietly freaking out and trying to get to get to see as many games as we can before the end of the year before Jeter is no longer at short. It’s pretty crazy he's retiring. He’s playing so well, and, you know, maybe he’s not in his prime, but he’s no Don Rickles. He’s still flying around and hitting. He's really going to leave you wanting more, which I think is always the right way to end a career, but it’s going to be weird. It’s so lucky when your favorite team gets your favorite player. I’ll get to back to Yankee Stadium a couple more times before the end of the year.

Maybe Derek will try to do like a reverse Jordan and try to play professional basketball before coming back.
Yeah or maybe he’ll start standup comedy and become Raging Bull.

Derek is quite the comedian. So next year, the Yankees lose Jeter and then they’ve got A-Rod rearing his head. How to you feel about that?
I’d rather that chapter end. Have you ever had a team that you really like who loses a superstar, and they’re kind of scrapping along? Then the superstar come back and the chemistry the team was building is just gone? That's A-Rod. He’s larger than life. The team has to adapt to accommodate him, it doesn’t go the other way around; he’s too enormous. I feel like, let’s wrap up Jeter, let’s wrap up A-Rod, and let’s move into new territory with these other guys and let’s see what’s coming with the new future. I wouldn’t enjoy being there and seeing A-Rod at third and without Jeter at short. That seems like the universe out of whack.

Not going to be in Montreal? See Tom in action on a recent Conan appearance.

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