see.hear.speak.3 preview: Tom Booker

see.hear.speak.3 preview

Tom Booker came to Austin from Los Angeles less than six months ago, but he has already started his own theater company and signed up to run a marathon. In addition to television work on Curb Your Enthusiasm and Primetime Glick, Tom also founded The Annoyance Theatre in Chicago, taught at The Second City in LA, and wrote/directed/starred in the feature film Kill The Man. Tom is another delightful comedic transplant for our city, eager to wow us with song, dance, autoharp, and accordion.

Catch Tom’s performance at the hear. portion of the see.hear.speak. comedy festival at 10pm on Friday, January 25 at ColdTowne Theater.

That Other Paper During your see.hear.speak. performance, will you be singing any songs about training for the Austin Marathon?

photo / Tom’s MacBook Pro (all rights reserved) Tom Booker 

Tom Booker I don’t know. To be honest, I’ve been doing much more thinking about writing for this show than I have been writing for the show. So I can’t really tell you what the show is going to be yet. But I like your idea. I’m at the point in my marathon training that I don’t know why I decided to do it. I get kind of pissed off when I have to run. One Saturday afternoon I had to run 20 miles. I did it, but I was rather cranky for a couple of days. Last Saturday I had to run 22 miles. I finished, but I wasn’t cranky. If I hadn’t paid $275 for the training and then paid another $100 to do the marathon, I would have probably quit by now. But I’m going to finish. I’ve invested too much money – and I’m cheap. It’ll be interesting to see what my mood is at the end of the marathon. In the fantasy marathon finish in my head, all of my new Austin friends are cheering me on at the end and we all run to the finish line together. It could happen. The finish line for the marathon is right by The Hideout.

TOP How can music allow a comedian to express themselves differently than other mediums, such as sketch or improv?

TB I think that it’s easier with music. With music it’s easier to get the audience involved, and you can rely on a hook or some sort of trick. I love writing music and I really love writing musicals. My musicals make fun of musicals. I have an autoharp and an accordion. Who knows what is going to happen?

TOP You were a mascot for the University of Oklahoma. Can you walk us through a typical night of mascotting?

TB I would show up a couple of hours before the game. Hang out and talk to the fans, the cheerleaders, etc., and watch the basketball team practice. Then I would go and put on my dog suit and come out and entertain the crowd. I was a great mascot. Becoming a mascot changed my life. I didn’t know what to do after I graduated, but I like people looking at me. So I went to Second City in Chicago.

Sorry – I think I got a little off topic. Anyway, I would run around the court and get the audience to cheer. Sometimes I would mess around with the other team’s mascot. Afterwards, I would take a shower in the girls basketball team locker room and say goodnight to the rich team boosters. Sometimes I would give this older guy who was a soda vendor a ride home. I can’t remember his name, but he thought that I was a real big celebrity and that when he got tired hauling sodas around the stands he would look at me for inspiration. He has one glass eye as a result of a hockey accident and lived with his father. He used to call me up in the middle of the night and invite me over for bean soup. I never went. I didn’t think much about it at the time, but now it seems kind of weird.

TOP What was the process you went through to become the limo driver in episode 20, season two of Curb Your Enthusiasm?

TB I’ve known Jeff Garland for more than 20 years. We met in Chicago in the late ’80s. In fact, his wife, Marla, was my agent in Chicago. Jeff and Marla weren’t even close to dating back then. Anyway, Susan Messing (another Chicago friend) got married. She had a reception in Los Angeles for people who couldn’t go to the east coast to be at her wedding. At that brunch, I ended up sitting next to Jeff and Marla. I don’t know this for certain, but I imagine that on the way home, Marla said to Jeff “You should call Tom Booker in for something.” Because the next day I got a call from my agent telling me that I had an audition for Curb Your Enthusiasm.

photo / Tom Lascher (all rights reserved) Tom Booker 

The audition was the next day. There was no script – only small pieces of paper that briefly described each character and what that character does. I went into the audition and improvised a scene with Larry David. Jeff Garland and the director watched the scene and gave me a few suggestions and Larry and I improvised together a second time. It was great. When I walked out of the room, I didn’t know if I had gotten the job or not. And I didn’t care because the experience of improvising with Larry David was enough. But luckily I got the job.

I was originally scheduled to shoot for one day. But it got too late and they didn’t shoot my scene. As everyone was packing up I finally got up the courage to mention to the First A.D. that they didn’t shoot my scene. He looked at me and said, “I guess you’re going to get another day!” I almost started jumping up and down on the spot. Another day meant twice the money. And at that time I was dead broke.

TOP What was it like to work with Larry David?

TB Working with Larry David was great. Everyone was so supportive and nice. And you know that your job is to serve Larry. So you just give him stuff to play with and you’re golden. We made each other look good.

TOP What was it about Austin that drew you here as opposed to another city, like New York, Boston, or Tokyo?

TB I wanted to get out of Los Angeles, and I wasn’t really looking forward to moving to another big city. And I wanted to buy a house and start a theater. I checked out Portland and Austin. Portland was beautiful but I didn’t get the sense of community that I feel here in Austin, and I couldn’t really find an improv scene there. I wanted to add to an improv scene, not create one. Moving to Austin is the best move I ever made. I may go back to Los Angeles some day, but for right now, I’m right where I need to be.

TOP You founded The Institution Theatre. How did you go about starting your own theater company here in Austin?

TB Right now my theater company consists of only one member: me. But in almost all of the theater companies that I’ve been involved with or started, membership has been very open. I like the idea of gathering a group of talented friends together and seeing what we can come up with together. I’m like a cook that makes his dishes with the very best ingredients. It’s pretty hard to fail. I may not end up with the dish that I was intending to make. But whatever I do come up with will probably be very interesting and well worth tasting.

TOP How is the Second City LA community different from what we have going on in Austin?

TB There is much more “community” here. People come to Los Angeles for a purpose. That purpose is usually to get on television and/or in films. Sometimes their ambition gets in the way of friendships. I don’t want you to think that I feel that Los Angeles is a cold place – I really love Los Angeles. I have many, many, many wonderful friends there. Most of my closest friends are friends that I made when we were all working together in Chicago in the late ’80s and early ’90s. In Chicago we formed a community. It was like a family. And the friends that I made in Chicago still look out for each other and rally to help those of us in need. I’m very lucky.

The community in Austin reminds me a lot of the community that I remember from Chicago. Everyone here is supportive and giving. And any idea is encouraged without jealousy and/or judgment.

TOP What do you hope to accomplish in Austin by the end of the year?

TB I hope to have a school up and running, and I hope to have a theater company presenting shows on a regular basis at my own space of some sort. I don’t know if it will be what you would call a legitimate theater, but there will be performances going on. I would also like to do another feature film.

Catch Tom Booker at see.hear.speak. on Friday, January 25 at 10pm. That Other Paper is proud to sponsor this festival.

More see.hear.speak.3 previews

About the author Jill Morris was heavily involved in the local comedy scene before moving to New York City last year, but lucky for Austin, she still performs improv and stand-up comedy at The Hideout and ColdTowne Theater when she’s in town.


Rigby Owen's picture

I was Tom’s roommate at OU for a year when he first became basketball mascot. He was originally the wrestling team mascot but the basketball mascot got fired because he was doing some risque performances during the game in front of wealthy boosters, so Tom got promoted. Funny, I just happenned to watch the last hour of “Kill the Man” on Sundance on 03/01/08. I had never seen it before, but knew that he wrote it. Good to see him move somewhat closer to home. If I had known he was in Austin, I would have looked him up two weeks ago when I had court there. I haven’t seen hm in about twenty years.