By Josh Sheppard
The meaning of what comedy should stand for has never been more questioned than at the present moment. Two camps have been formed: those who view comedy as a tool to criticize power, and those who view comedy as the vanguard of free expression. Paul F Tompkins has found himself caught in the middle of this heated debate.
‘’There’s a growing chasm between people who use comedy as a tool to call out people who are powerful, and people who use it as an aggressive tool to shut people up who they consider to be whiny,” says Tompkins. “Things change, society evolves, and you want to get hung up on a word that hurts people’s feelings – that’s the hill you want to die on?”
Looking back at comedy of the past has always inspired mixed feelings, as our heroes may one day lose their luster. Should the past be viewed with present-day sensibilities or should we judge the people by the standards of the times that were presented before them? Comedian Norm Macdonald recently defended the modernist writer Ernest Hemingway who was labelled as an example of toxic masculinity, stating that this form of criticism was “presentism at its worst.”
“Here’s the thing: as you grow up, some of the people you viewed as heroes in your youth won’t necessarily stay your heroes,” says Tompkins. “The thing that drives me crazy about something like ‘presentism at its worst’ is like, you’re saying this isn’t something worth talking about? Like there’s nothing valid here at all? Just because someone lived a long time ago, do they get an endless free pass? You can still like Hemingway’s work, that’s fine, but it’s completely valid to discuss the life that he lived especially as it affected the themes of his work. That’s an intellectual pursuit and we could get something out of it as a society.”
Spontaneity is one of the most important tools a comedian has to display their wit. Tompkins even has a podcast, SPONTANEANATION, that examines the subject deeply.
“The essence of spontaneity is being present and open – you’re aware of what’s going on,” he says. “You’re aware of what’s going on in the room right at the moment. You’re feeling how everyone feels and you’re allowing things to enter into that vibe.” The combination of that spontaneity and his well thought out intellect should make his show one to remember.
Paul F Tompkins and Mark Evan Jackson present A Two Gentleman Improv Show at the Vogue Theatre on February 17comedy, Paul F Tompkins, The Vogue Theatre