SF Sketchfest Review: The Paul F. Tompkins Show

From Spinning Platters.com

January 16, 2010
By Dakin Hardwick


I have always considered music and comedy to be kindred spirits. Both art forms require a mastery of rhythm and delivery to pull off well, and much of music and comedy seems to be inspired by the same general subjects: relationships, politics, and religion. This may be why some of the funniest people on earth are musicians, and most of the great comedians are also very talented musicians.

SF Sketchfest has been working at blurring those lines for nine years now, but last night’s Paul F Tompkins performance was the one of the best fusions of the two that I have ever experienced.

The show began with a brief opening slot by Canada’s Picnicface. When researching, I had found out that this troupe can be up to seven people, but tonight was just a duo. Not to give away too much of the actual performance, but these two guys really understand timing. They opened up with a silly hip-hop number, which would have been uninteresting if not for the precision with which they handled the jokes. The rest of the set was a pleasant balance of sketches, video, and music. I would gladly see this group again.

I wasn’t entirely sure as to what to expect from the headlining performance. I was only vaguely aware of Paul F Tompkins, but I am a fan of Kids In The Hall, in which Dave Foley cut his comedy teeth, and I have seen every episode of Gilmore Girls at least five times, where Grant Lee Phillips had a recurring character on the program. The advertising called it a variety show, so I was expecting a monologue, followed by a few sketches, and then a musical number. This was kind of what it was like. But not really.

The first proof that this was going to be a bit different was the staging. We had a full rock band set up, with microphones on stage. It turns out, Paul F Tompkins has a back up band! At the very beginning of the show, he had an unnamed man come out to read off a few notes to the crowd, and I was surprised to realize that it was none other than Dave ‘Gruber’ Allen, of Freaks & Geeks fame, and, which was pure excitment to me, Troubadour #2 from Gilmore Girls (first introduced in Season 1, Episode 21).

Allen walked off stage, and the band came out and played a playful rock song. Then, a man with curly hair, mustache, and wearing a tuxedo popped out and sang a really wonderful and funny song about Paul F Tompkins. I’m pretty sure that I was the only one on the room that didn’t realize that the namesake was singing the his own theme song, in full possesed by Andy Kaufman mode. His voice isn’t magnificent by any measures, but he still can sing.

After the expected monologue, punctuated by a very enthusiastic band that enjoyed the jokes so much that they broke Tompkins concentration multiple times and a really great bit about Highlights For Children that cannot be described, Grant Lee Phillips came out to sing a few songs. He opened with his recent single, “It Ain’t The Same Old Cold War Harry,” off his late fall release Little Moon. He then talked for a long time about what what he’s been up to for the last fifteen years or so, which could have been boring if not for the fact that he was really funny. He spoke very happily about his time on Gilmore Girls, and then he brought back out his arch nemesis from the program, Allen, to sing their reconciliation song as performed on the program, “Everybody Needs A Little Sanctuary,” with Allen reprising his part from the episode.

Phillips walked off stage, and Tompkins came back on to do a sketch with Dave Foley and Illeana Douglas. Douglas looked positively stunning, although Dave Foley hasn’t aged quite as well. They both were very funny. The sketch itself was a challenging piece concerning director’s commentary, and all three performers on stage behaved as the true professionals that they are. Even an improvised bit that was slipped in concerning Werther’s Originals worked liked clockwork.

Sadly, the sketch was the last we would see of Foley & Douglas tonight. Happily, Phillips returned to the stage to sing some duets with Tompkins. The did some near perfect readings of The Hollies’ “The Air That I Breathe” and Radiohead’s “Creep.” Tompkins apologized for cursing during the “What the hell am I doing here?” part, while only Phillips muttered the f-word. It was a very strange moment.

The show closed with Tompkins singing a proficient version of “Danny Boy,” accompanied only by the pianist. It was, by all accounts, an excellent way to spend an evening, and one could only hope that Mr. Tompkins would bring the show on the road. Note that The Paul F Tompkins Show does perform monthly at The Largo in Los Angeles. (Considering a road trip.)

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