The next time you’re at a standup theatre show, pay attention to the opener. Take note of the name. The support act is often a star in waiting.
Ten years ago, I saw Jay Mohr at the River Rock Show Theatre. His opener was someone I’d never heard of, but his Netflix was hilarious. It was Tom Segura’s first time performing in the Lower Mainland. Six months later, he was headlining the old Comedy MIX.
Twice-yearly club work in the city led to a gradual progression up the comedy-venue ladder. Now he’s selling out grand theatres like the Q.E. A second show has been added for this Saturday’s Take It Down tour, where he performs with his own opener, New York’s Matt Fulchiron.
“He’s been a buddy of mine for years, great comic,” Segura says by phone from a bus taking him from Tarrytown to Albany, New York. “You can’t bring some asshole with you. I think it’s a really fun thing to be able to do: bring people to big shows and give them that stage and be able to take care of them and pay them and basically duplicate the experience I had.”
It may seem like just yesterday he was playing the clubs, but not to him. “I’m very lucky, but it has been a slow build,” he says. “I started to sell out clubs in about 2014-15, then another year goes by and you move into rock clubs, then move into small theatres. So it’s been a slow progression, but I feel really thankful.”
His first major disappointment turned out to be his biggest break. He shot his first (of three) specials on spec. The goal was to sell it to Comedy Central, but they passed on it. “So the consolation prize was Netflix,” he says. His was one of the first handful of comedy specials on the streaming platform.
Now there’s a sea of specials making it more and more difficult for a comedy enthusiast to keep up. But Segura sees the positives.
“Ultimately, it’s good for the world that I’m in,” he says. “Standup being big is just good for standups. Even when somebody has some huge special, that benefits the rest of the comedians, because it just makes the art of standup more appealing.”
Standup is consumed differently now than it was during the boom and bust of the 1980s. With an audience demanding more and more new content, it’s survival of the fittest keeping the overall quality high.
“To be able to turn over hours all the time, of a high quality, it actually pares down the number of people that can do it," he says.
The second-biggest boost to his career has been the podcast (Your Mom’s House) he hosts with his comedian wife, the Canadian-ish (born in Windsor, but moved to the U.S. at four) Christina Pazsitzky. It’s been so popular, they’ve recently built a studio and are producing five other podcasts.
“Podcasts are getting more popular,” he says, denouncing a recent New York Times headline that read “Have We Hit Peak Podcast?” “I feel like we’re still in the infancy of all this. People are still finding out what they are and they’re loving them, so there’s no reason to stop making them. It’s a type of entertainment that makes sense; it resonates with people. Podcasts are so much more authentic because there’s not a person regulating it and there’s not a boss telling you how to do it, like a lot of traditional FM–radio shows.”
The same goes for standup. No one tells Tom Segura what he can and can’t say. Not even his wife.
“She disapproves of almost everything I say, so that’s usually how I know it’s staying in the show,” he says. “When she says, ‘You’re not really saying that, are you?’ I’ll be like, ‘Yeah,’ and then I’ll go, ‘Now I’m definitely saying it!’ ”
Tom Segura’s Take It Down tour plays the Queen Elizabeth Theatre at 7:30 and 10 p.m. on Saturday (August 17).