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Baking up laughs: Tom Papa brings his styling to the Bing Crosby Theater

UPDATED: Thu., Oct. 25, 2018

Tom Papa in his 2016 comedy special “Human Mule” (Elizabeth Morris / Elizabeth Morris)
Tom Papa in his 2016 comedy special “Human Mule” (Elizabeth Morris / Elizabeth Morris)

On Friday, comedian, actor and writer Tom Papa will bring his life- and travel-themed comedy hour to the Bing Crosby Theater. Papa writes and performs a comedy segment, “Out In America,” on NPR’s “Live From Here” and recently signed on as the radio program’s head writer.

“Between my radio show, my stand-up and my second book … I write every day,” Papa said.

The material for Papa’s touring comedy hour is always adapting and evolving. This year, he’s focusing on addressing the discomfort and anxiety that he sees social media users suffering.

“There seems to be an overwhelming sense of anxiety that people (are) not doing enough with their lives,” Papa said. “I think it’s really spurred on by social media and kind of keeping up with everybody else on the planet. Everybody is just stressed … my message right now is ‘you’re doing great. I haven’t met you, but I know you’re working your butt off and you’re achieving essentially what you’re supposed to achieve.’ ”

Papa turns to the simpler pleasures for a remedy, spending time with family, friends and his newest hobby, bread. It all started a few years ago during a family dinner conversation about sourdough.

“I had never heard about sourdough starter, the living culture that makes bread and the way that we first discovered yeast thousands of years ago … then for Christmas my daughter got a starter going for me and I just started baking bread off of it,” Papa said. “I got really into it … and I just kept getting better at it. Once you fill your home with the smell of fresh baked bread … that was it. I haven’t stopped.”

Papa’s Food Network show, “Baked,” follows him as he travels the world of bread and other baked goods.

“I’m always in bakeries covered in flour,” Papa said.

The show represents a goal of his, to repopularize “real bread” in the United States. Until recently, he had been baffled as to how after thousands of years of humans eating bread we were suddenly being told we weren’t supposed to eat it.

“You start to realize it’s really just in American culture that we’re being told that,” Papa said. “We’re putting so many other things into what we’re calling bread (and) I think that’s what’s giving people problems. I mean, bread is flour, water, salt and yeast. That’s it.

“I’m happy to report: you can eat bread if it’s real bread.”

Papa’s comedy career aspirations sparked when he started listening to Steve Martin and George Carlin records as a seventh-grader.

“I was funny as a kid, but I had no idea that grownups made a living being funny until I heard those albums,” Papa said. From there “it just kind of naturally happened. It wasn’t just one big decision … everything kind of naturally moved in that direction from that point on.”

After college, he started going to comedy clubs and open mics to perform. The writing, practicing and stage time required to building stand-up career wasn’t easy immediately, but Papa was committed.

“When you start out and you know you have a set that night your whole day is just ruined … like anything in life, you have to be good at something or really prepared to have the confidence to not be thrown by your nerves in anything.” Papa said. “Now having a set at night is like having to brush your teeth at night.”

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