The brilliance of comedian Tom Segura can be summed up in a bit from his 2014 special Completely Normal called “The First 48.” He patiently winds his way through a description of A&E’s documentary series The First 48: First he points out that the idea of police giving up on a murder investigation in two days (“That shit happened on Monday; this is Wednesday”) is somewhat terrifying, and marvels at the fact that there always seems to be an eyewitness with terrible information (“He was 5’2 to 6’8, and he had ears, too”).
At the mid-way point of this nonchalant recap, Segura suddenly kicks into high gear, imitating a friend of the murderer (“HE WAS LOOKING FOR SOME SMOKE!”) at the top of his lungs. It’s a startling, jarring change of pace, and it’s a great combination of phrasing and tone that Segura has honed over nearly two decades of stand-up and appearances on Conan, The Late Late Show w/ Craig Ferguson, and many more.
“I’m definitely aware of it,” Segura says of his distinctive pacing. “It’s one of those things you figure out about stand-up before you even start doing it. There’s a way you can say a line to really deliver something that makes it funny in the way it’s said; the tone of it sticks with you as funny.”
It sounds like something that takes quite a bit of effort to master, and it is, but Segura says that as time passes, it becomes second nature. “It’s in my head now,” he says. “Your facial expression and your word choice, those can all add to something being funny, but it’s the way you say it that’s really important.”
In fact, Segura sees good stand-up as almost musical when it comes to delivery. “There’s a rhythm to it,” he says. “There are ups and downs, especially if we’re talking about an hour-long show. It has to have a flow to it. It’s like waves. It can’t be all one thing for 60 minutes. It has an organic quality that comes together the more you perform it.”
Segura’s most recent special, the aptly-titled Mostly Stories, was just out last year, but on his current tour, he’s doing all-new material. “It’s basically a bunch of new stories,” he says. “I’m a dad now so there’s more stories about that, I tell stories about people I met or things I experienced. I’ll talk about the guy I met at the hotel, or about when I was in college and went to a porn store for the first time, or my dad making me shoot a bird when I was a kid. A lot of it is just reporting things that have happened to me.”
The idea of a comedian completely reinventing their material every year is a relatively new one in stand-up; performers like Jerry Seinfeld would perfect an hour long set and leave it largely unchanged for years, but the evolution of media has made that impossible.
“I think that’s the new standard,” Segura says of doing completely new material. “Sometimes people will come up to me after a show and say, ‘Oh, I thought you were going to do this or that older joke,’ and I go, ‘No I don’t really do that anymore. But more people tell me they’re glad it’s a new show. There are so many ways for people to consume your material now, that they want to see the new stuff.”
And that’s fine with Segura, because much like being in a classic-rock band that’s doomed to play their old hits for eternity, he gets bored with the old stuff. “The truth is it has to be interesting and exciting for you as a performer,” he says. “You tour with it for a year, a year and a half, and you’re over it. The more new stuff you say, the more fun it is for you to say it. That’s really the thing that drives me, in addition to realizing that people want to hear new shit.”
Some of Segura’s new shit comes from his popular podcast Your Mom’s House, which he co-hosts with his wife, fellow comedian Christine Pazsitzky.
“It’s so much more relaxed,” he says of the podcast. “There’s an expectation at a live show to deliver. And you want to meet that expectation. You’re never entirely relaxed when you’re doing a stand-up show, even with stuff you wrote. You have to keep it going. In a podcast, the conversation is so much more authentic. In the best podcasts, you almost forget that you’re recording, you’re just talking. If you’re really in the moment and fun things are happening and maybe you’re sharing real insight without the expectation that there has to be a laugh every 30 seconds, it kind of gives you the freedom to settle in in a way that you can’t really do onstage.”
And that’s where the occasional idea for a stand-up bit will come in. “You might say something you find interesting where you think, ‘I’m definitely going to try that later,'” he says. “You have podcast topics where you realized, there are legs for this onstage, and then it becomes something. It’s exciting when it does because it almost feels like you cheated.”