By T.J. TranchellI’ve already taken my first “summer” road trip. The trip through the winds of eastern and central Washington, followed by west-side rain on my way to Seattle didn’t make it feel like summer, but this jaunt to the city has become a Memorial Day tradition for me. Choosing what we listen to on such a trip is a key part of preparation.
Those choices can become traditions of their own. I was reminded recently that early in our marriage, my wife and I would always listen to Lewis Black’s “Carnegie Hall” album while driving. Many of the jokes on the album have wormed their way into our lives, and it doesn’t take more than a few words for either of us to start cracking up. We can joke about how many times one is allowed to say the F-word, the need of a certain former president to have a handler and sensitivity regarding the word “nipple.”
What Black doesn’t offer us, unfortunately, is the opportunity to laugh about who we have become as parents. We no longer even get to listen to Lewis Black in the car precisely because of the human parrot strapped down in the back seat. While I think it would be hilarious if our son told somebody they needed to turn off the CNN news scroll, chances are he would repeat one of those choice words at the wrong time and to the wrong person.
You know who gets in trouble if that happens? Me. And I’m not prepared to react to that situation without laughing my head off.
The good news is that there are some relatively clean comics we can play. John Pinnette, may he rest in comedy heaven, is one. (Just remember to never ask me if I want the extended warranty – because if something’s going to break, I’m not buying it.)
Our new go-to for parenting humor, though, is Tom Papa. That’s not a joke. That’s his name, and his jokes about fatherhood rival the best any comic has ever offered.
For example: “I’m the best skater in the family, which is how moronic this activity is,” Papa said about taking his two daughters ice skating. “I can’t do it at all, and I am the leader.”
His voice has that put-upon dad tone that has become a mark of modern fatherhood. He says things to make listeners think he doesn’t like his wife and kids, but we all know it isn’t true because of the smile on his face and the laugh he’s holding back.
Restraint, in an interesting way, is what Papa is all about – and not just in his audio. His subtlety is even more apparent visually, as seen in his last two comedy specials, “Live in New York City” (2011) and “Freaked Out” (2013). If you pay attention, you’ll notice it right off the bat.
The two specials were directed by horror icon Rob Zombie. There’s not as ounce of blood or an F-bomb in sight. Instead, the shows are crisp and easy to watch. Edits are minimal, but there is still motion. The shows are a joy to watch, and much of that has to do with a star like Zombie knowing he’s not the reason people are watching. (If only he could have done that with his “Halloween” remake.)
The thing to remember when preparing for your summer road trip is that your playlist doesn’t have to be just music. Throw a comedy album on there. When Papa talks about debunking the princess myth, you can laugh as your kids cringe; but be prepared to suffer when your children laugh as he compares your weird hair patches to a Chernobyl bear.