By Sharon Kennedy WynnE
Hand-selected by Jerry Seinfeld to serve as his opening act, Seinfeld and Tom Papa toured the country together for more than eight years. Then Seinfeld picked him again to serve as a quick-witted host for his new TV show The Marriage Ref. (The comedy reality series returns June 26 on NBC.)
The comic with a keen eye for absurdity performs his standup act Friday at the Club at Treasure Island.
He mines his own home life for comedy, likening his pregnant wife to a "horny snowman," and reassuring his recession-scarred audience, "Booze and comedy — that's what got us through the last Depression."
We caught up with Papa by phone in New York, where he had just finished wrapping the second season of The Marriage Ref and was resuming his standup tour. He has also had some high-profile acting gigs, such as co-starring with Matt Damon in The Informant, directed by Oscar winner Steven Soderbergh, and a recurring role in the TV series The New Adventures of Old Christine.
You toured for years with Jerry Seinfeld. Is that a little like a married couple?
In a lot of ways it's more like brothers. We've done these shows for so long, we'll take these weekends that for other guys would be like a golf weekend. We do a comedy weekend. He's a great mentor, and I'm always learning a lot from him.
The Marriage Ref got a real love-it or hate-it kind of reception last year.
We never wanted to get people on the verge of divorce or anything. It's a celebration of marriage. They are in love and they want to stay married, but there's this one thing the person does that drives them crazy.
In my act and in all my comedy it's not vicious. I do like the absurd, but also I like the small too. Like there was one guy this year who lived in North Dakota who gave the worst gifts to his wife. Like a weed wacker or a wagon she could pull her chickens in. And I'm thinking, have you tried jewelry? And he's like, "No, let's get her a welding helmet."
Are you changing anything on the show?
At the end of each episode, the studio audience will vote to make one of the winners "The Rightest of the Right," and that person gets $25,000 and their own billboard in their hometown telling the world they were right.
The ultimate "I told you so."
I know! Nobody cared about the money; they were so excited to get that billboard.
What celebrities do you have on the panel this year? You set the bar pretty high last year with Madonna.
That was definitely off the charts getting Madonna. But we do have a good mix, from the music world Mary J. Blige, and Will.i.am from the Black Eyed Peas. Ricky Gervais and Julianne Moore, Bill Maher, Tracy Morgan, Ellen Pompeo (of Grey's Anatomy).
Bill Maher hates marriage. Why would he weigh in?
That's what was so funny. Bill Maher wanted to figure it out more than most people. . . . But he's still not getting married any time soon.