Review: Paul F. Tompkins’ “Laboring Under Delusions”

It’s amazing, it’s funny, it may be something other than comedy. Come see!

Sax Carrby Sax Carr


While the bulk of the staffers are exploring E3 I’ve been trying to catch up with my backlog of reviews for the comedy channel. So sifting through my ever growing collection of screeners I was glad to find my copy of Paul F. Tompkins’ latest outing “Laboring Under Delusions.” Tompkins has been a favorite of mine for years, and he was one of the first comedians that really showed me that you can do it your own way and still succeed.  Ironically it was the innovation in this latest special that almost pushed me away from liking it. I’ll explain…

Ten minutes into the DVD I was not enjoying the show. I couldn’t believe it, but it seemed like Tompkins was losing me. I started pacing around my television and wondering how I was going to muster the courage to write a less than positive review of a comedy special from someone who was so rightfully well respected in the art form. That was exactly the problem… this didn’t seem like hisartform. I was struck by how much this sounded like a reasonably funny toastmasters’ speech and not in any way Stand-Up. As I was trying to plot out some self deprecating jokes to try and mitigate the sting of my bad review, something happened: I didn’t just start enjoying it, I started loving it. For the first 15 minutes of the special I was just missing the point.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m still not sure it’s full-on Stand-Up. The special is either the funniest story telling I’ve ever heard, or the most story-telling-ist comedy I’ve ever heard. It’s something very much in between. Tompkins doesn’t use a microphone (he has a lapel mic) or of course a mic stand, or a stool, or any of the conventions of traditional stand-up. His show has an overarching premise (which is all the jobs he’s had) and is delivered in a manner that is both theatrical and conversational. I guess the closest comparison would be a “one man show” but I hate the stigma associated with that term (because it’s usually associated with douchey, self-important actor-types working out their mommy and daddy issues). Regardless, it’s amazing, entertaining, and once you’ve really been transfixed by it, something truly special.


Of the various bits (jobs) that Tompkins describes, the two that made me laugh the most were an exploration of working at a video store from which he stole tapes every day, and a fantastic bit about opening for a famous rock musician at LA’s legendary nightclub, The Whiskey-A-Go-Go. The latter bit, really explores a lot of the comedian’s journey in a way I think young comedians really need to see. The difficult journey that comedians have on their way up to success is very well explained here. Tune in!

Hey, here's a clip! 


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The latter bits, mostly about various acting jobs Tompkins has had are also pretty fantastic, and strangely ironic as the special is really a tour de forcefor Paul’s acting if anything else. Still his case study of himself as a neurotic actor is really fantastic. The story then dovetails into a great series of stories about ‘Best Week Ever” and his time hosting and writing for that show. Personally I wanted to learn more about “Mr. Show” but the subject never came up.

All in all, the special is fantastic. I would recommended it to everyone. Having gone back to watch it over again I wasn’t as disconnected for the first 10 minutes. I can’t be sure why it didn’t resonate with me during the first viewing (probably that wicked hangover), but it seems to have fixed itself. I’m not sure if the special is available on CD, but I would recommend you buy the DVD version. Tompkins does sell a lot of the jokes with his face and movement, and I can’t imagine it would play as well as just audio.


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So, I apologize for the momentary doubt, Paul. The special is really amazing.

And you:  Keep it turned to for a bunch more reviews in the next few days, as well as some epic interviews and MORE! 

Here's a final clip and a link to find the special: