by Andrew Wantuck
This week I spoke with a rising star in the comedy world. Tom Segura has an average Joe appearance and cadence of speech, but has a viewpoint on the world that is absurd, silly, and unique. He is a sane individual that sees the world on the edge of insanity, and leaves the audience laughing hysterically as he does it. In this interview we spoke about his overdose on drugs, what makes him vulnerable, and that he is happily married because his wife said so.
Andrew: It sounds like you're at a comedy club right now? Where are you currently?
Tom: West Palm Beach.
Andrew: And you're headlining at an Improv, is that correct?
Tom: Yeah yesterday, and Sunday, headlining, but today and tomorrow, I'm opening for Joe Rogan.
Andrew: Was there a moment in time in your life when you knew you were going to pursue a career in comedy?
Tom: I think when I overdosed on drugs I realized there weren't a lot of options available for me. That's true, by the way. I did actually OD.
Andrew: On what?
Tom: It was a lot of stuff. That's how it usually goes down. It was a lot of GHB, a lot ecstasy, and a lot of alcohol.
Andrew: Are you being 100% serious?
Tom: I swear to you! I was in a coma for a while. It's crazy. I was 18.
Andrew: Did this in some way influence your comedy career?
Tom: No. That was a joke, when I said it.
Andrew: [laughs] So it was a joke about 'why', but actually doing it was serious.
Tom: Yes, that's true. Very true. Wow, he's loud. [referring to Joe Rogan in the background.]
Andrew: Let's talk about your writing style. Are you a guy that pen and papers a joke, and then goes on stage and tells it, or are you a guy that has a premise, and goes on stage and works it out to find the punch line?
Tom: To be honest, I really feel like a guy who does a bit of both. I take the pen and paper a lot and write jokes, and sometimes I go up with a premise and try jokes and try lines, and sometimes they bomb horribly, and it takes a few times before you find the right one. I really feel I do 50/50. Some of it is spent on my own time, writing it, and some of it's figuring it out stage.
Andrew: Stand-up comedy as opposed to improv and sketch. Why have you decided to focus on stand-up, as opposed to some of the other avenues comedians tend to take?
Tom: I think improv and sketch suck.
Andrew: [laughs] And why is that?
Tom: Honestly, I guess it's all about your sensibilities. And for me, I get bored a lot watching improv. I don't feel like it's entertaining. Sketch, I feel like there is a higher failure rate as far as when you go to a sketch show. I feel like it's rare that you can go and see a sketch show, and it's really good front to back. Now stand-up, you can argue the same thing happens, and there are obviously a lot of bad, horrible stand-up comics, but once you're in the game and you figure out who is really good, then there is really nothing I enjoy more than watching a really good stand-up comedian. For me it was really that I like the art form [of stand-up] and watching it much more than I like improv and sketch. I realize there are some very talented guys in improv and sketch, but to me, stand-up is just way better.
Andrew: In your opinion, what takes a good stand-up comedian to the level of great stand-up comedian?
Tom: I think that the great ones all have really defined perspectives. And they are vulnerable to a degree, because if you're not vulnerable, you'll never get to a 'great' level. You can be really good, but you won't be considered great. All the legendary guys have really clear perspective, and I feel like to some degree, open up a lot. I think you have to do that. You also have to OD at least once. And I feel like I got one of those things down.
Andrew: So does that ever have conflicts in your personal life? Has there ever been a subject that you were afraid to talk about on stage personally.
Tom: Oh definitely. I don't really do stuff that says, "Hey, here is some stuff about my family and about my marriage." But not because I'm afraid to talk about them, just because my own sensibilities just don't dictate that's the funniest stuff to me. I've done here and there a joke about a family member, or about marriage, but it's not the dominant thing in my mind as far as comedy goes so I just don't talk about it that much. I guess I am more hesitant to talk about family stuff, not that it's SO crazy or anything, it just doesn't appeal to me that much. I'm not one to watch comics who do a big family bit, and talk about their brother and sister. I'm not into it that much.
Andrew: So then my question to you would be, assuming that you want to get to the level of great, how then are you able to become vulnerable then. What would make Tom Segura vulnerable?
Tom: That's a good question. The thing about stand-up is if you really want to learn, you can learn stuff all the time, and I try to do that and I try to find the things I resist talking about, and try to write jokes about it, and the longer I've done it, I've gotten better and better at that. So, I think it's a learning process. But I don't think I would make the equation that I must talk about my family in order to be a great comic. I don't think the family has to be the variable, but I do think you have to be vulnerable, and that doesn't necessarily mean family, it just means you have to be open, and you have to put yourself out there to be really good. And I'm always working towards that, I don't think I've achieved it, but I work towards it.
Andrew: Where do you draw most of your influences from, do you use politics? What do you talk about on stage?
Tom: I'd say politics is slim to none. If something significant happens, I feel like you have to have a joke about that. When Obama was running for office a year ago, because it was so relevant, you felt like you had to talk about it. But I don't get into politics that much. I think, percentage wise, I think a lot of my comedy is just observations about stuff. I guess it's observational comedy. Which would make sense, because I just fucking said 'observations'. I'm thinking about the set I just did, talking about getting back from Vegas, about watching the show, people that win the lottery, judging people, people with tattoos, when people say things are not normal, and then about riding a bike. I guess to a degree, it's social commentary, and then some of it is silliness, I think there is definitely a silly factor in my act. If I ever have a really heavy topic in my show, it naturally happens that I always have a very stupid, silly joke after it.
Andrew: Let's talk about Cutman, a film you recently made. What is the biggest thing you learned about the film making process?
Tom: It was a short film. We did write a feature length one after that. I learned that there is so much that goes into it. There is so much planning. My respect for a producer went through the roof after being involved with something that was real a pretty small production. It was a 3 day shoot. I learned that not having money sucks. I learned that there is a lot of juggling that goes into making any kind of production, even a 5 minutes production. There is so much more that goes into it than you can imagine. The most fun I've ever had was shooting it, and getting it to a final product was definitely one of the most stressful things ever. It was so much time. And in the end, it was a 22 minutes short. I just learned that it is a huge process.
Andrew: If an 18 year old film student came up to you and said he was about to start shooting a 22 minute short tomorrow, what would your biggest piece of advice to him be?
Tom: The number one thing I would say is, "Ask your mom and dad to pay for it". It sounds like really boring advice, and he is going to learn so much that you can't really teach, but I'd say the more planning you do, even though it will never come out exactly like you want, the more you plan, and the more you delegate, and you work on having great people with you, you try not to do it all on your own because it is just too much, but I 'd work on getting a great group of people together to help you. Have a pre-production plan, a plan for shooting it, and a post-production plan. That would be the biggest thing. Be prepared to have it not turn out the way you plan, and then quit making movies and go wait tables.
Andrew: [laughs] How is married life treating you far?
Tom: Married life is great. I found a great woman, I'm lucky to have her. She is very dominating and aggressive, so I think it is more of the fact that I don't really have a choice to think something about marriage other than what she tells me, which is how much I love it.
Andrew: I won't print that question if you don't want me to, because I know that you're like a sex symbol and it could hurt your business if people know that you're married.
Tom: Right. I've debated do I wear the ring or not. But I get approached by a lot of very, very... unattractive woman all of the time. It's pretty exciting to me right now, in the world of comedy.
Andrew: Eventual goal for Tom Segura? When I call you in 40 years and we do this interview all over again, and I ask you to look back on your life and tell me what you are most proud of, what will it be?
Tom: I'm going to say, "I can't believe that you interviewing me has been the highlight of my career."
Tom: And then I'm going to get really depressed. But I hope, as much as I enjoy this, that I do get to keep doing this, it's a great job. I hope I get to keep playing clubs, and have fun doing it. It's been a really fun thing to embark on. I hope it keeps going well.
Andrew: Can you compare and contrast The Comedy & Magic Club to other comedy club around the country? Good or bad?
Tom: The Comedy & Magic Club is a piece of shit. I hate the location, I hate the staff, I hate the comics that they book, with the exception of me, I hate the food, I hate everything about it. No, honestly, you guys deserve 3 apples and stars on your report card because you really run a top notch club. Its impressive. You really treat your comics great. I see you treat your customers great, it's beautiful. And for a guy like me who really likes to eat, you have great food, which can really make the evening a lot of fun. And you have great crowds. It's a great club for running new material. You record kind of speaks for itself. From my understanding, George Carlin would run his specials there right before he taped them, I think that says a lot. I love playing down there. I love when you guys have me, I have a lot of fun. I really wish other clubs would spend a week seeing how you run things because so many that are so unprofessional, it's really alarming. You get depressed sometimes after you play a really nice, professional club, and then you go back to others and it sucks! It's like going from the Ritz- Carlton to some trashy trailer park dumpster in the back and you're like, "This is where I'm playing??" It sucks.
Tom Segura will be part of The 31st Birthday Bash - 20 Comics a Night on Saturday, August 1st 2009. Reservations Required. (310) 372-1193 or comedyandmagicclub.com. ER.