Its 2:11 pm
Welcome to another edition of 8 Questions with…….
Comedian Eric Toms and I have never met but we are brothers in arms so to speak.
Both he and I got our starts in show/music biz in San Jose,Calif. Where I used to book live bands in San Jose and Palo Alto,Eric was developing his comedic skills at the various comedy places in San Jose and the South Bay.
When we started talking about our paths,we realized that we probably had crossed one another sometime or another before I left for Michigan in 1999.
In prepping for this interview,my respect for Eric grew and grew. Too be funny,juggling a family and still keep and maintain your compassion in a field where even the best comics find themselves bitter and jaded by the human condition,hats off to Eric for keeping everything on a even keel and still seeing the humor in every day life.
Please introduce yourself and tell us about your current project.
My name is Eric Toms and I’m a comedian, writer and filmmaker from San Jose California. I began my career in a small vaudeville theater called Big Lill’s Cabaret. The theater expanded and began a long running TV show called SUTN, of which I was a performer, head writer and video segment producer. The show featured stand-up comics, a profession I’d been in love with since I was a kid. The comics were very supportive and in 2001 I began my stand-up career like many comics: in the back of noisy bar with little audience reaction.
My current project is a feature film titled, Bakersfield Noir, the story of a burn-out stoner who is searching for the killer of his best friend and uncovers a massive conspiracy consisting of a contract killer, a femme fatale, and a televangelist all on the mean streets of Bakersfield. We’re currently in production and will be out of post in late 2019/early 2020.
One of the projects I’m most proud of is my short film showcase, The Night of Shorts Night. It’s held the first Monday of every month at The Parlor in Hollywood from 8-10pm. I founded it, along with fellow filmmakers Dave and James Codeglia. We were frustrated by the cost of film festivals and felt there should be a space for filmmakers to exhibit their work for free and invite audience members to join us. The screening room at the Parlor has a eight flat panel TVs, a full bar and kitchen. To date we have screened over 165 short films, documentaries, music videos, web series and animated pieces. We have recently partnered with Slamdance film festival and will be screening the winners of their Episodic Lab in August. Our two year anniversary is April 1st and we will be celebrating with free food, a Night of Shorts cake and free prizes from our friends at Warner Brothers Home Entertainment and Fox Searchlight.
That’s a big question with no one answer. Comedy began as a coping mechanism. My parents divorced when I was 8 and it was a difficult time. I used comedy at home in an attempt to cheer up my sisters and mom. Since I was a scrawny kid, I used it at school to deter bullies from kicking my ass. If I could make them laugh then they would leave me alone. Once school plays began in the third grade and I got a taste for a larger audience my career path was solidified.
In a lot of ways I’m still using comedy as a way to deter bullies, but the bullies we all face at this age come in different forms. EG: depression, loneliness, a president that doesn’t seem to care about the lower and middle class. Comedy is an excellent tool to stave off the horrors of life. A situation, no matter how terrible, can be disarmed with a good joke.
Honestly? It’s usually a dysfunction or a past trauma. Why would anyone want to travel to far off places to stand in front of a group of strangers and seek validation through jokes? That’s what usually drives people to stand-up, but what keeps people coming back is the craft itself. Stand-up is a great form of art because of its simplicity. Typically it’s one person, one stage, one microphone, one point of view. Your message as a performer is never muddled due to a committee or any other oversight. I came from the world of theater which was wonderful, but moved so slowly because there were so many people involved. Stand-up sharpens your writing and performance abilities because that is all you have on stage. You have to be good or the audience will tune you out.
All comics draw material from anything and everything. A book you read in the ninth grade, a turn of phrase your old boss used to say, the location of a building – it all gets thrown into the comedy blender and mixed up. The construction of a comedy set varies from performer to performer. Some comics are very conversational and just walk on stage with a list of topics, whereas other comics will only deliver set-up/punch jokes. Some comics use a more theatrical arc and tie their whole set together using one theme.
I use the essay method that was taught to me in the fourth grade: Begin with a thesis statement, write main points and sub-points that support your claim, then finish with a conclusion. I allow for some deviations, but try and stick to one overall message. Granted, this is for longer sets. For shorter spots (eg. 3-15 min) I just do my best to cram in as many jokes as possible. As Lenny Bruce said, “the job of the comedian is to make the audience laugh once every 15 seconds.”
My preferences change constantly because each form comes with a different skill set. Writing is fantastic because you can create anything that your vocabulary and imagination will allow, but it can be very solitary. Acting allows you to see the world from another person’s point of view. When done right you can walk around in someone else’s skin, unfortunately these opportunities are rare and hard to come-by. Comedy allows you to talk about difficult or painful subjects, which can be extremely cathartic, but requires stamina, both creatively and emotionally.
I’m not a sports guy to begin with and when I was attending San Jose State our football team was abysmal. Out of 129 teams, we were ranked 130th, so I wasn’t a huge fan. It’s nice to see that the team has gotten better over the years, but at the end of the day I really don’t care.
I’ll quote one of my best friends, Ryan Turi, when I asked him about forming a band. He told me, “it’s like finding five girlfriends.” It’s a lot like whittling down a piece of wood. First off you just need to find a large number of people who want to join a comedy group. Then out of those people you need to find people that you get along with. Then from those people you need to find talented people that complement one another’s strengths and weaknesses. If done right, you should start off with a log and end up with a toothpick. Even then, like with any career in the arts, it comes down to a lot of luck. The Kids in the Hall, a legendary sketch comedy group from Canada, struggled for years and did shows for audiences of 5 people or less for a very long time before finding a following. You have to be willing to stick it out with a group of people. You have to get up, fail, get up, fail, and get up again.
More often than not a group will have one of two members that will go onto have a successful career and the others may be left behind. If you want to know a little more about this aspect then I recommend the film Don’t Think Twice by Mike Birbiglia. The word ‘success’ varies a lot from person to person. Many sketch/improv performers want to land the big job, like SNL regular, but the odds are against you. You probably won’t become a household name, and you have to be okay with that. You have to be happy with the work you’re putting out, otherwise you will become that bitter comic in the back of the room or on some social media site who claims that everyone sucks, and nobody likes that guy.
Thank you for the kind words, but like anyone, you only admire them because you haven’t heard about the terrible things they have done, and I have done plenty of terrible things. The friend in question was a man named Mike Hogan, and he was my closest friend. When Mike got sick and I gave him the kidney I thought, “okay, I’ve seen this in the movies. Now he gets better!” But he didn’t. Despite the fact we were both young and in good shape, and the facility was one of the best in the country, and our doctor had performed over 1,000 transplants, Mike still got worse and finally passed away when he caught Meningitis. I can’t go into everything here, partially because it would take too long and partially because there are a lot of details I don’t want to face, but I will say that being a kidney donor was surprising less invasive than I’d thought. There were about 10 days where it was difficult to get up from a prone position, but other than that there have been no lasting side effects. Please consider becoming a donor at the web site https://www.kidney.org/transplantation/beadonor. As an added bonus you are given every battery of test known to western medicine – for free!
1. Take care of yourself. Granted this was marriage advice, but I think it translates to all aspects of life. When I was engaged to my wife, Heather, a comedian named Howie Cooperstein gave me this advice: “When you start off you only have ‘you time,’ but then you get a job, so things split into ‘work time’ and ‘you time.’ This continues throughout your life, ‘you and wife time,’ ‘you and kids time,’ etc. When you take on too many responsibilities the first thing to go is ‘you time’ which is your most valuable time. You need ‘you time’ to reflect on your life, what you’ve done, what you’re planning on doing, who you’re becoming. When you find your ‘you time’ shrinking then pull back on something else or everything will fall apart.
2. Donate your time. Chances are you’re doing better than you think. If you can read, write, and pay your bills then you are doing better than 70% of the people on the planet. Take time out of your life and help someone who really needs it. This doesn’t have to be the traditional ‘help out at a soup kitchen’ (though that is a good one) it can be as simple as listening to someone whom is going through a hard time in their life. Ask them questions, listen to what they have to say, and hold their hand. That can mean a world of difference to someone and get you out of your head.
3. Get out of your comfort zone. If you try the same things over and over again you will garner the same results. Try something new and scary. If you’re attempting something and you are terrified by the thought, ‘how the hell am I gonna even do this?’ then you’re on the right track.
4. Define what success means to you before you start. The vast majority of comics work a day job then do sets when they can. You don’t know who they are and they really don’t care. If just getting on stage once is a victory then great! If you strive to only make a living doing comedy then great! Don’t start working then try and model yourself after someone else’s career. You will be disappointed every time because no matter how hard you try you will never be them, so find peace in being you.
I met my wife through a mutual friend when I was 19. For years we were just friends, mostly because she wouldn’t go out with me. I spent years trying to convince her that she should date me and thanks to my persistence, charm and a lot of alcohol, she finally agreed. We started dating when I was 23, moved in together when I was 24 and we were married when I was 25. We’ve been together nearly my whole adult life and we’ll stay together til one of us dies. That’s a weird proclamation to make, but the more I learn about her the more I fall in love. Also we own a house, so the idea of splitting our assets at this age would just be a nightmare, so it’s best if we just stay together.
As for juggling kids and a wife and a career… (pours a large, stiff drink) can be difficult. The biggest thing is schedules. Finding time to pick them up, drop them off, help them study, take them to games, and just have fun is a full time job. For me it has to take priority over everything. Yes, my career is important, but I can not screw up my kids’ lives because of it. Let’s face it, one day I’ll be old and frail and I’ll need them to take the lids off jars! I am very luck in that I really like my kids and watching them grow up is amazing. I’m a really lucky guy to be able to spend time with them, but having said that if you know any babysitters then please send them my way.
Please see question 9. As well, there are no shortcuts to becoming a good comic. I could hand a new comic a spot on the Tonight Show tomorrow and it wouldn’t make them a better comic. You only get good by doing it over and over and over again. You need to learn how to do the job, who you are, what your strengths are and where you need improvement. As well, go easy on yourself. A lot of comics burn out because they’re not Dave Chappelle after a month. Becoming a good comic takes years, or even decades. Take the small victories along the way and remember that comedy doesn’t owe you anything so don’t be disappointed if you get nothing from it.
HOLY FUCK! A CHEETAH! EVERYBODY RUN! THERE’S A FUCKING CHEETAH ON THE LOOSE! IT’LL EAT YOUR BABY AND WON’T THINK TWICE! (grabs gun) I’M SORRY… bang! (standing over dead cheetah) You deserved better, but this Michael guy brought you to a show. What was I supposed to do?! Damn you Michael! Damn you!
That was fun. Here’s my list of underrated places to go and things to do in Los Angeles:
-The restaurant EAT in North Hollywood is fantastic. It’s just a little diner and isn’t fancy, but the food is amazing and the prices are cheap.
-Musso and Frank’s on Hollywood Boulevard is a must for out-of-towners. It’s one of the oldest restaurants in Los Angeles and was frequented by Charlie Chaplin, Alfred Hitchcock and John Ford. Jack Nicholson has a booth in the back that he goes to after Lakers games. He puts up a little sign that reads: Yes, it’s me. The place is a time capsule that hasn’t changed since it first opened and still has old school delicacies on the menu, like the beef tongue sandwich (hot take: people in the 1930s ate gross stuff)
-Canters Deli is another landmark that is a real piece of Los Angeles lore. To be completely honest, the food is okay, but the place itself is amazing. You really feel transported back in time and every booth has housed a rockstar, movie star or famous author. When you end up going, remember to look at the ceiling.
-Number one, without a doubt, are the movies in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. It sounds creepy AF, and I get it, but it is one of the best things to do in LA, in my opinion. The cemetery, which houses the likes of Rudolph Valentino, Marilyn Monroe and Judy Garland, fell into disrepair in the early 2000’s, so a young man bought the property and started holding movie screenings to raise money for the upkeep. Now over 4,000 people go to each screening. You can bring your own food, booze and low-backed chairs to the event. Eat with your friends while a DJ spins and they project vintage film posters on the side of Douglas Fairbank’s mausoleum.
-Check out the old movie palaces in downtown LA on Broadway. These places were built in the 1920’s and over the past decade there has been a movement to restore them to their former glory. Groups like Cinespia shows films, and if you have the chance to attend the Los Angeles Theater then do your best to go because it is breath-taking.
-The best comedy show in LA has to go to the Blind Barber. It’s held in a speakeasy that’s behind a secret door in a barber shop. It’s been running for years and is the best kept secret in comedy. A great place for up-and-comers and for headliners like Brian Regan.
Its so good to see someone,anyone escape the doldrums of San Jose and get a real chance of becoming well known. I think Eric has proven he has the chops and the heart to go far.
You can follow Eric by visiting his IMDb page here.
Visit Eric on his personal website here.
As always,I thank you all for your continued support.
5 thoughts on “8 Questions with……..comedian/writer Eric Toms”
Eric Toms had a lot to say and I enjoyed every bit of it. I related his take on being a good comedian to my writing experience. No one gets a free ride. To be good at your craft takes time, so if writing, acting, or standup is what you desire, then put some time in and grow from mistakes. Side note: So glad the Cheetah and other animals were not really hurt during the production of the interview…
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No hurt cheetahs allowed here! Eric is a great guy and what I admire is how good spirited he is,there is a little damage there (by his own admission) but he has able to use it to his advantage….I really think comedians have a shelf life on how funny they can be and still look for the good of people before it slowly turns into jaded cynicism.
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Great stuff. Liked the bonus advice 😉
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Agreed,Eric is a very wise young man full of hard won wisgom,isn’t he?