How Paul F. Tompkins turned a near-disaster into a new business model for comedy.

December 15, 2009

Last March, comedian Paul F. Tompkins performed and recorded a sold out show at the Lakeshore Theater in Chicago. Nine months later, he released this show for posterity(and money!) in the form of his second album, Freak Wharf. The album starts with a stream of consciousness opening to the show, a comic method that Tompkins has been experimenting with recently. As Tompkins has found himself dabbling with his form, he found himself trying out new venues to accommodate his comic format. As he booked a show in Atlanta, this summer, Tompkins found himself trying to fill a small but empty venue as he began a series of smaller, more intimate shows. Anxious to try out his new routine (and perhaps a little bit desperate) Tompkins and his loyal fans stumbled upon a new way to use social media to book comedy shows. I spoke to Tompkins on the phone about his new album and the Tompkins 300... Freak Wharf cover Tompkins talked about his new album, and some of what sets it apart from his first, Impersonal.

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When Freak Wharf was recorded, Tompkins was in the middle of trying something new with his stand up. He had begun working in improvised comedy into his routines. No, not the tried and true formula of long form improv that Chicagoans are so familiar with. It's a stream of consciousness opening that he wasn't sure would work.

These extemperaneous openings aren't always what people look for in comedy, however.

This past summer, Tompkins was scheduled to perform at a small venue in Atlanta. A Comedy Central special was also scheduled to be recorded there. These kinds of TV specials are usually performed in very large theaters, and he was looking forward to performing the special with his new, especially personal material in the more intimate setting. But then something went wrong when he arrived in the city, forcing Tompkins to improvise a little social media ingenuity.

The fan who requested a Toronto show, was Bob Kerr. Kerr was not daunted by Tompkins' request, and promptly made a Facebook group. Within a few weeks, the membership of the group grew to 300. The Facebook group wasn't meant for people who simply knew who Tompkins was, or was a minor fan of his. It was specifically for people who were planning on, no, committing to seeing a show by joining the Facebook group. What might have begun as a sarcastic back and forth between Kerr and Tompkins became the new standard. Or, at least Tompkins hopes.

Tompkins has enlisted the help of Dan Telfer, the local comic who organized the Chicago "chapter" of the Tompkins 300, to find the right venue in Chicago. Because the usual ones might not cut it.

Tompkins is still looking for the perfect venue, and has not yet set a date for his next Chicago show.

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