There was a certain amount of hubbub in Charleston this October when Eva Amurri, the daughter of Susan Sarandon, and all of her celebrity friends and family members descended upon the Lowcountry for her wedding to a former soccer player. People even published the pictures.
And yet not a peep was uttered about comedian Paul F. Tompkins’ nuptials to actress Janie Haddad in her hometown of Sullivan’s Island in April 2010. Even more of a snub, not a single person in the audience of a July improv show at Theatre 99 noticed the Mr. Show writer and former host of VH1’s Best Week Ever seated in the back row. “I talked to some of the performers online after that via Twitter, but that was it,” Tompkins says. “I didn’t get stopped or anything in the lobby.” Maybe it’s because despite coming to Charleston a few times a year since 2006 — usually for the Fourth of July and the holidays, if you’re taking notes — Tompkins has never performed at the venue, or even in the city.
“It finally dawned on me: Well you know, I should book a show there, because I’m definitely going to be there twice a year, and I just love the city and the people so much,” he says. Conveniently, his wife knows venue co-founder Greg Tavares, and having been a part of a T-99 audience himself, Tompkins already has an idea of what to expect. “I very seldom have the luxury of seeing a venue before I perform there, and it’s great when that does happen, because there’s more of a comfort level going in there the first time to perform, just having an idea what it’s like for the audience to see a show there.”
Tompkins will present a show titled Laboring Under Delusions, stories about the various jobs he’s had in and out of show business throughout his career. “It’s a little clever play on words there, because there’s a certain amount of delusion you must be suffering from in order to debark on a career in show business.” He’ll go from the worst — working at a store called Hats in the Belfry — to the best, three lines opposite Daniel Day Lewis in There Will Be Blood.
“I don’t really do comedy clubs anymore, but I go into small theaters. My act has become much more story-oriented. It’s much more storytelling now, so this is what I do on the road,” Tompkins says. As his comedy career has progressed, he has gone from performing very written, structured material to this more personal, relatable format. These anecdotes from his past wound up being more universal than he thought. “There was something very distancing about [structured stand-up] from the audience, by design, and then as I got older, I matured and I started to experiment with getting more personal on stage.”
The Charleston show, as well as sales from CDs and DVDs that night, will benefit Crisis Ministries, a local organization dedicated to the homeless that Tompkins’ mother-in-law used to work for. “I’m very much interested in anything that helps the homeless, helps people that are kind of down on their luck, because for me, it’s always a there-but-for-the-grace-of-God situation,” he says. “It’s easier than people think to wind up in a situation like that and in a tough time.” His performance is sold out, but keep an eye out for Tompkins shopping with his wife on King Street sometime after Christmas.
And while his past experience at Theatre 99 may be evidence that Charleston’s comedy crowd wasn’t too keen on Best Week Ever, Tompkins assures us that Laboring Under Delusions won’t be heavy with pop-culture commentary. “I guess I would say if you enjoyed me when I did that sort of thing, then you enjoy my sensibility and you would enjoy this show. If you’re really just in it to hear comments about the Kardashians, then you will not enjoy the show.”