Paul F. Tompkins Says He’d ‘Never in a Million Years’ Work with Bill Maher Again
I’m not qualified to determine whether or not Bill Maher is a bad boss, but the first thing his former employees say when asked about working for him probably shouldn’t be, “Hoo boy, yeah.”
Actor, writer and comedian Paul F. Tompkins has one of those careers wherein casual comedy fans will probably know his face but not his name while more devoted humor fanatics will be able to gush over his preposterously prolific list of credits, including but certainly not limited to his time on Mr. Show with Bob and David, his voice role of Mr. Peanut Butter on BoJack Horseman, and his 200-plus appearances on Comedy Bang! Bang! Tompkins is a mainstay of the so-called “alt-comedy” world, and he’s been infiltrating the mainstream along with the rest of the genre since the late 1990s.
In the earlier years of Tompkins’ legendary comedy career, he took some odd, ill-fitting jobs to get his foot in the door of the entertainment industry, of which the oddest and most ill-fitting was a single-season stint as a sort of halftime show host in the inaugural year of Real Time with Bill Maher back in 2003. Yesterday, Tompkins spoke with The Last Laugh podcast about his brief but profoundly unpleasant time hosting segments in the middle of Maher’s talk show, declaratively stating, “I would never in a million years go back to working anywhere near Bill Maher.” As if Real Time would ever rehire him – Maher hates writers.
“Scott Carter, who was the executive producer of the show, became a fan of mine, seeing me do shows in L.A.” Tompkins said of how he found himself behind a desk at Real Time in the first place, “He offered me this job that was to do a sort of standalone segment in the middle of the show as a palate cleanser-y kind of thing after the main roundtable discussion that Bill would have with his guests. I would do this lighter current events bit. And then the show would go into its preparation for landing, leading to Bill laying down his righteous ‘New Rules.’”
Tompkins admitted that, regardless of the working conditions at HBO, he was never the right fit for the job, saying that he ”was not a political person” and “did not do current events comedy.” The producers (and Maher) clearly agreed, as Tompkins’ segment was quickly nixed after the first season. However, even during his brief ten-episode tenure, Tompkins saw enough of Maher to know that he’d never want to be under his thumb again. “I just don’t enjoy what he does, and it wasn’t fun to be around. He’s not the friendliest guy in the world,” Tompkins said of Maher, though he clarified that there was never a behind-the-scenes blowout behind the bad blood, only bad vibes. Tompkins continued, “It’s not like he was ever actively rude or unpleasant to me personally. But, yeah, not an energy that I like.”
As for Maher’s current iteration as the cultural right-wing’s token democrat who rails against cancel culture and thumbs his nose at social causes, Tomkins argued that this is always who Maher has been. “I don’t think that Bill Maher has really changed at all,” Tompkins asserted, “His politics really are, how does this affect me, Bill Maher? And so that’s why there are certain things he doesn’t care about, because it doesn’t extend past his bubble of empathy. So things with kids or whatever, he doesn’t give a shit. He doesn’t have kids. He doesn’t want kids. He doesn’t like the idea of kids. But he likes animals, so animal things are very important to him.
“But an issue that affects somebody who has a lifestyle that’s different from his, he really doesn’t care unless it is something that can eventually encroach upon his lifestyle.”