comics talk to comics

Paul F. Tompkins and Andy Daly Discuss Review, Podcasts, and Having a Career That’s Supposed to Be Fun in and of Itself

Photo: Maya Robinson and Photos by Kevin Winter/Getty Images and Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Paul F. Tompkins and Andy Daly are two among the handful of comedians most closely associated with podcasting. Though they both have wonderful podcasts in their own right — “Spontaneanation” and “The Andy Daly Podcast Pilot Project,” respectively — Tompkins and Daly became known as two of the most sought-after guests during comedy podcasts’ first wave. And their careers, which were doing just fine beforehand, have boomed as a result. With the second season of Andy Daly’s Review premiering on Comedy Central tonight and Paul F. Tompkins back as Mr. Peanutbutter in season two of BoJack Horseman, Vulture had the two comedians and good friends interview each other. They discuss their variety of projects, being the face of a show, and, of course, podcasting. Enjoy! 

Andy Daly: Alright, where are you now, Paul?

Paul F. Tompkins: I am at my home. I just made it home. I was out exercising, trying desperately to put a few minutes back on the life clock, and now here I am.
Maybe I should just come to your house. I have no place to be.

You’re welcome to come by here if you want.
Alright, but I’m heading your way. I think I know where you live. I have a rough idea. That’s good enough.

Yeah, it’s the North Pole. You’ll reach me. Just head for the North Pole.
Alright, perfect.

Well, I’m sending you my address, just in case.
It’s amazing, these devices, eh? Well, I’ll start with a question for you: The internet has taken note that you recently have stopped doing “The Dead Authors Podcast” and stopped doing “Speakeasy” … Explain yourself!

Yes, for a while I was able to feel like I had the energy to do several projects at once. Ultimately, some of these things I did not get paid for, they did not further my career, they were done just for fun. I suddenly remembered my career was supposed to be fun by itself. It would probably be better if I focused on my main sources of income and made those as good as I could possibly make them. It felt as if all of my projects were suffering in that I couldn’t give them the time and attention that I wanted. I had to make some tough decisions and really pare it down, which would also leave room to participate in other people’s things and not be having to beg off because I’ve overcommitted myself to projects that I have created.
Yeah, that makes sense. Now I’m passing through the Sunset Junction.

Oh, fantastic.
I want to pick on one interesting thing you said: Your work is supposed to be fun in and of itself, so why, on the side, would you do things that are just for fun and aren’t paying? That’s a funny concept to me.

Well, here’s what I think it is. Part of just … growing older and gathering wisdom, experience, maturity is you get used to things. Part of our job is to dig deep and rediscover the joy that we had when we were first starting out. Also, when you gain responsibility, if you are the host of a TV show and you have responsibilities as a producer and a writer and so forth, you then have to deal with the mechanics of it, which is not always fun. Some people just want to make up the funny things and play pretend. Not to say when you solve a problem it can’t be really thrilling and satisfying, but for most of us, I’d say, probably for you, it’s not the reason that you got into this business. Review is probably the thing that you’ve had the most responsibility with, right? 
Yeah, as far as professional work, I’ve never had this much responsibility. By the way, there’s no way you live here.

Where are you?
I’m in some weird alleyway. Do you live here?

I don’t live in a weird alleyway.
Apple Maps took me to a bizarre alleyway in Silver Lake.

What are you doing with Apple Maps, for crying out loud?
Well, now I’m moving over. But, yes, this topic is of interest to me big time right now because I have been working for a solid year on this second season of Review, and it’s amazing. I’ve never really figured out where to draw the line of, what are the things I can say, “I don’t care about that.” It’s an ongoing debate. “I don’t care what the press release says”; “I don’t care what the promos are”; “No, actually, I care about all of those things.”

There are people who do completely let that stuff go. But that’s what separates someone who’s just coming in as a hired hand — “I’m happy to just show up and read the TelePrompTer and get a paycheck” — and someone who has a level of connectedness to what they do who says, “I’m an artist and this is important to me. I want to make sure people get this.” Along the way you pick your battles and you’re like, “I don’t think this is a funny promo, but I have bigger fish to fry than this — this is somebody else’s job.”
Yeah, and I’m really struggling with that. There keep being things on Review that I’m like, “Okay, look, that’s not exactly how I want it, but whatever, move on.” And then like an hour later I go, “No, I’ve got to get it back how I want it!”

What about in terms of the actual shooting of the show?
Sometimes it’s the shooting, and sometimes it is the promos, and the press release, and it’s all kinds of little things. People refer to this show in the press as “Andy Daly’s Review,” and I know that every article about this show is going to have a picture of my face on it. I’m associated with it very strongly and always will be, so it feels like, to the greatest extent that it can or that it’s wise for it to, it ought to reflect my sensibility and my comedic interest, because people are going to assume that it does.

Yes, but it truly does, doesn’t it? Review is an adaptation of an Australian show, but in that adaptation you’ve done something different with it, and I would imagine that developed even further in season two. You’re not just an actor in this thing that was somebody else’s idea, you absolutely are bringing your own sensibility. It’s a valid concern for you to say, “I want every aspect of this to reflect my sensibility.” So, for good or ill, whether people watch the show or not, they’re watching it or not watching it for the right reasons.
Right, absolutely. And within that, of course, it’s a collaborative process. We have a writing staff. I was interviewed by somebody, like a real television journalist, who was surprised when I was talking about the writing staff. He was like, “Oh, I just assumed you wrote it all.” I was like, “What? No! I didn’t write nine episodes of television all by myself.” I guess Louis C.K. literally does that, but does anybody else?

Right. Did Louis C.K. set the bar now that it’s just assumed we’re all supposed to be writing entire seasons of television?
I guess so. “Oh, what do you mean, you don’t edit it yourself?”

Even though there is a writing staff, there’s a crew, there’s a whole support system for any TV show, the sensibility, the focus, the tone has to come from somewhere. That usually comes down to one person. It has to. That’s how people latch on to a show, because they like the world that is created, they like the feeling of it — episode to episode. Even though, of course, there’s a staff, that doesn’t mean that the responsibility for those things feels any less [important] to you.
Right, absolu—

Shut up, listen! For you is it difficult to be a guy saying, “No, I don’t like it that way — let’s do it this way”?
Absolutely. It’s very difficult to know. One thing you have to come to at a certain point is to say, “I might actually be wrong about this. Somebody has to make these decisions, and I think it needs to be me, and it’s okay if I’m wrong.” If I make the wrong call and people hate it, at least I’ll be able to say, “Yeah, that was me. That was my dumb call. I’m sorry that happened.”

Also, I do have in this endeavor a creative partner in Jeffrey Blitz, who directs all of the episodes and helps run the room and all that. So, a lot of it is co-decision-making and setting the tone between the two of us.

Of course, and it’s a collaboration. But you do, as the star of the TV show, have some veto power, and there are points where you can say, “I don’t want to do that. I’m not comfortable with that.” Has that come up?
Oh, wow, that’s fascinating. That’s a good question. Because as you were asking it, I was thinking of times when I was dead-set against something. For instance, you’d be surprised the number of times the idea of working with a monkey came up. [Laughs.] I will not work with a monkey. I’ll do a lot of things. I will never work with a monkey.

People really love the idea of monkeys. I don’t know what that is, but that is something, as a comedy professional, that is something that has left me behind. I don’t find monkeys inherently funny. Just seeing them involved in comedy, it’s not like, “Oh, here we go, this is gonna be great.” 
They’re strong. And sometimes they tear off people’s noses.

They’re terrifying, of course.
It’s a terrifying jungle animal.

Guess what? The last place it wants to be is on some TV-show set. 
The answer to your actual question: There are so many times when I have said, “Eh, let’s not do that.” And then I get sort of convinced. When an idea comes up, it’s quite rare that I’m like, “Yes! Of course, that!” I have a very poke-at-it-from-all-angles, make-sure-it’s-a-good-idea approach in the writers room. I ask a lot of annoying questions, like, “Well, is this too similar to that? Are we sure we want to? Is that going to be hard?” So it is a process of: “Okay, okay, yes. All of my concerns have been addressed, let’s do it.”

How much of that is just how you are in life? Is that how you approach everything?
[Laughs.] Yeah, kind of. I drive my wife crazy. It sure sounds like I’m dwelling on the negative, but I’m just trying to address every possible angle of everything. What’s wrong with that?

Obviously, you can say you’re being cautious. Is that something that is born out of experience? Were you fearful as a kid?
Yeah, I probably was. One of my main things about my childhood is that I found myself doing things I did not want to do a lot of the time. Because if not, I truly would have watched television all the time. All I wanted to do was watch television and play with toys that I was a little too old to play with.  So my parents wisely made me go to swimming practice, and soccer, and basketball, and baseball, and all of this stuff. I truly did not want to do any of it. And because I was not invested and not great at them, I was surrounded by kids who were succeeding more than I was. That’s a recipe for getting made fun of a lot. I had a lot of experiences of being half-invested in an activity, and being called out on it, and run circles around, and not enjoying that.

So it was more about not having control.
Yeah, right, yeah.

Let me ask you this: Did you always know that you wanted to be a dad? Because that is a huge sacrifice to make. Talk about doing things you don’t want to do. The larger idea is, I want to have kids, and so, technically, I do want to do all of these things because it’s part of being a parent. But that’s something in the abstract. In the moment, there’s a lot of stuff that comes up where it’s like, This is not ideally what I want to be doing right now, but it’s what I’m doing right now. 
I met my wife in 1998, and early in our dating she talked about wanting kids. I think I actively said at that point, “I don’t know about that for me.” I know as recently as that, I wasn’t sure about it. But two things happened. One was that I quit drinking when I was 30 and loved that. That was transformative in ways that I never thought it could be. It was great not to be going out in pursuit of something that I was never finding.

Like the idea that drinking promises you this transcendent experience? You’re going to go out and you’re going to have this amazing time that’s going to be like something out of the Algonquin Round Table. But you have to be doing a thing, otherwise you’re, what, sitting around in a room together?
Yeah, there was also this imagined, ideal level of drunk that was going to be a nirvana that I was constantly in search of and never quite attaining. Never quite hitting the sweet spot, but spending all night managing to get there. It was maddening. So, to let go of that process and to realize there are all kinds of other things I like to do, and all kinds of other ways of relating to people, was a huge thing to happen.

I remember you telling me years ago that one of the reasons you quit drinking was it just made you morose. Did you feel the benefits of that immediately? 
There was a period of multiple years where I was just trying to drink less, but really, all I wanted to do was have a little more regularity and predictability to my life. I never knew at the start of any given evening if I was going to get to bed at a reasonable hour and have a decent meal, or whether I was going to fall asleep in my clothes at five in the morning after having brownies and French fries. It made it hard to make plans and feel productive.

[Laughs.] Made it hard to make plans? “Hey, listen. I would love to say yes to that. I can’t commit because I don’t know if I’ll be passed out in a pile of brownie crumbs and French-fry ends.” 
Exactly. And then, also, this might sound silly, but around that same time I adopted a dog and discovered through that process — and I think a lot of people have this discovery — that I had to sacrifice a lot of things for this dog. But none of it bothered me. It felt good to help a helpless creature. The combination of those two things, and, around the same time, realizing that I for sure wanted to spend the rest of my life with the woman who is now my wife. Altogether, I said, “I think I’m ready to be a dad and make those sacrifices. And not mind those sacrifices.” But I was aware at the time it’s a crazy decision: I am deciding to give up an enormous amount for someone I haven’t met yet. [Laughs.]

[Laughing] The idea being: What if this person turns out to be an asshole? 

You weren’t thinking of it in terms of you would be deciding that with the way you shape this person. You were thinking, He might just come right out of the box as a fuckin’ jerk. 
It could have happened!

That is a big concern of my wife. She’s really concerned about the “bad seed” idea. Whenever we’ve talked about kids, that has always come up at one point. “Yeah, what about a bad seed. What if that happens?” 
It can happen. By the way, I am doing the thing I said I was going to do. I am parked outside of your house. I’m looking at your house.

Yeah, I know. I already took a picture of you and sent it to the police. So don’t get too comfortable. 
Your lawn is beautiful.

Oh, thank you. You know, we moved that tree over to the other side because it was dying where the original owners had placed it. So we had it transferred to the other side of the lawn and now it’s flourishing. 
Oh, it looks nice there.

Thank you. 
Just lovely. Have we talked enough about Review? Yeah, we’ve talked a lot about the process of making Review. 

Yeah, that’s true, but let’s get into the fun of the show. Was the season fun to shoot? 
Yes. The process of actually being on the set and shooting it is so incredibly wonderful because we’ve managed to set up a way of working which is exactly the way I most love to work and feel best working, which is like the script is a guidepost and everybody on set can make it their own. So, whatever you feel like you want to do to make this feel as natural and as funny as it can.

The things we’re putting [Daly’s character] Forrest through are, of course, challenging. I observed something midway through the shoot: Forrest doesn’t have a lot of mellow experiences. So every day on the set is a hard day of work because he’s constantly confronted with something difficult. So it’s hard work, but it’s insane and it’s crazy and we’ve built in tons of surprises that are super fun to execute knowing that when people see this, their jaws are going to hit the floor.

With Forrest, he’s ostensibly doing such an insane thing for a noble purpose — it’s for the betterment of all mankind to rate these experiences — but obviously there’s a ton of hubris and narcissism in this quest. His producer is able to get him to keep doing these difficult, horrible things by appealing to his vanity. That said, it’s a very empathetic character. Once he’s actually doing the crazy things that he commits to doing, instantly it’s heartbreaking. 
Well, thank you, first of all. A lot of that is in the writing. Sometimes we’ll have a script and we’ll realize Forrest doesn’t seem to care about anything, he’s just doing something horrible and he comes across as a sociopath. So we find places to make him suffer through it and give him a moral crisis and remind us that, yes, of course he’s propelled by vanity and narcissism. He’s going to do it, it’s horrible that he’s going to do it, but he is not somebody who’s thoughtlessly doing it. He knows that it’s wrong. He’s got a moral compass.

Now let me ask you about No, You Shut Up. Is there going to be more? Do you know yet?

An offer has been made for season four, so we’re working on the details now, but it looks like we’ll be back on the air in the fall. I think in October. I’m looking forward to it.
Exciting! I loved that show. I had a good time on there.

We had a great time having you on there. You were a good sport. You elevated the day’s proceedings.
How many people are doing the puppet voices?

We have five mainstays and then there are a couple people that come in sporadically. It’s been such a treat to work and improvise with them. The show has become so different from its first two seasons, which were short, 15-minutes episodes that was really just a one-joke idea — puppets arguing and me being the straight man. Now, in the third season, we went to a half-hour show and we really opened up the world. I’m very proud of it and … I hope people will give [it] a chance if they have not, if they’re skeptical.
Are you involved in the writing of that show?

I certainly contribute what I can with what I’m contractually able to do, respecting all union rules.
I understand. Well, of course, you are in addition to all the things. You are a very gifted improviser, and so on the set there’s all sorts of things that just come up in the moment, which makes it super fun. To improvise with puppets is a new one for me.

It’s a strange thing. The biggest hurdle for me in the early days was getting used to the fact that their eyes do not see anything. Any kind of visual cues that you’d normally get from people in improv are not there with puppets, you can’t get anything from their body language. It was a weird thing to deal with and an even weirder thing to get used to, because that means that the puppets become real to me at a certain point. You’re holding both ideas in your head at the same time. When you’re having fun, you are aware that the person under the desk is the person thinking of these things that are being said, and so you appreciate it in that way that you do when you’re just playing with someone in regular improv, but at the same time you’re looking at this thing, and the thing takes on a life of its own, thanks to the puppeteers. It’s unnerving. It’s a little uncanny sometimes.
Yeah! I find it fascinating, too, because I had no prior experience with the human beings who were crouched underneath the desk. At the point that I was improvising with these puppets, I actually never met them.

Oh, yeah, they’re already under the desk.
So I don’t know anything about them, and they open their mouths and they’re being so hilarious, and so part of me is like, Who is this hilarious person, and where does this person come from? but I get no information because I’m looking at a squirrel!

We’ve gotten a lot of really funny stuff as a result of that. I have to ask you again about “The Andy Daly Podcast Pilot Project.” Is it going to happen again?
The last time we spoke about this, I was speaking a little more bullishly about that it was going to happen and when it was going to happen. At that time, I was underestimating how much time we’d spend editing Review. I imagined that that process would finish in early June, and then I’d have sort of spent June and July twiddling my fingers waiting until the premiere of Review, and in reality, here it is now and we’re still editing Review. So there has not really been the moment to say, “Okay, with a clean slate in front of me, what would I like to do with the second season of the ‘Podcast Pilot Project’?” But I’m hoping that that day comes soon because I do have a handful of ideas, and it is so unbelievably fun to do that, to put together a room full of improvisers and just go. I love it.

Has podcasting had an impact on your career, do you think?
I feel like it has. It has certainly had an impact on hearing from people — the people who are on Twitter and out there discussing comedy in comment threads and whatnot and who are listening to podcasts, that’s the same community. It has opened up a lot of fun, positive feedback for me to interact with people.

Has podcasting led to other things for you? Do you think it’s made more people aware of you and led to you doing things? Is there anything you can point to and say, “Well, this, I absolutely got this because of me doing this podcast”?
I don’t 100 percent know that for certain, but I’m quite sure that some of the animation voice-over stuff I’ve done over the past year or two has been directly related, because those are podcast fans and it’s a natural thing to think, We’ll bring him in for a cartoon. How about you?

Oh, yeah, definitely, the animation stuff. They’ll ask you to do this character for this cartoon and you’ll do it, and then the request will come, like, “Um, could you maybe do it like, uh, Cake Boss, perhaps?” And it’s like, Okay, now I see. In terms of live shows, it’s certainly been invaluable. It’s changed the paradigm that previously existed in that you don’t have to do morning radio, you don’t have to get up at 5 a.m. to plug the show and hope that people show up. You’re reaching everyone at once. And it’s been a way to make new fans. Shows like Comedy Bang! Bang!, not even my own stuff but other shows I’ve appeared on, has contributed greatly to my profile and to spreading awareness of me as a person.
Yeah, I did a little tour last year, and I’m sure that the only reason it was successful at all was because of my podcast. I met so many people, and the audiences of those shows were podcast freaks.

Well, I feel like it might be time to wrap up. Is there anything you’d like to close on? Before I ring your doorbell?

No, I think I’m good.

Paul F. Tompkins, Andy Daly Interview Each Other