Tom Segura: Disgruntled Ghost Story Teller

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Tom Segura: Disgruntled Ghost Story Teller

From the look of disdain he wears on his face, Tom Segura might seem like another comic prone to rely on the lewd, crude and rude to get laughs. But just let him open his mouth and that impression quickly changes. It’s not that Segura’s stand-up doesn’t venture into crude territory—it most certainly does—but his simmering wit and acerbic storytelling reveal a more purposeful and hilarious comedic approach than someone concentrating exclusively on being crass for crassness’s sake.

Married to comedian Christina Pazsitzky, with whom he also co-hosts the popular podcast Your Mom’s House, the Segura we see in the new Netflix special Mostly Stories (which debuts on January 8) has undergone rather significant changes since 2014’s Tom Segura: Completely Normal. He and his wife recently had a son. If becoming a father might seem like it would soften Segura, think again. Sure, he may be responsible for a life, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to throw away the unflinching attitude that sees the funny in many topics, even taboo ones.

The Los Angeles-based comic functions at his best when telling stories, elaborating on experiences he’s had or situations he’s encountered that truly do raise eyebrows. Life’s more mundane moments, like getting a cup of coffee, become wild anecdotes in Segura’s hands. Mind you, they’re not wild for their energy—Segura’s delivery preferences the staid over the strident—but for the sober “Can you believe this shit?” attitude with which he tells each one. Peppering his recollections with impressions, weighty pauses and all manner of facial expressions, Segura underscores human behavior, including his own, in all its absurdity. He a comic keenly attuned to catching those questionable quirks that provoke most of us to simply roll our eyes.

Segura’s newest Netflix special Tom Segura: Mostly Stories debuts on Friday, January 8. He spoke with Paste about fighting for an ‘anything goes’ attitude in comedy, being a father and that one time he received more hate mail than he ever imagined for a bike riding joke.

Paste: Many comics today come under fire for taboo material. You seem interested in pushing for that comedic freedom, like when you talked about the conjoined twins as monsters in Completely Normal. Why is it important to maintain comedy as a space where any subject goes?

Tom Segura: I’ve always just maintained the idea that it’s kind of fun in stand-up to be able to say anything that comes across your mind, as long as you can get a laugh out of it, if you can find a funny point within it. There’s also this whole thing of taking what people say on stage so literally and out of the context of a performance. I would never say something like that at a dinner with people in a regular conversation. To me, on stage it’s a heightened reality, so I’m making this exaggeration that I think most people understand, and that’s what they’re laughing at. They understand the point that I’m making is that I don’t want to see something crazy or unusual or a deformity when I’m watching television. To do stand-up, you have to dress up the language a little.

Paste: Absolutely. You’re allowed to say things that most of us can’t in our daily lives for obvious reasons.

Segura: Yeah, I’ve always thought that, for me, the biggest thrill in doing stand-up was always getting away with something. That’s kind of the rush. The thrill is that you said something really offensive to somebody, but you still hooked them somewhere in your explanation of it. Or somewhere in your joke they still sign off or they laugh, maybe even against their own will or better judgment, and they go, “I can’t believe I laughed at what you said.” That’s the biggest thrill.

Paste: What an idea that laughter becomes something of a sign-off. How interesting.

Segura: I’ve done all types of jokes and topics where people go, “That was insensitive to this group”’ or “I can’t believe you said that, that was racial or sexist.” Any number of characterizations of it. But then they go, “It was so funny,” or “I so saw the point you were making I couldn’t help but laugh.” And you go, “Well, that’s kind of the fun of doing stand-up.”

Paste: True, and if you were to start editing down jokes for any kind of racial, sexual or political content, what are you left with? Very little.

Segura: It would be over. I remember years ago, when my first half hour special was on Comedy Central, I did a bit about bike riding that’s on my first album called Thrills. It didn’t make it to the half hour that aired, but they used it to promote the special, so it was online. And there was such a crazy backlash from the bike riding community about how offensive…because the bit was essentially that some cyclists are self-entitled and oblivious and drive like assholes, and something along the lines of I want to hit them with my car. I broke it down with a lot of jokes. What was funny to me was I got a lot of hate mail. That’s still in my whole career that’s the most hate mail I’ve ever received.

Paste: From cyclists?

Segura: Absolutely. It’s not even close actually. I did that joke across North America, and I did it in a lot of cities with huge bike riding communities. Most of the time when I did that joke live people would come up to me and be like, “I ride my bike six days a week,” and they would laugh because they knew I was talking about a specific segment of that community. They understood the joke, and I think most people did, but people who saw it in a three-minute clip online, they wanted to launch at the guy that is talking shit about them. They’re like, “I bet your fat ass can’t even ride a bike!”

Paste: But you’ve always got those people who are going to take offense no matter what.

Segura: Of course. But let’s say you go, “It’s dangerous that you talk about hitting people with bikes,” which, you know, is kind of ridiculous if you’re taking it literally. Of course, of course I don’t really mean to do that, but then you could also say, well, what about all the other jokes I have? Do those also offend you? And is it dangerous? And should I then start editing all of those out? And then you’re not left with any jokes.

Paste: We seem to be in hyper herd mode at the moment, but any self-aware audience member would be aware that you’re not telling people to go murder cyclists.

Segura: Of course. You know, you actually need people to be offended. That’s something that took me a while to realize. That’s kind of why something ends up getting a reaction, you have to have your moral guidelines of what you find okay and distasteful. That’s how comedy plays. But when people want you to stop, or when people think that their feelings mean more than anybody else’s…you see blogs about “I was deeply offended by this joke,” and I want to go, “Well good for you, man, that’s awesome. There were 500 people at that show, I guess 499 liked it, and other than acknowledging that you didn’t like that, what else should be done? Do you just want validation for your feelings?”

Paste: It’s about being visible as an audience member. They just want someone to see them, I guess.

Segura: Yeah, you see it more in recent years obviously with, you know, it’s easy to post something, we have the internet, so it’s…I always wonder…sometimes I think those people just want a pat on the back.

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