Paul F Tompkins: Life's Work

Note: This review is from 2012

Review by Steve Bennett

Paul F Tompkins’s storytelling is as dandy as his dress sense. With a sharply tailored, suit of broad pinstripe and a luxuriant moustache, his carefully-cultivated appearance is one part Al Capone goon, one part elegant gentleman of the Deep South. Such a distinctive look confidently projects an image of class that his measured delivery only reinforces.

Although he has a respectable comedy CV, he’s little known outside his native America, so the autobiographical Life’s Work serves as his formal introduction. It is, in many ways, standard comic fare about all the thankless jobs undertaken early in his career as well as the most minor of brushes with fame, which only remind him how far his celebrity has yet to rise.

He starts from his childhood, when as the fifth of sixth children he would have to fight for attention – not exactly surprising given the archetypal psychological make-up of a stand-up comedian. After dropping out of college, his dead-end jobs included coping with dumb customers in the awfully-named headgear emporium Hats In The Belfry, and working in the entrepreneurial black hole of a Betamax-only video store.

Comedy didn’t always prove much better, and there are yarns here about his gig from hell, fumbling his brief movie debut and his sneeze-and-you’ll-miss it cameo in There Will Be Blood.

There’s no great surprises in the content, but Tompkins’ nonchalantly sardonic and self-deprecating approach is rich with charm, saving him from plummeting down the precipice of self-indulgence, and there’s a keen, if homely, wit running through the hour.

Such humour provides a gentle, comfortable ride that might be a little safe for comedy thrill-seekers, but nevertheless provides plenty of genuine laughs en route, as he makes his stories of modest failures resonate with anyone who’s ever feared the humiliation of being found out. That would be everyone, then.

He’s clearly a canny operator, even if operating firmly in his comfort zone, and hopefully this Melbourne debut plants a flag in the ground for a return visit, when he can turn his perceptive eye on to wider subjects.

Reviewed at the Melbourne Comedy Festival, April 2011

Review date: 9 Jan 2012
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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