Tom Papa, Joke-stealing, Collective Experience, & Coincidence

First & foremost, let me say right off the top: I don’t believe Tom Papa actually stole my joke. Or, at least, I hope not.

But I needed to write about it, get it down on our version of paper, and flesh it out.

I, like any comedy fan, very much looked forward to Tom Papa’s new special. I’d known it was coming after his interview on The Daily Beast’s ‘The Last Laugh’ podcast. Very much enjoyed the interview. Quite insightful.

Anybody who knows me well knows I watch recorded specials for technique. Tom Papa sets up his jokes with the classic say-it-twice technique, slightly more incredulously than the first. I’m going to experiment with that in my own standup.

For the record: I absolutely LOVE this hour of material. It’s densely packed with jokes, and he never loses the crowd. It’s great observational comedy with multiple levels of absurdity.

51:15 is where I start to have my problem. If you watch the special, go ahead, give it a watch, then come on back here.

For 8 years, I travelled all over the country for my day job. I very recently started traveling again. My empathetic nature has always been what I lead with, so crying babies are always something I want to soothe. At some point early in that time, I started looking at babies or small children crying in the airport and riffing to as many people in line that could hear me:

“I can’t even be mad at ‘em. He’s just saying what we’re all thinking.” It’s always good for a chuckle or to defuse tensions while boarding a plane, etc.

That alone isn’t a unique idea I don’t believe. Where Tom Papa’s perfornance catches me off-guard is what he says next.

In the last year of travel, I’d started adding “It’s not their fault. That kid was fat and happy at home, and someone dragged them here. You’d be upset, too.”

Or a variant thereof.

I have a crappy version of the joke on my TikTok, dated 11/29, where I put down a rough cut to work on later: https://www.tiktok.com/t/ZTRqaxJke/

That’s where I get… I don’t know… concerned? Bothered?

I mean, I’ve never done the joke on-stage, but I can tell you, like every dumb Dad joke ever, every time I’m in an airport, I’m looking for (and taking) every chance I have to use it.

But it’s not mine, argues my wife. It’s a common enough idea. Of which I agree, except for the specifics. When I started writing this, I firmly believed one of two things:

  • He heard me tell it in an airplane/airport.
  • Someone else told it after hearing me, and he heard it there.

Then, my wife, as usual, talks some sense into me:

Empathetic people have similar thoughts. In lieu of being able to help the baby, we’re inclined to attempt to deflect collective anger from them with a joke, something every comic everywhere does on the regular.

Tom could have just as likely went through the same thoughts I had: make your noise; you’re a baby and you’re unhappy about this situation. We are too, it’s just societal norms that dictate we’re not allowed to behave the same way unless we have a certain haircut and have just asked for the manager.

Getting there isn’t hard. Getting to the next part of the joke isn’t a big stretch easier. When I was thinking about what the kid would be happiest doing, it’s being in a walker, watching a purple dinosaur or a bunch of Tubbies on the Telly; not this.

In my original joke formation, I thought of Robin Williams as the Genie in ‘Aladdin’: “Did you rub my lamp?! Did you wake me up?! Did you bring me here?! I don’t think so!”

Mr. Papa’s joke is more fleshed out than mine, as is his storytelling style. It’s better, more complete, and it can be: my version is meant to be a quick-hitter in a TSA line; his is for the stage with a captive & engaged audience.

I think it’s fascinating how universal themes can be observed from different standpoints with the same conclusions. I think I’m more dumbfounded and secretly excited to know I’m on the same wavelength as someone I revere from ‘Prairie Home Companion.‘

‘Have you ever heard comedian Tom Papa write quaint, reverent jokes about towns across America and attempt to emulate the class, style, and idiosyncrasies he brings to the the monologue every week?”

“I have.”

To end this, I’ll talk directly to The Big Papa himself if he or any of his representatives read this:

If you got there organically, which I am inclined to believe as I think it out to a conclusion. thanks for being a mothering, compassionate human being, toddlers in Business Class be damned.

If you so happened to have overheard this idea from someone and ‘embraced and extended it,’ thank you for punching it up & making it awesome. I’ll sell it to you for a quarter. $0.25. 1/4th of a dollar bill. A pittance. And I’d agree to never tell a soul, but I’d have that check I’d never cash as my own personal trinket in a burgeoning, hopefully-successful comedy-writing career.

Or, to ask it another way so everyone can save face:

“Hey Tom! Can I have a quarter?”

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