The Pod F. Tompkast is one of the stranger things I've heard "on the air," so to speak, with the show being introduced as full of "comedy-type ramblings and bitlets." The podcast features comedian Paul F. Tompkins narrating in a stream-of-consciousness way and composer/musician Eban Schletter providing musical accompaniment to these ramblings. In addition to this odd introduction (which, trust me, could get really odd sometimes as Tompkins would go down the proverbial rabbit hole with his thoughts ending up in unlikely places), the show offers a handful of other segments. These consist of:
- "A Phone Call with Jen Kirkman." During this part of the show, Tompkins literally calls his friend and fellow comedian Jen Kirkman and the two talk about random things, often Kirkman's phobias or other humorous real-life ancedotes she might have to share. Despite the concept sounding rather blasé, Kirkman's funny-because-they're-true/sad-because-they're-true stories make this segment very engaging.
- 'Trapped in the Internet' interviews. [This segment doesn't have an actual name as far as I know of, and this is the best descriptive name I could think up.] Presumably due to scheduling conflicts, the phone calls with Jen Kirkman stopped at some point; the comedic conceit is that Kirkman got "trapped in the Internet" and neither she nor Tompkins know how to get her out. As a result, Kirkman (or sometimes the "sleepy voice of the Internet," one of the side characters on the show) sends another person to help with the situation. Of course, this person also never knows how to get Kirkman out but instead ends up sitting down for another strange conversation with Tompkins. Guests on this segment have included Paget Brewster, Justin Kirk, and Dave (Gruber) Allen, amongst others. This segment seems to be more interesting if you know of the guest/have an interest in said guest; however, most of the guests are pretty funny and/or Tompkins will come up with some silly/strange scenario to make this part as compelling as the rest.
- "The Great Undiscovered Project." This was an ongoing story that Tompkins wrote and for which he did all the impressions. The absurd story involved a plan for a movie written/produced by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Ice-T to be directed by Garry Marshall. The movie would star Ice-T as well as John Lithgow, John C. Reilly, and the artist Mr. Brainwash. Cake Boss also played an essential role in this bit as he brought together several of the creative types and had the gift of seeing the future. Other notable Hollywood types made an occasional appearance over the course of this story. The vast majority of "The Great Undiscovered Project" was revealed through recordings of phone conversations held between various pairings of the main characters. This segment was a tad too ridiculous at times, but I always enjoyed being stunned by how well Tompkins did the many different impersonations as well as the silly factoids he invented for these real-life people (i.e., John C. Reilly's addiction to the cake decorations known as dragees or John Lithgow's favorite actor being the presidential assassin John Wilkes Booth).
- "The Paul F. Tompkins Show." At this point, Tompkins features a clip from his live comedy show. These are often short sketches including a guest star such as Matt Gourley or Jon Hamm; some of these sketches are far more out there than others, but most will have you at least chuckling a little. One of my favorite parts from here is when Tompkins does "Advice to the Probably Dead," a bit in which he goes through letters written in to "Dear Abby" columnists (and the like) from the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. Because some of the questions (submitted most often by women in eras different from our own in many respects) are so flat-out ridiculous, Tompkins can reply with helpful advice while still being hysterically funny. Another great bit is Tompkins's "Google Voice Transcripts." Tompkins would send well-known speeches from political history or classic cinema to his Google voicemail and then read aloud what the auto-detect translator would spit out as a transcript. The resulting gibberish is absolutely ridiculous and therefore very amusing.
- "Paul F. Tompkins Comes to Your Town." Basically at this point, there's just a listing given of Tompkins' travel schedule for comedy shows, but this is usually done in some big theatrical way with a different theme for that particular podcast. Any other plugs for Tompkins' and/or Schletter's work appear here.
One thing that I very much appreciate about Tompkins's humor is that he shows how it's possible to be incredibly funny without being crass in terms of foul language or wise-cracks that make people - either specific persons (i.e., the ever popular "my wife" jokes) or a whole class of people (i.e., an ethnic group, a misunderstood subculture, etc.) - the butt of the joke. But what do you expect from the man known as "Comedy's One True Gentleman?" Tompkins's brand of comedy can also lend itself toward the "nerd humor" of comedians like Demetri Martin. (Actually, I'm surprised that more people don't make a connection between Martin and Tompkins given that they both show a proclivity toward stream-of-consciousness comedy). This kind of humor might not be for everyone but if you're tired of comedians who get too many of their kicks from potty humor (literally and metaphorically) and want something slightly more highbrow, Paul F. Tompkins in general and this podcast in particular are a good route to go. Tompkins is also obsessed with grammar and will often stop to correct his own speech if he thinks it is not polished enough the first time around. Hearing comedians laugh at themselves is one of the things I often find the funniest in any comedy show, and so Tompkins laughing at his own inability to get a random thought out in the correct grammatical order will make me laugh as well.
The stream-of-consciousness humor with no apparent purpose/endgame in sight takes a little bit of getting used to (if I recall correctly, Tompkins himself refers to the humor on this podcast as an acquired taste); at first, I wasn't sure if I would stick with this podcast past a trial episode or two. By the time I got through all the available episodes, I was absolutely hooked and found myself missing the podcast in the months I've had without any new episodes. Sadly, despite reassurances in the last episode that Tompkins was hard at work preparing future episodes, there hasn't been an update since nearly a year ago. I'm not sure that we'll see more of The Pod F. Tompkast in the future, which is a sad end for a podcast once rated as the top comedy podcast out there by Rolling Stone.