October 22, 2019

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Slow burn

Standup comedian's smart storytelling style took years to hone

Tom Segura was one of the first comedians to land a Netflix standup special.

Completely Normal introduced audiences to the Ohio native’s brand of self-deprecating, cutting, smart comedy as he discusses hotel stays, his need for more hobbies and the annoyances of everyday human interactions.

But when that special came out in 2014, Netflix was still an up-and-coming platform yet to acquire the clout it now has, so even with Completely Normal and two followup specials released in 2016 and 2018, Segura’s rise to fame was gradual.

“I’ve had the trajectory where it’s a steady climb, where every tour has been bigger than that last one at a gradual pace… a slow climb. So I remember when the clubs started selling out in 2014, and you’re like, ‘Oh, that’s weird, I didn’t know I was selling out clubs.’ And then moving to rock clubs and small theatres the next year,” Segura says.

Tom Segura was one of the first comedians to land a Netflix standup special.

Event preview

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Tom Segura
● Friday, Aug. 16, 7:30 p.m. and 10 p.m.
● Club Regent Event Centre
● Tickets $45.49 to $84.54 at Ticketmaster

Completely Normal introduced audiences to the Ohio native’s brand of self-deprecating, cutting, smart comedy as he discusses hotel stays, his need for more hobbies and the annoyances of everyday human interactions.

But when that special came out in 2014, Netflix was still an up-and-coming platform yet to acquire the clout it now has, so even with Completely Normal and two followup specials released in 2016 and 2018, Segura’s rise to fame was gradual.

"I’ve had the trajectory where it’s a steady climb, where every tour has been bigger than that last one at a gradual pace… a slow climb. So I remember when the clubs started selling out in 2014, and you’re like, ‘Oh, that’s weird, I didn’t know I was selling out clubs.’ And then moving to rock clubs and small theatres the next year," Segura says.

"(The Netflix special) definitely worked, the first one worked, but it was still gradual, which I honestly think is the best case scenario."

Now, Segura, 40, is one of the biggest names in the standup biz; he’s been in a film opposite Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne (2018’s Instant Family) and has a successful podcast, Your Mom’s House, which he co-hosts with his wife, fellow comedian Christina Pazsitzky.

Right now, he’s on the massive Take It Down tour, which stops in more than 100 cities over the course of 16-or-so months and brings him to the Club Regent Event Centre this Friday night for two shows (the second show was added due to high demand).

Segura’s comedy is rooted in storytelling, but it didn’t start that way; learning to spin a yarn and make it funny was something that, while a natural path for the performer, took some honing.

"I think that I always liked it in real life; I liked coming back from something and telling people what happened," he says. "I loved being able to make that funny.

Tom Segura’s rise to fame was gradual despite one of the first standup specials on Netflix, a successful podcast and a part in Instant Family, opposite Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne. (Robyn Von Swank photo)

Tom Segura’s rise to fame was gradual despite one of the first standup specials on Netflix, a successful podcast and a part in Instant Family, opposite Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne. (Robyn Von Swank photo)

"Even in high school, I remember I would be late to class and my teacher would have me say what happened to entertain the class and I liked that, but I actually think it’s really hard to start with that onstage — it’s a skill set you have to develop. That’s why most people start with shorter jokes, and that’s what I did, too."

The stories he tells are not always flattering to himself or others, and Segura has built a reputation as a witty, sarcastic and critical kind of comedian, but promises he is "nicer offstage."

"I’ve always thought of comedians, particularly onstage, as having the volume turned up on one aspect of their personality, so I am sarcastic and I am cynical and I am a bit of a critical person, but all that is really elevated onstage.

"Offstage you’re obviously a little more complicated and I’m definitely more empathetic… there’s definitely people that don’t get that though — they think who you are onstage is you 24/7. Like, oh my God, I’d be a total psycho," he says, laughing.

Comedy can be a tough gig these days; not only is the demand for content stronger now than it has ever been — "We are in a content consuming culture... the message you get the most the week your special comes out, you get bombarded with emails and tweets and they ask, ‘When’s the next one coming out?’" Segura says — the critiques of that content are harsher and the expectations are higher when it comes to political correctness and being mindful of sensitive subjects.

Segura doesn’t necessarily see that as a bad thing, but not for the reason one might expect.

"As far as the sensitivity of culture now, I think that’s an asset to comedians," he says. "Instead of being fearful of it, I think the smarter way to handle it is to lean into it. Use the fact that people get upset about things.

"I get why you could be scared, like, ‘Oh my God, am I cancelled?’ or whatever, but I think there’s so many people in the world, and we’re so lucky as comedians that so many people dig comedy, and like standup. The evidence is look how many specials are being made, look how many people are touring, look how many people are selling tickets," he says.

"If you can strut a joke that’s funny and has an opinion, even if it’s not a popular opinion, you’re fine — you’re going to get people to like you."

erin.lebar@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @NireRabel

Erin Lebar

Erin Lebar
Multimedia producer

Erin Lebar is a multimedia producer who spends most of her time writing music- and culture-related stories for the Arts & Life section. She also co-hosts the Winnipeg Free Press's weekly pop-culture podcast, Bury the Lede.

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