When I spoke to comedian Tommy Pope Wednesday afternoon about his show Saturday at Auburn Public Theater, he was just hours removed from a root canal.
I asked if he thought he'd still be in pain this weekend, if it'd affect his performance. He said no.
Even if his mouth was still smarting, though, Pope's comedy is the kind that would probably thrive off of it. The New York City comedian tells personal stories on the stage and parlays them into humor.
"The comedy I enjoy is when they talk about themselves and their lives, rather than just some guy telling a funny story," he said. "I like them to want to know more about me, to wonder how I got the personality I have."
The answer to that question, Pope said, is his family. Raised in a "loving but aggressive" Philadelphia household, the son of a dad with eight Italian siblings and a mother with 10 Irish ones, he sharpened his wits early. In particular, having two older brothers taught him how to talk people into laughter — or tears.
More than anything, though, home was where the humor was.
"My family get-togethers are funny, and wildly entertaining," he said. "There's nothing funnier than that wild pack of animals I call my family."
Pope studied at Drexel to become an engineer, and didn't begin comedy until he was 28. Outside of Richard Pryor, George Carlin and Eddie Murphy, he didn't watch much, either. It didn't strike him as something anyone could do for a living, he said.
Since taking the microphone, Pope has done just that. Three years into his career, he won the annual Philly's Phunniest contest. The next year, he was recognized as one of the New Faces of Comedy at the Just For Laughs comedy festival in Montreal. Along with winning the 2014 Big Sky Comedy Festival in Montana and being invited to the last season of NBC's "Last Comic Standing," they're among Pope's proudest moments in comedy.
Pope actually looks to heckler encounters as a source of affirmation, as well. While they can knock a comedian off their game, he said, they can also give them a chance to show their natural talents. He recalls hosting an advertising awards show in Philadelphia, where an audience member tried to derail the show. When Pope put him down, he got a standing ovation.
"I hit him really hard," he said. "It turned out what I was saying about him was what they were all thinking."