Cable aficionados of VH1's Best Week Ever and HBO's Mr. Show already know who he is, but I was completely unfamiliar with Paul F. Tompkins before catching him in two comedy shows where he split the bill with better-known performers. My first thought was, Why the white suit--is that a reference back to Steve Martin in the '70s? Following Gabe & Jenny, he launched into a wordless pantomime trying to figure out which of their two mics and two stools to use. (Eventually he decided on standing on both stools and speaking into both mics, which must've been hard on his back. Eventually he climbed down.) Whether consciously trying or not to contrast himself with the rest of the alt-comedy crowd, he presents himself as an adult, wearing his mustache as a non-ironic emblem of married masculinity. If you're looking for a reprieve from all the fart jokes at Intiman, Thompkins is your guy...
Maybe it's the format at Bumbershoot, with three or four comics usually sharing an hour-long slot, but everyone feels rushed and out of rhythm. One set of jokes lurches to the next without much pause or sense of narrative. Some comics I've noticed riffling through their notes or iPhone onstage, searching for the next laugh. Tompkins wisely goes the other direction, first selling a persona as a bemused and somewhat puckish older fella whom you might meet in a Key West bar. He'll keep talking, keep telling stories, so long as you keep buying the drinks.
One those extended stories involves a visit to L.A.'s Magic Castle, a tacky hotel/restaurant supposedly catering to professional magicians--actually an overpriced tourist trap where Tompkins is delighted to play the sucker (at least in his telling). Another relates how a doctor living in the South Carolina beach town of Tompkins' wife came to put an amputated child's foot in a crab trap.
Whether those stories are true is entirely beyond the point. It's all in the telling, the badgering you to believe. Playing the part of the old timey raconteur, Tompkins borrows from his comedy forbears without making it seem like winking appropriation.
Paul F. Tompkins next appears at 6 p.m. Monday at Intiman Theatre, with Jen Kirkman and Kumail Nanjiani.