I thought it was about time I reviewed a comedian you’ve never heard of. Seriously, all the shiny, famous people are cool. But, I say, ‘let’s go underground.’ Let’s find the garage band comics only the cool kids are into. Let’s help a talented unknown sell out. What do you say?
I’m picking comedian Tom Simmons because I used to work with him a lot, years ago, on the East Coast and always really dug his act. I hadn’t seen him perform standup in the 10 years since I gave up the road and moved to La La Land. So, I had no idea what to expect when I popped “Stand Up Underground” into my DVD player (or rather, my husband did; I haven’t figured out how to work that damn thing yet).
Jerry Seinfeld said that if you can’t plant two feet on a stage and talk for an hour, keeping the audience engaged and entertained with just your words, you are not a standup comedian. Tom Simmons is a standup comedian in the purest sense of that definition. There are no incredibly expensive, high-tech effects behind this DVD. There’s no editing down to just the best jokes. The cutting room floor is bare. This is hard core comic-in-love-with-the-craft-and-working-it-on-stage-for-an-hour
Tom Simmons isn’t exactly a nobody. With credits like Comedy Central, Showtime, and BET (I think he might set a record for most appearances by a white boy), he’s been rubbing up against comedy’s glass ceiling for a while now. Tom says, “My wife thought I was going to be a big star. She didn’t know I was going to be a comedian.” He’s seems more comfortable to stay where he is than to dumb it down, be less controversial, sell his soul to the standup devil. Although I personally tried that once and it got me nowhere. Hello! Who do you have to…never mind.
At first glance, you might think Tom is new to comedy. He’s so fresh and excited about sharing his ideas with you. His thoughts bubble out of him like your college roommate’s first acid trip when she was describing every single little thought that came to her head (ok, so I’m talking about myself, whatever). It’s almost easy to confuse his love of comedy with newness because we don’t see it very often on the old pros, who often phone it in (me again). But, oh no, Tom Simmons is no newbie. Look closer. His delivery is so smooth, so spot on. His timing, perfect. He would never take a sip of water just because he’s thirsty. Every move is calculated. Every pause savored.
It is obvious that Tom has been on the road for years. He handles the crowd at Goodnights Comedy Club in Raleigh, NC, like they were putty. He feeds them ideas they don’t agree with and they cheer him for it. They don’t even know they have been tricked. Tom has a style, I would assume he developed from years of working conservative crowds (particularly in the South, like his native Atlanta), that allows him to say the most liberal things and slip it under the radar. He will begin with a premise that is controversial (i.e. immigration, abortion, gay marriage). He will say something very conservative (the average point of view of his audience), then he will follow-up with a very liberal statement that sounds like part of the same idea! It’s a sort of joke anti-brainwashing technique that just might reverse the years of the Bush Administration’s stranglehold on dumb people. Sorry. I don’t know where that came from.
He said, “I liked George Bush when he was the Governor of Texas…” (everyone applauds) “…cause I don’t live in Texas.” “George Bush is going to rid the world of evil.” (crowd goes crazy) “A lot of people have tried to rid the world of evil in the past. Let’s see. Buddha, Jesus, Gandhi…good thing we’ve got W on the case!” He said that in North Carolina. He could have been Dixie-Chicked!
He manages to get rednecks to listen to his thoughts on the war between Israel and Palestine and not one Pabst Blue Ribbon is hurled onto the stage. As a former road comic in the South, I can tell you, he ought to win the God-damned Nobel Peace Price for that. Jimmy Carter ain’t got nothing on Tom Simmons! He says when he is losing a fight with his wife, he simply tells her, “I’m sorry. I don’t recognize your right to exist.”
Not all of Tom’s material is political. That’s how he gets you. Before he ever says one word about gay marriage and abortion, he’s already won you over with those boy-next-door good looks, subtle Southern accent, and charming stories about his beautiful wife and brand new baby with all the insight and intelligence and plain ole gut-busting punch lines that he later smacks around George Bush with. He’s the common man (you know, if the common man were hot). He has a Brian Regan quality to him (you know, if Brian Regan said f@#% every now and then). He talks about losing money whenever he performs in Vegas. “They have $100 slot machines in Vegas. If you are playing $100 slots, f@#% you! You already won. You’re just rubbing it in.”
Tom eases in and out of different material as if it were the same subject. He can go from talking about fatherhood and living in an RV on the road with his family to pop tarts without any awkwardness at all. “Saw on the pop tarts box that they have a website, poptarts.com...if you are going to the pop tarts chat room, you have outlived your usefulness as a human being and we should start harvesting your organs. Hand over your pancreas. We need to rebuild Stephen Hawking.” He said he saw a commercial when he was high that said, “If you buy drugs, you support terrorism.” He said, “Then legalize them, and I’ll support healthcare and education!” Tom talks about his new baby. He said he went to Iraq to do comedy so he could get some sleep. “The reason why they are so cute is so you don’t throw them in a dumpster at three in the morning.”
This DVD also contains cutaways to radio interviews, to Tom in candid moments, and begins with a little sketch by Tom. You can tell by watching this that there is no “on” for Tom Simmons. He’s not like comics like Robin Williams who are the same all the time because they are never “off.” Tom is just Tom. He is exactly the same on stage as he is on the radio or talking to his friends. I also listened to his CD “Stages” and there is an open mic track where Tom is trying out some of these jokes for the first time. They sound exactly the same as the final product. What you see is what you get.
That CD has a lot of the same content as the “Stand Up Underground” DVD, but does have a few additional choice jokes that I think make it worth it to pick up both (namely, Satanic Bible, Star Registry, and Pet Psychics plus the Open Mic bonus). You can hear some of his jokes on You Tube. In fact, I was cruising Tom’s website earlier, www.tomsimmons.net, to find out how to buy this DVD (it’s on the site), and he seemed to have a good selection of things to watch, read, and purchase. So, go to Tom’s site and pick up his DVD and/or one of his CDs. When he comes to your town (and he will), go see him. Then, when he blows up you can say you liked him when he was cool.