“I've figured out a way to say some things most people wouldn't say, but of course we all keep certain things to yourself. Some people are so full of shit when they go, 'Nope, I never think or say anything that is not approved of to say.' Nonsense. When people basically lecture other people about, 'Oh, you shouldn't say that, you shouldn't say this,' which is normal human behaviour. Fine. You shouldn't share every thought; I agree with that. But don't act like you don't have certain thoughts that are not currently approved by the masses. There's a lot of outrage over things that are kind of silly.”
– Tom Segura
Guy MacPherson: Where are you?
Tom Segura: I'm on a bus right now headed to Albany from Tarrytown, New York.
GM: And you live in L.A., right?
TS: I do.
GM: I first met you ten or eleven years ago.
TS: Wow, yeah, I remember.
GM: Opening for Jay Mohr.
TS: Jay Mohr... That's when you met me?
GM: I met you back stage not in any official capacity and you talked to me and my friend.
TS: Was that at the casino, then?
GM: Yes, it was. I interviewed Jay Mohr and he said he was bringing this guy along – that was you – and said he chooses openers he also likes to hang out with on the tour, as well as being good comics, obviously. Do you do the same thing? Do you get to choose your opener?
TS: Oh, of course. The opener, you want them to be a great comic but you have to be able to hang out, especially on long runs like I'm on right now where I'm on a bus for days. You can't bring some asshole with you.
GM: So who do you have with you to Vancouver?
TS: Vancouver I have Matt Fulchiron, who's a good friend of mine, been a buddy of mine for years, great comic. He lives in New York. I'm bringing him to the Canadian dates.
GM: It's nice now, ten or eleven years later, how you get to pay back and help out younger comics as you were helped out in your early days.
TS: Oh, it's great, yeah. 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.
GM: When did you start doing standup?
GM: So when I saw you, you were six or seven years into it. And now look at you. You're playing these huge theatres, they've added a second show here. Everyone dreams big when they're young, but you must be thrilled with how it's going. Did it come faster than you thought?
TS: I feel very fortunate but it's been 18 years or 17 years so it also feels like the gradual course of a career moving forward. So I'm very lucky but it has been a slow build, even with the big shows. 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.
GM: That being said, you must know guys you started out with who still perform and maybe are still great in your mind, who haven't achieved what you've achieved.
TS: Oh yeah, I know a lot of them. If there was a simple answer as to why, we would just all do it. I don't know. It's not the easiest thing to solve. Ultimately it's not totally in your control what happens. You can only, in standup, I think, just try to do your best standup. And obviously try to be smart about some choices you make, too. But you can't dictate that much other than what you do on stage.
GM: Can you look back and think of a break of yours that moved your career to that next step?
TS: I remember when I shot my first special. I shot it on spec, meaning without a home. We just shot it. I remember that the goal, the number one goal, was to get it on Comedy Central. We showed it to them and they passed. So that was a huge disappointment. So the consolation prize was Netflix. Then everything just shifted and streaming became huge. I was only, I don't know, like the third or fourth special on there or something. Then that became a huge boost for my career.
GM: It must have been nice having only three or four specials to compete with. Now the choices are overwhelming. 'Which one do I watch?' You can't possibly watch them all.
TS: Yeah, it's crazy. There are so many.
GM: Is that good? Or bad? Or nothing?
TS: Ultimately it's good for the world that I'm in. Standup being big is just good for standups. Even when somebody has, like, some huge special, that benefits, I think, the rest of the comedians because it just makes the art of standup more appealing. More people get interested in it. So I think it's great that there's a lot of specials. You used to think, 'I just gotta get on Netflix and I'll be successful' but you still have to make it a good special. If it doesn't stand out, if it's not really funny, it's not going to do anything.
GM: The flip-side of what you said: that didn't work in the boom in the 1980s. Standup was really popular and then people got sick of it.
TS: Yeah, I can see that. A lot of that, too, is that people go, like, 'Oh, I can just throw this together and I'll be a standup, too.' People would put together an act and tour with it for 15 years. But that's all changed now. The way that people consume content is different. You have to always be giving them content, which changes basically who can sustain in standup because a lot of comics don't have that ability or skill. I mean, some do, obviously. But 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.
GM: Do you have a favourite one of your specials?
TS: The way that it's been for me, at least at this point in my life, is I'm always the biggest fan of the most recent one. Because it's usually like where you've progressed the most, it's your best stuff. That's how I look at it. My current hour that I'm shooting for a special in a couple months is definitely my favourite thus far. But on Netflix, Disgraceful is definitely the best one. For me.
GM: When I first interviewed you, it was on the street in Vancouver, if you remember that, outside the Comedy MIX at night.
TS: Yup, I remember talking to you, of course.
GM: The Comedy MIX is now closed.
TS: I know, that's a real bummer. That was one of my favourite clubs in the world. It was one of my favourites. I used to go there twice a year. That was a great, great room.
GM: Putting aside the money, which is obviously better when you're playing huge theatres, do you prefer a club or a theatre?
TS: Oh, definitely a theatre. There's no comparison. Clubs are great in that they're intimate and ultimately I think standup thrives in intimate atmospheres, but there's so much bullshit you gotta deal with in the clubs that you don't have to deal with in theatres. There's no food, there's no drinks, there's no servers tripping over the thing asking the guy, 'Hey, do you want another one?' People are paying attention, which for comedy to work, the one thing you have to have is people paying attention. So there's less distractions in a theatre and obviously the atmosphere of it all lends itself to performance. Theatres are where drama and Shakespeare and everything like that evolved into a showcase, so to be able to do what you do in the same atmosphere, I mean, theatre's the best.
GM: I think people are learning now how to watch standup in a theatre because I hear less shouting-out during pauses than I used to. Do you find that or is that still a problem?
TS: Yeah. I find very few people doing that, which is great. You're at the show, so watch the fucking show then. You don't have to be interjecting yourself in it all the time. Some people like that; I understand that. For some people, that's the fun of a show. That's kinda more passable at a club, but I think once you're playing theatres, you're like, Oh, this is amazing.
GM: You don't mind alienating some groups of people, like white girls with cornrows or people with piercings or tatttoos, but even you must have thoughts that you keep to yourself because you just can't say them.
TS: Yeah, of course. I mean, everybody does.
GM: You just have more that you will say than the average person.
TS: Yeah, that's right. I think in the context of standup – and it has to do with your personality and the way people perceive you – I've figured out a way to say some things most people wouldn't say, but of course we all keep certain things to yourself. Some people are so full of shit when they go, 'Nope, I never think or say anything that is not approved of to say.' Nonsense. When people basically lecture other people about, 'Oh, you shouldn't say that, you shouldn't say this,' which is normal human behaviour. Fine. You shouldn't share every thought; I agree with that. But don't act like you don't have certain thoughts that are not currently approved by the masses. There's a lot of outrage over things that are kind of silly.
GM: You don't get political, though, do you?
TS: Not really, man. I feel like there's some people that do it really well, and they're really smart – frankly they're just smarter than me – and they're doing a good job with it. I don't have a passion to get into political jokes. I like the news. I do watch and read news. I like knowing what's going on, but it's never been thing where I'm like, 'I wanna make this commentary on stage.' If I do feel overwhelmed by that feeling, then I’ll do it.
GM: You have kids now?
TS: I have two, yeah.
GM: How old?
TS: Three-and-a-half and one.
GM: I used to listen to the news all the time. Then I found when I had my son, I just wanted to shield him from it. It was always some disaster so I'd turn it off. So I spent 13 years not listening to the news. And it was great.
TS: It gets more depressing now. Also a real problem is, at least in the United States, you're just bombarded by opinion news so you actually have to search out objective news, which is really depressing. You turn on either of the cable news stations and they're just heavily opinionated. It doesn't even matter which side, I'm still not getting a report from either of those outlets. You're getting somebody who is sharing their feelings on the news.
GM: Get feelings out of the news.
GM: You're on your Take It Down tour. What are you taking down?
TS: I like the idea of the name of Take it Down. It's like take down that concept, take down your enthusiasm – take it all down. Take down specials, take down tweets. All that kinda plays into the title. It's not like a huge message that I'm standing behind; you also just have to kinda like market a tour. I like the way it sounded. I was like, 'Yeah, throw it up.'
GM: What's it like living with a Canadian?
TS: I tell her all the time that she's Canadian.
GM: That's a good thing, though!
TS: I know. I tell her all the time. She's like, 'I'm American.' I'm like, 'Dude, barely.' No, it's great, man. It's funny; I have way more Canadian experience than she does, though. I've been to Canada dozens of times now.
GM: Yeah, she never plays here. Or I haven't seen her.
TS: She went to Montreal a couple years ago.
GM: That doesn't count!
TS: That doesn't count? Okay. I'm sure they would love to hear that.
GM: Is it harder to tour now that you have kids?
TS: Yeah, obviously you gotta plan. Someone's gotta always be home. She went and did Salt Lake last week, I'm on this tour this week, and next week I'm in Canada. So you just have to plan and that part of it can be obviously a burden. And, you know, you start to just miss them more. It's kinda hard on you because leaving those kids is hard at a certain age.
GM: When you and Christina are writing your acts, is like having two sets of eyes on everything so it helps you be sharper?
TS: She disapproves of almost everything that I say so that's usually how I know it's staying in the show. When she says, 'You're not really saying that, are you?' I'll be like, 'Yeah.' And then I'll go, 'Oh, now I'm definitely saying it!'
GM: You'll be like, 'I can make this work. That's how good I am.'
TS: Yeah. I'll try to, yeah, for sure.
GM: Your podcast has really helped with your success, hasn't it?
TS: Yes, absolutely. Along with Netflix, that's the biggest thing. The audience has grown and they're super supportive. We just really expanded this year. We built a studio and we're producing like five other podcasts now. So we're all-in on podcasts.
GM: So you're like a big mogul now.
TS: Well, I wouldn't go that far. But we've seen what's been happening and podcasts are getting more popular. 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 like an extension of what Netflix is in a way because Netflix has this library of content and they want you to dive in with whatever you want. And podcasts are kind of that. They're on-demand. We're obviously in the comedy lane. We produce shows that are like clip shows, we produce shows that are people just having conversations, we produce one show about just motherhood that Christina does. We try to give you a broad spectrum of things to choose from and hopefully people dive in and find something they like.
GM: I read a headline recently that said, 'Have we reached peak podcast?'
TS: No. We definitely have not. It's not even close. Obviously there are a lot of people trying to get in, which makes sense because they're popular. But there's still a whole segment of the population that are just discovering them. It's a type of entertainment that makes sense, it resonates with people, because 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. Plus the way that video's exploding, it used to be all about the downloads but now the views have gotten so big. People are watching these shows on their phones, on tablets, even on TVs at home. It's definitely growing. I don't think it's even close to peaking.
GM: Do you video yours, as well?
TS: Oh yeah. The YouTube channel has been growing significantly and it's a big part of what we do now.
GM: Things are going great for you. It was great talking to you again.
TS: You too, man.
GM: Have a great tour.
TS: Okay, I appreciate it, Guy.