Paul F. Tompkins
Laboring Under Delusions:
Live in Brooklyn

ASpecialThing Records

By John Wenzel

Fans of urbane podcaster and Mr. Show veteran Paul F. Tompkins have likely watched his recent Comedy Central special, Laboring Under Delusions, which shares much of its material with this audio-only version.

paul f. tompkins

But Live in Brooklyn also contains 19 more minutes than even the “uncensored” Comedy Central DVD, and since Tompkins is both a gifted storyteller and jaunty improviser, Live in Brooklyn is worth the price of admission—at least if you’re dying to hear such elaborately-titled “riff suites” as “Vaudeville Moths – The Great Chandelier Debate – The Organs of the House Skeleton,” which opens the album.

Recorded at Brooklyn’s Bell House, it’s looser than the TV special, which took its name from Tompkins’s stories about odd jobs and general professional embarrassment. Those stories remain in roughly the same order, but their delayed intro blunts the thematic unity when compared to the special. Tompkins’s improv is charming and witty, as usual, but the edited-down version was more presentable to general audiences for a reason.

We get to hear about Tompkins’s fear of “being yelled at”—which quickly becomes a handy callback, given the subject matter—and his hatred of school, but with more embellishments. From the bad (opening for a band at L.A.’s Whiskey A Go Go) to the absurd (working at a Betamax-only video store…in 1990) to the self-conscious name-dropping (working on a handful of films and TV shows), it’s a fun and familiar ride. And hardcore Tompkins devotees will note the tiny, on-the-fly changes to certain bits, like the number of imagined bedrooms in director Paul Thomas Anderson’s house, where Tompkins arrives for what is ultimately a disastrous reading for a small part in Magnolia.

Also unique to this release are stories of Tompkins’s adventures with Steven Soderbergh, so if you enjoyed his takes on Tom Cruise and Daniel Day-Lewis, you’ll dig his interactions with Matt Damon and Tom Arnold. He also goes deeper with his Best Week Ever stories, although there’s (sadly) no Shatner-esque rendition of “Danny Boy,” as there was on the DVD’s extras.

Patrick Bromley’s Spit Take review of the original Comedy Central special noted that while the material here falls in the middle of his range of brilliance, he’s still never been better as a performer. That’s true, and with the extra 19 minutes of material on Brooklyn there’s an almost aching need to see Tompkins’s facial expressions and indignant gesticulations, since they help sell the jokes so beautifully. But being audio-only, Brooklyn also feels more intimate, and one of Tompkins’s greatest strengths is his ability to articulate the things we only ever think about but never say. In that sense he feels a bit like a Jiminy Cricket, complete with the tailored suit and silk handkerchief.

Even if you’ve experienced some of this before, this is the definitive version of Tompkins’s recent work, the mother lode of material. And as Tompkins might say, “Mine it, you must.”

Laboring Under Delusions (Live in Brooklyn) - Paul F. Tompkins or Purchase on Amazon.com

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