It’s hard enough standing in front of a crowd and trying to make people laugh but for comedian, actor, and musician Whitmer Thomas he found a way to do it all. In addition to performances in hit TV shows like The Walking Dead and Glow, most may know him from his stand-ups. Combining comedy with compelling stories from his past his HBO special Whitmer Thomas: The Golden One gives us a look at his childhood, the loss of his mother and his rekindled relationships with his aunt and father. Whitmer and I got together for a nice sit-down in New York. Check it out.
AIPT: Thank you so much for talking with me today. When they first asked me to speak with you, I said to myself, Whitmer Thomas? Is…that the guy that made the Pee Wee Herman joke?
Whitmer Thomas: Haha…Oh man lol. Thanks for having me, man.
AIPT: So diving right in, I know you’re a huge Blink 182 fan, like myself, if you could write a song with them, what would it be about? And what would be the title of the song?
Thomas: Oh, man!! It would definitely be a song about falling in love with somebody, I think who is completely out of your league and figuring out all the classic kind of blink jokes about how you have sex with dogs or whatever it is and how they probably won’t like that.
Or I dunno, you know, like some classic blink stuff. I would try to really reinforce the blink 182, tropes that they, kind of have established in the last however many years. What would the song be called? Probably just, “Out Of My League.”
AIPT: Your comedic timing and stage presence remind me of three people. Jim Carrey, David Spade with a splash of Stephen Lynch. Are any of those guys an influence or inspiration to you?
Thomas: I love David Spade as a standup comedian and I know he’s a massive star but I feel like he doesn’t get nearly enough credit for his stand up. Stephen Lynch, he’s a really cool guy, his comedy central half-hour was huge for me growing up. And Jim Carrey he’s like in my bones, you know. The first time I ever saw Ace Ventura was when I was five years old at the movie theater. I had been compared to him as a kid. When I would smile in pictures and stuff, they would say stop doing Fire Marshall Bill or whatever character from In Living Color. And back then I didn’t really know what that meant.
My dad was like obsessed with In Living Color and I think we just have like a similar, mouth or eyebrows or something. And then when Ace Ventura came out, I was looking at myself and, after that, my, dad and mom and brother took me to a restaurant and I went into the bathroom and I destroyed it cause I was so inspired by that movie so I welcome the comparison to him, I love it.
AIPT: So I got a chance to see your new HBO special, Whitmer Thomas: The Golden One. It was both touching and hilarious. How did you wind up getting a special with HBO?
Whitmer Thomas: Thanks, man. I had been doing the show for a long time. I had originally started doing it without any music and just an hour of, you know, jokes and stories. And I think HBO had seen that a long time ago when I came through New York to do it. And, you know, I didn’t know that HBO had seen it. And then, a few years later I came back through doing the jokes and the songs and having kind of the arc of the story there.
Bo Burnham saw that and he is a friend of mine. I used to open for him when he was on the Make Happy Tour and we became pals. And then he was like, I don’t know what to do, but I feel like this would make a cool comedy special. And then he said so what do you think? And I was like, I dunno, I don’t know how to do it. If I would do it, it would be in some cool art space or something, like Stop Making Sense by The Talking Heads.
And he was saying, yeah, what’s like a small special place. And then we talked, we started talking about the Flora-Bama. And then I’d have to go back down there, but in order to do, that I’d have to see my family and it would be uncomfortable. He was like, maybe we could film that. And then I was like, oh yeah, I guess that would be interesting. HBO talked to them about that idea. A little while later they said, let’s do it. So that was like truly a dream, life-changing.
AIPT: That’s awesome! How long did it take to put everything together?
Thomas: We were there for about a month of shooting documentary stuff. But really, we shot probably two weeks. It was a lot of like lubricating people down South to be down to hang out and talk and then we filmed the comedy special two shows in a night at the Flora-Bama. The tricky thing was we had a stand-up specials post schedule but there’s a whole documentary so we had to edit it very quickly.
AIPT: Was there any documentary footage that didn’t make it into the special?
Thomas: Just a lot of information about my mom’s band (Syn Twister) and my aunt going on a whole thing about losing a twin sister that I thought was really touching. My dad added just more stories, more context. And that’s why we didn’t necessarily feel like it needed it. HBO and Bo and everybody were like, this is your standup special. It’s not your dad’s. They’re a really nice part of it but you got to remember it’s about you.
AIPT: Maybe you can put the rest out on DVD in the future?
Thomas: That’s the hope. There’s a whole documentary we could use just to promote my mom’s music and her story which is like the end goal for me. Another thing that wasn’t in there, my brother gives us a tour of his school bus where he lives.
AIPT: How do you come up with your jokes?
Thomas: Jokes, are real hard. Usually, it helps to be hanging out. I skateboard a lot and I like hanging out with skaters. They have a more enthusiastic way of talking to me when I’m going on some stupid tangent because they don’t hear it all the time in the way that comedians do. That’s usually where I will think of a joke, is talking to my skater friends when we’re sitting on the sidewalk or something. Sometimes it’s a story that I’ll be telling somebody and they’ll say, is this a joke? Is that real or is it true? Then often I’ll go, Oh yeah, that’s true.
Maybe I should write that down. Usually, I’m mining my life for what has happened to me. I find that people don’t love jokes. Me telling stories of f----d up things that I’ve done. A lot of my favorite comedians will go and be like, the other night I f-----g broke into a house and stole a baby or whatever. People laugh but if I do that, they’re like, what the f--k is wrong with you? Maybe it’s because I tell stories about how I was stolen when I was a baby.
AIPT: Did that really happen to you?
Thomas: That’s real, that really happened. It’s a very short diversion of that story but that’s a true story.
AIPT: In terms of your comedy, are you the same person on stage and off?
Thomas: I hope I’m not, I don’t share that much. When I’m off stage people say I’m really quiet and stuff. It just depends. A lot of times I don’t like to tell those kinds of stories off stage cause it’s a bummer. On stage, I can tell the joke of it all, but I’m probably pretty similar. You know my goal coming up after this is to become more mysterious.
AIPT: Then your next HBO special can just be called, “?”
Thomas: Yeah!! Ha Ha!!
AIPT: So what’s a typical day off like for you when you have some downtime?
Whitmer Thomas: If I have a day off of nothing I’ll text all my friends to go skate. I hope that one person says yes, I don’t like to go alone because one time I fell down at a skate park and hurt my back. I couldn’t stand up and I had to have two twelve years olds carry me to my car and I really don’t want to have to go through that again. I like going skating and playing guitar and f-----g around with my piano, just writing music. I still don’t count that as work at all. It’s writing the lyrics of the music that’s work for me.
I like writing a lot on a free day. I’ll write or me and my girlfriend will get something to eat. Buffalo Wings, that’s usually all I want to eat. Go skate, play music, get some buffalo wings, dream day.
AIPT: Do you play video games at all?
Thomas: I play but not currently. Love Tony Hawk games. Dude, I’m sure Tony Hawk is like trying to figure out some new technology, you know what I mean? Some new ways of making the perfect skate game. But I watch my friends play video games all the time, like Final Fantasy or the new Spiderman game. In my live show, I couldn’t get the rights for it, for this HBO special but when I tour, I sing in front of Final Fantasy cinematics cause I was watching my friends for over the years play so much Final Fantasy.
AIPT: In one part of your HBO special, your dad talks about an old Batman costume you use to have as a kid. Are you still big into comic books?
Thomas: I’m pretty big into it. I know a lot about comic books and I read a lot of graphic novels and stuff and if somebody is like, you got to pick this one up, I’ll go get it. When I was a kid I subscribed to comics and had them sent to my house and stuff.
AIPT: Would you say you’re team Marvel or DC?
Thomas: With the stories, I like Batman’s the most. But I think Marvel has more relatable characters. It’s really tricky, you know?
AIPT: Last but certainly not least, for all the aspiring comedians out there, what are some words of wisdom you’d give to future generations?
Thomas: If you’re in a small town, just start writing. Even if this isn’t the style of comedy you want to do, try to find a story that you think is personal, funny, and maybe has a twist or something. Even if you want to be an absurd comedian and tell your friends that story or tell somebody that story. Write about it on the internet and post it or whatever it is, just write about it. Try to find an open mic somewhere and do it. Just go and do it. And if you bomb, which I did for one full year, it took me to get a single laugh. If you bomb, which you might, there’s a really good chance. And you still want to do it afterward, after that complete heartache, then you should be doing it. Which means you’re a psycho like me and all the other comedians. Then you should be a comedian. Then you should do it.
AIPT: Awesome, Whitmer thank you so much for your time and congrats on the HBO special.
Thomas: Thanks, man. It was great talking with you. Nice meeting you.
Whitmer Thomas: The Golden One premieres this Friday, February 28, at 9:00 pm on HBO 2.