Paul F. Tompkins is a very busy man; just look at how many appearances on Earwolf podcasts alone he has under his belt. So it was only a matter of time before he started his own show on the network. Spontaneanation with Paul F. Tompkins, which launched two weeks ago, is his follow up to fan favorite, The Pod F.Tompkast. Unlike his previous venture, Spontaneanation requires very little preparation and features a fully improvised story, a free form conversation and focuses on just being in the moment.
I recently had the opportunity to talk with Tompkins about what it’s like being the most ubiquitous guest in podcasting and how Spontaneanation came to be.
Congrats on the premiere! I saw that it was number 1 on iTunes. That must have been pretty cool to watch.
Yeah! It was more than I ever could have hoped for.
I’m sure a lot of people bug you about the return of The Pod F. Tompkast, and I’m certainly not above doing that, so – why the decision to start something new instead of another season of The Pod F. Tompkast?
Well The Pod F. Tompkast, as much as I love the result of it, was a really labor intensive show. There’s a lot of writing, there’s a lot of scheduling, there’s a lot of recording – it’s not a show that we can necessarily do in one day because there are so many moving parts to it.
It just got to be really difficult to maintain. Having taken a two year break, and having every intention of doing a third season, and I even started to write for it, I just never had the time. It was a thing that was always hanging over my head.
After a while Earwolf, who had approached me years ago when they were just starting up their network, before I even knew what The Pod F. Tompkast was going to be, approached me again last year and ask if I wanted to do a podcast for them. And god love ‘em that they came back and asked again. That’s a show of good faith. And by that point I had more life experiences, in my career I had done more things, so then I sat and thought about what I would want to do.
And I kind of knew I wanted to do something that in many ways was the opposite of what I had done in my previous podcast – in that I wanted do something where I could walk into the studio, I didn’t have to prepare anything, and when I walked out the episode would be finished. And so then I had to think, what would that be?
In the intervening years between when I started The Pod F. Tompkast and now, I had done a lot of improv. Superego had entered into my life. A lot more podcasting, a lot more character stuff and more pure improv that I got to do on stage with various people. And like I had to do with The Pod F. Tompkast, I had to sit down and think, well what are the things that I like to do now? That was how I started the first podcast, and this was the same process. What are all the elements that I like that can all be done in the moment. And that was how I put together Spontaneanation.
In the first two episodes you can hear how much you’re all making each other laugh.
Yeah, you can really tell how much fun you’re having. Do you think that’s something that gets lost in something that is so heavily produced?
Not that it can get lost. I don’t think you miss it if it’s not there. Like my old podcast, the only one who’d be laughing would be me really, and it’s hard to believe, not as much as I do now. But there’s something about when you can hear the other people laughing in the background. It adds a life to it. You know? It makes it feel more alive and less after the fact. And as much as I love The Pod F. Tompkast it was very produced, and it’s a different vibe and I just came to really enjoy that live feel.
And even with the interviews, they’re not getting a question that’s geared specifically towards them. And they’re not prepped beforehand, are they?
No. Nobody’s prepped about anything beforehand. I tell people what the format of the show is. I tell the guest I’m going to ask you a question that has been submitted by a previous guest. They don’t know what the question is going to be so it’s not specific to you and then I’ll ask you to do the same thing.
A question you would ask anyone. A question you think would start off a good discussion. And for the people answering the question, for them to be open, and I hate to say it, vulnerable enough to roll with whatever the question is. It’s really enjoyable and it leads to an interesting chat.
There are so many interview podcasts now it’s a nice way of hearing new things from people.
It solves two problems. First of all it avoids the sort of canned anecdote that you would get if you did sort of a pre-interview and it gets us into an interesting place right away. Rather than “hey lets just bullshit and see what happens,” we know that we’re starting from a good solid place and then we can see what happens.
And then my job as the host is to really really be present, listen to what they’re saying, pick up on little side trips that we can go on, ask follow up questions, ask them why they think the way they think. Just be on the lookout for other interesting questions I can ask them to branch out from that first question.
And you’re working with Eban Scheletter again.
The music is incredible.
I would have thought that it was scored afterwards, but he’s there playing with you live, right?
He’s there in the studio, playing live. And that was the very first element. I knew I wanted Eban there. There’s something about riffing over him playing the piano, which we’ve been doing together since before podcasting was a thing, and I knew that I wanted that to be a part of it for sure. Because it’s my favorite thing. It’s so much fun, it’s so enjoyable. To me it’s magical.
It really adds so much to what’s going on.
There’s nothing else like that out there. He’s really amazing. I will listen back to the episodes and hear stuff that I had no idea he was picking up on and referencing. As much as I hear what’s happening in the moment, there are so many more things I didn’t catch as they were happening. He’s really something else.
So when you’re improvising, how much is he taking cues from you guys, or are you taking cues from him, or is it a mix of both?
It’s a mix of both for sure. He will often put in musical references base on what I’m talking about. But sometimes if my tone changes and he changes his tone, I’ll go along with his and a bit will be built out of that. Whatever I’m talking about will change based on how he changes the music. So it’s very much a symbiotic relationship. We’re pretty much always going back and forth and picking up on what the other is putting down.
So you mentioned that Earwolf had approached you about the show and, I don’t know if you know that you’re on their website as the most frequent guest. And then on top of that, I read in some reviews on iTunes a bunch of listeners called you “The King of Podcasts”. How do you feel about a title like that? Is that a throne you went after or more or less something that just kind of happened?
Well, first I’d like to point out that Earwolf officially lists Dan Van Kirk as the most frequent Earwolf guest but I feel like there’s an asterisk there because he’s on so many episodes of Sklarboro Country. But I think I have been a guest on more Earwolf podcasts than anyone else. So take that Dan. [Laughs]
But it wasn’t something I sought out it really was just a thing that happened. When the medium emerged it was a thing that a lot of my friends were doing. It’s so much fun to play with that I couldn’t resist. And as much as I have a tendency to do too much and over schedule myself, podcasting is a lot of fun! The idea that you can just show up and play is just irresistible.
Are there any podcasts you listen to regularly?
I consume a lot of podcasts. I’m a voracious podcast consumer. There are so many. From the standard three people sitting around talking format, to character stuff, a lot of Earwolf stuff, and I’m not just saying that because I’m an employee [Laughs]. I really like a lot of their stuff. A lot of the best people in comedy are doing things, especially with the Wolfpop division of Earwolf, which gets into pop culture stuff. I like Matt Gourley’s, and full disclosure he’s a really good friend of mine, I Was There Too. I really love that podcast and he’s a great host and getting really interesting people and getting their perspective on movies everyone knows from an unexpected source.
I like Denzel Washington is the Greatest Actor of All Time Period podcast. I’m very excited about Rich Sommer’s Cardboard podcast, which is all about board games. A thing that I’m not necessarily that into but I like when people are passionate about a thing and they can make it interesting to me even if I’m not passionate about that thing. I have a feeling that’s gonna be a new favorite of mine.
You mentioned Matt Gourley who you do Superego with, you have Speakeasy, No, You Shut Up!, The Dead Authors Podcast, and I know I’m probably even leaving a ton of things out, but will there ever be some kind of crossover or are the characters on Spontaneanation kind of just contained to a single episode?
The nature of the show being what it is, I’m not looking to establish any kind of continuity in the show which was a big thing on my podcast, it’s a big thing on Comedy Bang! Bang!. And as much as I enjoy that, and I really do, it’s fun for me as an audience member as well as a creator, the idea behind this is that it’s all ephemeral. It all happens in the moment and then it’s over. That isn’t to say that there won’t be the occasional callback or something, but that will be more about jokes than continuity of characters.
Could you let us in on some of the guests on the upcoming episodes?
Yeah, some of the ones coming up we’ve got Michael Sheen who I’m a big fan of from Masters of Sex and countless Tony Blair movies. Kaitlin Olson, who’s an old friend of mine from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. And an interesting one I did was Elizabeth Reaser who is the Twilight movies. She’s an old friend of mine and she recorded the podcast before I knew that she was in the newest episode of Mad Men.
And, if you live in Los Angeles or will be in the Los Angeles area, the first Saturday of every month typically we’ll be doing live versions of Spontaneanation at Largo at the Coronet. The dates are all on my website so people can check ‘em out there.
Leigh Cesiro is a writer living in Brooklyn who only needs 10 minutes to solve any Law & Order: SVU episode.