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TELEVISION Comedian Papa takes cancellation in stride



Published: Tue, February 22, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Tom Papa stays busy working on his next comedy.

By LISA FERGUSON

SCRIPPS HOWARD

Tom Papa isn't about to let Hollywood break his spirit.

Lesser comedians would likely still be grousing had they endured what he did last summer, when the plug was abruptly pulled on his NBC sitcom, "Come to Papa," just weeks after the series debuted.

Instead of pointing fingers or bad-mouthing network execs for the show's demise, Papa has picked himself up and is planning to climb back on the proverbial horse.

The New Jersey native, who lives in New York and Los Angeles with his wife and toddler daughter (the couple are expecting another child in May), says for now he plans to remain on the West Coast, where he's already crafting ideas for his next television project.

"It was a real positive experience. It was a lot of fun, and that's why I'm staying in L.A., because we're trying to make the next one," Papa said.

Loosely autobiographical

Besides starring in "Come to Papa," the comedian also co-created, wrote and produced the show, which was loosely based on his real life and stand-up material. It followed his aspiring-comedy-writer character who worked as a newspaper reporter and interacted with his family.

Still, its cancellation hardly marked the end of his world.

"Listen, my show was on for four weeks in the summer. It wasn't like it came out in the fall and had all these big expectations and then it failed. It was kind of this quiet, more personal thing," Papa, 37, says. "It definitely stung ... but the advantage of being a comedian rather than an actor is that you have such a thick skin from performing and bombing."

Stand-up comics, he contends, are "very resilient, otherwise they couldn't be comedians. So then, when you're dealt with the rejection of a TV show it's like, 'All right, that's OK.' You take the hit, you shake it off and you're back performing [comedy]."

Seinfeld 'very helpful'

Papa got his start in standup 11 years ago when, fresh out of college, he hit New York's open-mike scene. He went on to write bits that his buddy Colin Quinn used while hosting "Weekend Update" on "Saturday Night Live." In 2001, Papa starred in his own stand-up special on Comedy Central.

In recent years, he has toured as the opening act for another pal, Jerry Seinfeld.

Seinfeld "was very helpful" during "Come to Papa's" short run, Papa says. "Really, if they hadn't gone through that change at NBC, we probably would have been able to follow his advice of just making things very funny and letting the rest take care of itself."

Papa, who had a role in the 2002 comedy "Analyze That," prides himself on his ability to work clean, with jokes about married life and fatherhood among the everyday topics that compose the bulk of his act.

"It's easy to be dirty, and it's very titillating and you can get some cheap, easy laughs that way," he says. "But I always felt from watching comedians, the guys who really made me laugh took the harder road.

'I wanna play for everybody'

"If you're able to make people laugh from that material, and you're not depending on cheap energy, or you're not depending on saying [expletive deleted] every other word and you're getting laughs, then you're creating a comedy that's a lot more potent. It's a lot stronger and it can play everywhere."

Though, he says, he has comedian friends who favor foul language in their acts, "For me, it's not who I am, and I wanna play for everybody. I never wanna walk into a room and have to ask, 'How long do you want me to [perform] and how clean do I have to be?' Those are two obstacles I'm not interested in."

Especially since he takes to the road for gigs "pretty often" (at least a couple of weekends each month), and makes the rounds regularly at comedy clubs in Los Angeles and New York.

"The only reason I want to do a television show is so more people will come see my live shows," he insists.

While sitcoms may come and go, "You can never take away my stand-up -- it's impossible, no matter what you do," Papa contends. "I can write my jokes, I can go onstage and I can blow a room away, and they can't take that away ever."




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