Comedian Tom Papa is truly the breadwinner in his family. He has turned his hobby of baking bread into another facet of his career—in addition to being a newly minted novelist (Your Dad Stole My Rake: And Other Family Dilemmas), star of the radio show Live From Here, he has added cooking show star to his résumé. His new show, Baked, on the Food Network, chronicles his adventures around the country as America’s funniest bread connoisseur. Papa has a special knack for sourdough bread and how it teaches audiences life lessons. As he says, “You have to be patient, and you have to be willing to fail. You are going to make mistakes, everybody does, so you have to cut yourself some slack, don’t get discouraged.”
Did you choose to do stand-up, or did stand-up choose you?
You know that is kind of how I feel. People always ask me the other way, how did you decide it? Once you’re funny and start to realize that there is a possibility, you never sit down and make the decision to do it, I just got it in my head and knew I was going to do it. Once I realized that I’m not just funny, I know how to be funny, things changed a little. It wasn’t like the big declaration, “I’m going to leave this and go do this,” it was just that I’m funny, and I see other grown-ups are making a living doing this, why wouldn’t I do that? It’s like having a little superpower and all of a sudden you realize, “Oh, I can actually use this,” this isn’t something that just happens by accident.
How has your stand-up routine changed over the years?
I came from a large Italian family with over 20 cousins, and now I’ve made a family of my own. Family has always been a basis of my work. As far as the act itself, hopefully it becomes a little more thoughtful, you have a lot more experiences to draw from, you have a lot more skill in how you can write it and relate it to people. Hopefully, it matures. When you start out you don’t have that much to pull from, you’re funny but your life is small. You’re living in an apartment with your friends, you aren’t doing too much but living your experiences, you just haven’t lived that much. But as you live longer and have more experiences, hopefully, you’re getting better at what you’re doing, and then naturally your act should be a more mature, better, funnier thing.
What’s one thing about sourdough bread that people should know?
It’s the way bread has been made for thousands of years. We’re living in this generation that we think bread is bad for you and we are scared of it. If you eat bread the way it has been made since ancient Egypt, and you do it the right way with flour, water, salt and yeast, you will be healthier for it. I never understood that. If people have been eating it for thousands of years like this, why are we the generation to stop?
Do you have hidden talents or skills that you discovered while on tour?
As the years go on I’ve discovered that I’m a better writer than I knew. I was able to write a book, I was able to take over the writing from Live From Here, I’m always writing stuff for television and my standup, and not only that I had the aptitude for it, but that I really enjoy it. I think, after all this time, to see myself primarily as a comedian and a writer, that’s a bit of a surprise. I could have ended up being more of an actor or something else, the writing is something that I enjoy, it’s something that progresses and takes me further along.
At the end of the day, Papa just wants his audience to walk out better than they walked in. “It’s going to be an escape from everything else; you are dealing with in your life and I guarantee you are going to feel better after the show,” he promises.