Paul F. Tompkins used to do bits. He was very good at it. They were fun and inventive and he would improvise a bit during the set and, with his sharp mind, it would be a delight. Tompkins doesn’t do bits, anymore. He has fully merged into being a storyteller comedian. It has been taken to another level with his latest special, Crying and Driving. There’s no microphone in his hand. The stage is almost entirely sparse. It’s just Tompkins and his fancy suit and his dapper mustache and a few stories about his life as a middle-aged man.
They aren’t even particularly eventful stories from a notably exciting life. He got married, and he learned to drive. Not exactly the stuff they make epic movies out of. Good thing Tompkins is one of the funniest people working today, because he can make it all work for him. Oh, also he has a crazy story about a doctor and an amputated child’s foot, which is, admittedly, not run-of-the-mill fare.
Tompkins is able to pepper his running monologue with funny turns of phrase, which he is a master of, and amusing line deliveries. His physicality, while subtle, adds to many jokes. Tompkins is not in need of zany material to propel his stand-up special. All he needed, apparently, was a few notable life events to set the groundwork for his aptitude with the spoken word. It wouldn’t be completely apt to say he is a better comedian than he was in the days of Freak Wharf. That was a wonderful comedy album. He’s just different. He followed in the footsteps of many a stand-up comedian who, as they got older, decided telling “jokes” was less interested than telling funny stories. He’s made the transition fairly smoothly.
The stories in Crying and Driving don’t provide quite as much fodder for his anecdotes as the ones from his last special, Laboring Under Delusions, did. After all, that special had stuff about Daniel Day-Lewis and “Weird Al” Yankovic. How can the Magic Castle even come close to matching that? That’s not to knock this special. It’s a good special. It’s funny, sometimes very funny, and Tompkins doesn’t devolve into navel gazing even though he talking about his personal life, and briefly talks about his therapy.
It feels like the best way to describe Crying and Driving is charming. That’s not surprising, as noted podcast gadabout Tompkins is charming most everywhere he goes. He’s also great with characters and improvisation and general silliness. Frankly, it’s his strong suit, but he does not indulge in any of that here, although some of the voices he uses for people will remind you of his characters, which makes you just wish, for a moment, somebody would hear a crime go.
However, that’s not what Tompkins is going for here, and that’s fine, because what he does is plenty enjoyable. If you care about people you will get more out of this, from his stories of his wife and learning to drive and et cetera, and find it particularly strong. For people looking for jokes, though, it’s a little less meaty, but Tompkins is still one of the better stand-up comedians working today. Any quibbling is minor, and an appearance from Andrew Lloyd Webber is just a podcast away.