You may know Paul F. Tompkins from Mr. Show, Tenacious D or The Sarah Silverman Program, or for guest appearances on series like Frasier, Weeds and Pushing Daisies, or for the stand-up career that has included Comedy Central specials, pop culture commentary on Countdown with Keith Olbermann and debating pop culture evils like Oprah and PETA on Lewis Black’s Root of All Evil.
But Best Week Ever fans – and as a recent BWE Tweetup in NYC proved, there are lots of us – have come to know and love the Philly funny guy as the host of our favorite pop culture wrap-up series. Tompkins, a regular talking head on the series, brought his comedic sensibilities, his endearing charm and, of course, his spiffy suits to the forefront in October 2008, when VH1 named him as host of the revamped BWE, now officially titled Best Week Ever with Paul F. Tompkins (Fridays, 11PM ET, VH1).
On the afternoon of a new Best Week Ever episode recently, I had the chance to chat with Paul about everything from the show’s new format, how he and the BWE team go about making us laugh every week and his favorite BWE guests to what TV shows he watches for fun, his dream job and his refreshing take on his career and, yes, what the “F.” stands for.
PS – Fans who follow Tompkins on Twitter will be privvy to inside scoop on the show, like recent Tweets from Paul about tonight’s BWE guests, Kris Allen and Adam Lambert.
Hey, Paul! Thank you so much for taking the time to do this today.
Oh, thank you for wanting to talk to me.
So, let me start with the format change. I loved the old show and I love the new format, but how did the change come about?
Oh, well thank you. That’s very nice to hear. I think it came about because the show had been going on for about four, fur-and-a-half years, and I think the feeling was, ‘Hey, we need to change it up a little bit.’ You know, it had been the same thing for awhile, and a lot of other shows on our very network had been kind of copying the talking heads style. So there was plenty of that out there, and I think there was an idea to mix it up a little bit and make it a much more written show, as opposed to the way it was, with comics riffing and stuff like that. It’s a lot harder to control the content (with the old format), but if everybody is there at the same time, I’m here with the writers, we write the show together throughout the week … It’s just a lot easier to produce the show and focus it and have a consistent point of view.
The new format is obviously driven a lot by your personality, too. Was it scary to be that front and center? It would seem to be a lot of pressure …
Yeah it is, because I hope people like me. It’s a lot of me, and, you know, there are people, I’m sure, who thought that a little of me goes a long way, and some who feel the other way, that they would like to see more of me. So it’s a tough thing to consider the people that have been viewers of the show already, and then people who have never seen the show before, maybe had no interest in the show before. How do we get new people, how am I presented to new people … it can be an intimidating thing.
Did you move to New York to do the show?
Yes, the show’s always been headquartered here, and I used to tape my segments in Los Angeles with a handful of other comics, but since everybody is here, it was a lot of easier to move me here than move everyone to L.A.
How does the work week start at the show? Is there one big meeting where people pitch things you’ll include in the show?
Oh, there are so many meetings. The work week starts Monday, and we have clip meetings every day, where the writers and segment producers will bring footage that they’ve found. And we have a staff of wonderful young people whose job it is to watch TV shows and write up reports on them to see if there’s any notable footage that we can use, anything that kind of jumped out at them. So it’s covered from a few different angles. Then we all get together in a big conference room, and we look at the clips, and it’s pretty easy to determine what has value and what doesn’t. I mean, if everybody in the room laughs, that’s a winner, that’s a contender for the show. So Mondays and Tuesdays, we have those meetings, and they’re usually pretty light days because not much has happened yet. And then Wednesdays, we tape the ‘In Case You Missed It’ segment, which is quick bits and quick jokes. Tuesday, sometimes we’ll do a sketch on that day with a guest, but a typical week is Wednesday, ‘In Case You Missed It,’ and we shoot ‘The Sizzler’ with Chuck Nice on Wednesday. Then on Thursday, we shoot the bulk of the show, that is, the first block and the last block, the ‘Best Week Ever’ itself block. And then Friday, we do anything that we missed, anything that has happened Thursday night, anything we need to tweak, if something has changed or if we’re not happy about it when we look at the edit. And that’s it, that’s our work week.
Do you like the pace of it?
Yeah, definitely. One of things that I love about this job is that I am engaged all the time. There is not a lot a waiting around. Like today, Friday, is the hardest day, because there is a period of a couple of hours where I’m just waiting to be told, ‘Okay, you guys can come back to the edit room, we’re ready.’ The waiting just kills you, you know, because it’s like I’m more tired on Friday doing less work than I am any other day of week.
Right now, it’s about 3PM on Friday, the day of a new episode. Where is the show at this point? Is it ready to air tonight?
The show at this point is not quite ready to go. It’s in the hands of the editors right now, and they’re putting everything together. We’ve put things together gradually as we go along throughout the week, but obviously, because it’s a topical show, things change, things get added, things get taken away, so right now they’re putting it all together, putting all the effects, all the green screen stuff, all the little things that need to be done. And then in a couple of hours, we’ll be able to, the producer will be able to, go back to the edit and take a look at what we’ve got and make further tweaks to it. Usually, the show’s ready to go by like 7:30, 8 o’clock.
Could you add a whole new segment at this point?
No, usually we would be done shooting by this point, so the crew is already gone, and we have to hope that nothing gigantic happens between now and when we air. But we try to keep it as up-to-the-minute as we can.
Is that more challenging now with the popularity of Twitter, and the Web in general, where news can break immediately?
The thing that we have over over the Web primarily is that we have both commentary and images. So we can show you the clip, and we can make our commentary, and we have a staff of very funny people who write the comedy. So we’re presenting something that is worth being on television, and people are writing things that are worth paying for. So as much as there’s a lot of entertainment on the Web these days, you kind of still can’t beat TV.
Definitely. Have you become a media junkie now that you’re hosting the show? Watching a lot more TV?
Haha, no, I’m actually watching a lot less TV unfortunately, because the demands of the show are such that I don’t get to see a lot of stuff for pleasure anymore. I’m here in the office and I see the things that we cover and things that we talk about. So being up-to-date is the nature of the job, but in my home life I just don’t need to see any of that stuff, because it’s at me all day. The only shows I really watch on my own are Breaking Bad on AMC, which I love, and Mad Men, which is coming back soon, I hope. And then In Treatment on HBO is one of my favorite shows of all time. I love that show, and it’s one of the shows where not enough people that I know watch it, so I can’t talk to anybody about it.
Yeah, when people hear they have to watch more than once a week with In Treatment, they’re like, ‘Nah, that’s not for me.’
Yeah, they’re cowards. That’s what I call it.
You mentioned Breaking Bad, which reminds me of one of the best guest stars you’ve had on the show this season, Bryan Cranston. How do you decide who you want to get for the guest segments?
There’s a big list of who’s available, who’s doing the promotional circuit, and we just try to get the best people, the people who are going to be best for our show. And if they’re funny and they’re game for some silliness, that’s all the better. So far, I have to say we’ve really lucked out in that we haven’t had anybody who said ‘No, I’m not going to do that’ or ‘That’s stupid’ or anything; people have been up for whatever we throw at them. So that’s been great, and I’m really excited that we’ve gotten the people that we have, and that, by nature of the format now, I get to interact with those people.
Do you have a favorite guest so far?
Well, Jon Hamm was great. He came in and did these weird little interstitial things that were a lot of fun. Oh, and Anoop from American Idol. Who was hilarious. Like, he had some really good sketch comedy skills, and he added a lot to the sketch. Bryan Cranston was certainly a big highlight and John Hodgman has been on the show a couple times and he’s a friend, so that’s always been fun.
You mentioned American Idol, which reminds me of one of the funniest things ever in the history of the show, which is the segment you did earlier this season about AI contestant Scott MacIntyre, using the cue cards to suggest he might not have been making it through round after round because of his talent. Obviously it was something a lot of people were thinking, but I think you can get away with saying it because you have this delivery where it doesn’t seem like you’re being mean for the sake of being mean …
Yeah, I don’t like to make fun of people’s appearance. I mean, obviously there are slips here and there, but I don’t want to call anybody ugly or old or fat or anything like that. And there’s certain things like, you know, Amy Winehouse keeps coming up. We will get some of footage of her and it just creeps me out too much to comment on it, because it seems like, well this is a person who is in the throws of a serious dependency issue, and I don’t want to be making some snarky comment about her on the night that she might die. You know that show E! did with Anna Nicole Smith years ago, the reality show, and the theme song was all about how outrageous Anna Nicole was? It was like, no, she’s not being campy. She’s got serious drug problems, she’s got these people leeching off of her, and you’re putting a camera in her face and just following her around and pretending like she’s a ditzy blonde. She’s on drugs! That, to me, it crosses a humanity line.
Do you guys get feedback from celebrities you cover on the show?
You would think so, but I think a lot of people have not seen the show. The guy who was very excited and was so sweet and game and up for everything, was Jerry O’Connell, who was the first person we had on the show since I’ve been the host who said, ‘I actually watch the show every week, and I’m really excited to be here.’
He was a funny guest, and you guys had great chemistry. Okay, let’s get into some Paul F. Tompkins specifics now. What does the ‘F’ stand for? It seems to be a big mystery …
Haha, yeah, it’s one of those things that I don’t really keep a secret, but people think it is, and very seldom do people ask. But it stands for ‘Francis.’
Let me ask you about the Paul F. Tompkins wardrobe. Obviously, it’s a very dapper look, but when so many of your fellow comics show up wearing the $3 Hanes t-shirt s and the jeans that look like they might stand up on their own, have you ever regretted cultivating this obviously more expensive look?
Only in the summer time. Honest to God. That is when, you know, especially when I lived in L.A., when I would go perform and it was 100 degrees outside, and I’m wearing a suit. That’s the only time that I would think, ‘I really painted myself into a corner with this.’ But I really do love clothes so much, and I love dressing up. It’s just something that’s always been a part of me. It just makes me feel good.
The suits are kind of your work uniform, then?
Yes! Those are my work clothes.
You taped a new comedy album earlier this year in Chicago … when will it be out?
I have absolutely no idea. I don’t have a date yet. I would imagine some time later this year, maybe in time for the holidays. People will want to buy that as a gift.
Is it a challenge to work on your stand-up act while doing Best Week Ever?
It really is, and what I am going through right now is, I just can’t do them both at the same time. I’m not coming up with any new material for stand-up, because all of my creative energy goes into this show. It’s a different way of looking at things comedically, so even though I’m observing the same things as I would were I not doing this job, they’re not registering with me in the same way. So it’s tough, but I’ve been turning down gigs in town just because I’m kind of too tired to do them after a full day of work. And also because I don’t have anything new to say on stage, and I don’t want to just to get up and do material that I’ve done so many times before … there’s no challenge there. I’m hoping that when we go on break, that part of my brain will kick up again.
When does the show go on break this summer?
I think the last episode of this season is June 12, and then we come back some time in September.
Ah, that’s always one of the saddest parts of summer, when that little promo during the show says ‘Best Week Ever won’t be back for three months’ …
Oh, you’re very sweet to say that.
What will you do with your summer vacation this year? You’ve also been in several movies, is that something you’ll continue to do?
If there’s a little part that I can do on a hiatus or something, then that’s great, but for the most part, I’m out of the running with that stuff, because, to be frank, my film career was not exactly skyrocketing, so it’s not a huge loss to me. I mean, I love working in TV, and I’m so fortunate to have a study job in television right now. It’s great … I work with people that I like every day, and then I go home and hang out with my fiancée (actress Janie Haddad) and have my life with her. This has kind of been a goal of mine for a long time, and it finally happened, so I’m thrilled.
Is Best Week Ever your dream job?
Yeah, I think so. I don’t know that I would have said that when I first started. What’s funny is, when I first started in comedy, if you told me I’d be doing this, I would have been so psyched. But then there’s this middle time where, you know, where we have to figure out what our priorities are, what’s really important to us. And I think I went through a stage, and I think a lot of people in this business go through it, where it’s all about fame, or it’s about money, because we get into this business because we want people to like us. You know, we’re seeking the approval of strangers. But then, I’m 40 now, and it’s like I don’t so much need that anymore. Now I’m in it because it’s fun and I’m good at it, and it’s a good way to make a living. So it’s become my dream job. Absolutely.
You kind of get to that point in life where you realize how lucky you are if you can have a job that you don’t hate going to every day.
Yeah, absolutely, but not just that you don’t hate, but really look forward to every day. Like, waking up every day and thinking, I can’t wait to get to the office and see everyone and put the show together.
That is the dream job. And it’s very cool.
Yeah, Kim, it really is.
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