Bob Kerr in front of the Rivoli.
“Guys, we did it. He’s actually here!” Toronto comedian Bob Kerr exclaimed in front of a sold-out, standing room–only crowd while he hosted the first of two shows at the Rivoli starring Paul F. Tompkins. Tompkins, if you didn’t know already, is an enviably talented Los Angeles–based comic with a resume that includes decades of stand-up, TV (Mr. Show, Best Week Ever), and movies (There Will Be Blood, The Informant!), but before last month, he had never set foot in Hogtown. So, what brought him here? Twitter, Facebook, and Bob Kerr. Together, Kerr and Tompkins took advantage of all that is good in social media and started a trend that shows no signs of abating.
Laugh Sabbath presents Paul F. Tompkins at the Rivoli (October 25, 2009). Photo by Kaori Furue/Torontoist.
Back in August, Tompkins was in Atlanta, anxiously trying to publicize his weekend of gigs at the Laughing Skull Lounge (he was taping footage for his upcoming DVD, You Should Have Told Me). Despite his sizable following, he was having trouble filling the seventy-four-seat venue. He took to Twitter to get the word out, which fell on the ears and iPhone of Bob Kerr. According to Tompkins, Kerr did “his least favourite thing,” which was to send a tweet suggesting he come to another city (Toronto) while he was mired in promoting a pending show elsewhere. “So,” said Tompkins while being interviewed between shows for the TVA Podcast, “I replied, half-kiddingly, but also half-angrily: get three hundred people to say they’ll come see me, and then I’ll come to Toronto.” Within minutes, Kerr created a Facebook group called “I Wanna See Paul F. Tompkins in Toronto!” and in just one week, it boasted over three hundred earnest members.
True to his word, Tompkins started making plans for a Toronto show. He consulted his friend Martin Gero—Hollywood writer/producer and former Ryerson student—to select the perfect venue. Gero recommended the Rivoli for its historical significance (i.e. the birthplace of The Kids in the Hall). When it came to recruiting a middle act, some of Laugh Sabbath’s regular performers (Laugh Sabbath is the Riv’s weekly Sunday night comedy show) submitted their demos to Tompkins, and he chose quirky and hilarious Katie Crown. And to host, who better than the man who made it all happen?
iPhone souvenir from show night: Comedians Katie Crown, Paul F. Tompkins, and Bob Kerr at the Rivoli. Photo by Michelle Joseph.
Torontoist was lucky enough to attend the packed early show and chat with Kerr before the man of the hour arrived. After waiting almost three months, he was anxious to get these shows started and to finally meet his favourite comedian. “There’s nothing like performing in front of one of your all-time heroes to make you doubt everything you’ve ever written,” he told us while looking over his set list.
Tompkins arrived in a grey three-piece suit complete with matching tie and handkerchief, and thereby became undoubtedly the most dressed-up performer to ever enter the backroom at the Riv. After spending so much time listening to Tompkins on podcasts and reading his copious daily tweets, Kerr said it was like they had met before. “It was weird because I felt like I would never see him,” he told us. “Even when I knew he was coming to Toronto. It’s almost like he doesn’t actually exist. I’ve only known him from all these other mediums, mainly audio or reading. But when I saw him, it was like, ‘Paul, hi!’ He looked exactly like I thought he would look…it just felt like I knew him already. I actually relaxed when I saw him. Suddenly, I just wasn’t afraid of him…of being in the same room.”
Most don’t have the courage to engage their idols directly and invite them to their towns. Despite everything he did, Kerr maintains he’s no exception. “It’s not like me,” he insisted, “but, I think the fact that I wanted it to happen so bad overtook my own personal hesitations. I wanted to see him face-to-face…shake his hand and talk to him.”
Tompkins’s Impersonal CD, autographed to Kerr: “Dear Bob: Thank you so much for making this happen. You should seriously consider starting a cult. Gratefully, Paul.”
Needless to say, the shows were fantastic and very well-received because the room was full of true fans—people who cared enough to lobby to get him to Toronto. In between shows, Tompkins said on the TVA Podcast, “As soon as I walked out on that stage, I felt like I had been there before. There was something really magical about it…it was great. I would say this is one of my all-time favourite nights of my career.”
But the story didn’t end there. Within a few weeks of his return home to LA, dozens of new Facebook groups popped up asking for the very same thing. At last count, there were thirty-two additional groups, the most enthusiastic being Halifax who raised their three hundred in just three days (PFT is currently scouting venues for this show). The most far-flung of the lot is a group from Malmö, Sweden, called “Paul F. Tompkins till Malmö!”
In the midst of all this, Tompkins hasn’t missed a beat—he is embracing this new way of booking (he wrote a how-to blog post and created the #tompkins300 hashtag on Twitter to keep up with everyone’s efforts). With thirty-two cities on the list and growing, this could turn into an international tour.
And how does Kerr feel about starting this trend with Tompkins? “I feel spectacular,” he told us. “It’s something that me and Paul did together, which makes me feel amazing because Paul’s a hero of mine. And now that it’s picking up and it’s a possible career vehicle for him to travel around and know that people are actually excited in these different cities. How great is that for Paul, or for any comic?”
If you missed Paul F. Tompkins when he was here, many nearby cities are campaigning for shows (e.g. Detroit, Montreal, Boston, Chicago). Consult the #tompkins300 hashtag on Twitter or search for “Paul F. Tompkins” in Facebook. If you would like to see Bob Kerr, the man who lit this fire, he is middling for another LA comedian, Todd Barry, at the Comedy Bar this Saturday, November 21 at 8 p.m.
All photos by Ayngelina Brogan/Torontoist unless otherwise specified.