Theatre review: Paul F Tompkins: Crying and Driving, Soho Theatre, London



“Please welcome, the comedian, Paul F. Tompkins”. The precise way in which the American veteran introduces himself to us tonight is not merely playful intonation, it's indicative of the poise and clarity that will characterise the hour to come.

Celebrated, in particular, for his live work and his podcasting in the US, the 44-year-old is known over here mainly for a number of screen appearances, including the film Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy and TV series The Sarah Silverman Program. This sparkling and sophisticated UK debut allows us to see the full package.

Dressed super-smartly in a three-piece suit (complete with a pocket watch on a chain), tie, and striped shirt, there's an anachronistic LA lounge feel to Tompkins, and also something about him of Rupert Pupkin, Robert De Niro's fame-crazed character in The King of Comedy.

Unlike Pupkin, the neurosis here is controlled and the desperation Tompkins feels requires no hostages. We're willing captives as he takes us on the near-chronological journey of Crying and Driving, from a seemingly hopeless young man working in a bar (“I don't know how to do life!”) to surprising himself by getting married and reaching other milestones, such as finally shaking off the shame of being a non-driver in LA, along the way.

“I'm going to talk about my emotions, is that going to be a problem?” But, while there is material on therapy (“it's not all about blaming your parents - but you do get your money's worth”), this is no self-indulgent session in the couch. Rather it's all of us who are relieved when he points out that the hardest part of being in a couple is constant proximity to one another (“you're here all the time!”), and that the constant demands of children to “look at this” is really dull, whether they are your kids or someone else's.

Occasionally chuckling during his delivery, Tompkins can also be "serious", weighting his emphasis as if he has swung from observational comedian to narrator, possessing the kind of crispness that befits a man once dubbed as a “post-modern vaudeville performer”.

Theatrical occasionally, but constantly astute, Tompkins debut is amusing and engaging throughout. He might resolve that a blank state is the optimum human mood, but he's not short on artful detail when it comes to the insecurities that fill our heads.

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