‘I have to try really hard tonight,’ says Paul F Tompkins, three nights in to his two-week run at the Soho Theatre; his London debut. ‘You people have paid more money than the previous two nights.’ Whether he’s putting any extra oomph into his show this evening, though, it’s difficult to tell. Not because he seems lazy, but because this Los Angeles-based comic makes intelligent, classy storytelling stand-up look effortlessly easy.
Dapperly dressed in a three-piece suit, the suave US comedy veteran (he’s been on the circuit since 1986) explains that ‘Crying and Driving’ is a collection of stories centred on his marriage and relationship with his wife. But rather than hack routines about a disappearing sex life, Tompkins takes a refreshingly upbeat angle, focusing on the joys of being in a long-term relationship, from constantly scaring one another as you learn to adjust to living together, to still discovering your partner’s weird quirks, despite being years into marriage.
He’s a gentleman comedian, eloquent and polite, using no expletives (you’re more likely to hear a ‘boy oh boy’ than a ‘fuck yeah’). But the Philadelphia-born stand-up still isn’t afraid to throw in a few brilliantly dark thoughts about dead babies or frozen amputated limbs, and his anecdotes never slip into mushy territory.
A lengthy story about obtaining a driver’s licence at the age of 41 has plenty of laughs, but doesn’t quite resonate so well with the London audience. We all know LA-dwellers use their cars to get everywhere, but with so many non-drivers in London it’s difficult to empathise with the ‘shame’ Tompkins felt at his lack of motoring skills.
But that’s only a minor hiccup in this sophisticated hour of skillfully crafted tales. Tompkins is an elegant, blissfully funny raconteur for the ‘Mad Men’ generation. Ben Williams