Tom Papa has a strange circle of friends. Jerry Seinfeld gave him his first big break, taking him on tour as his opening act. Rob Zombie directed his last two specials after they struck up a friendship at a wedding. Steven Soderbergh cast Papa in “The Informant!” and “Behind the Candelabra” and will produce his next stand-up special, which Papa hopes to start shooting in a few months.
The only places those worlds intersect is through Papa. “I’ve never had Rob Zombie and Jerry Seinfeld at the diner at the same time,” he says. He laughs at the thought of it. Would they get along? “I think they would but they’re both so in their own worlds. I don’t know how it’d work.”
Papa, who comes to Laugh Boston Friday and Saturday for four shows, is in a class of comedian with Jim Gaffigan and Brian Regan. His material is mostly clean, so he was a natural fit to host last summer’s goofy game show “Boom!” on Fox. But his writing is sharp, and there’s something slightly wicked in his voice — apparent in his role as the smooth-talking but violent title character in Zombie’s animated movie “The Haunted World of El Superbeasto.” Papa also looked right at home playing a medical equipment salesman in the first season of “The Knick,” a turn-of-the-20th-century hospital drama that Soderbergh produced and directed.
“Any time you can wear spats and have a handlebar mustache,” he says, “I think you’ve got to be pretty happy.”
If he were offered a serious dramatic role, Papa says he would jump at it, though he considers himself a stand-up comedian first and an actor second. “Whenever I read something I always think, ‘How can I make this funny?’” he says. “And then the director’s like, ‘Yeah, it’s a good idea, but it’s uh . . . not a comedy.’ ”
Onstage, Papa’s routines often target his life at home with his wife and kids. It’s familiar ground for comedy, but Papa is an everyman with a bit of an edge. In a bit from his “Live In New York City” special, he talks about how he drinks more now that he has kids. “Daddy’s a lot more fun when he gets some of his magic juice inside of him,” he says. “Every picture my daughter draws of me now has me with a martini glass. It’s just a triangle, a stick, and my three fingers.”
Papa is proud that he can get a lot of laughs without using profanity, but he does note that there are a few things in the act that might not be appropriate for the kids. And he does acknowledge that the ideas behind some of the clean stuff can be a bit pointed. “I have a couple of comedian friends who call me out on that,” he says. “Like, ‘Everybody says Tom Papa is so nice — Tom Papa’s not so nice. If you really listen to what he’s saying — he looks all nice and smiley and you want to be his friend — but you listen to what he’s saying?’ ”
His writing has been changing over the course of his past two specials, and audiences at Laugh Boston will get to see that in the material he’s prepping for a new special. Where he used to focus on his immediate surroundings, he now finds himself considering more of the world at large. “In the beginning of family you spend so much time within your four walls,” he says. “It’s like you’re working for FEMA, taking care of these people. And then as their life starts to broaden, so does yours and you go back out into the world. My writing just reflects what’s going on in my life and what I’m seeing.”
There has also been a conceptual progression from “Live in New York City” to “Freaked Out!” The first was more of a traditional show, just a comedian onstage with a microphone, and the latter a more colorful, splashy affair with a cheesy set straight from an old game show and dancing girls. Papa is looking to push that even further when he shoots the new special, with Soderbergh producing.
“I just want to play with different ways we can deliver the joke,” he says. “A comedian’s act doesn’t begin and end when he’s onstage. We’re also going through these jokes in interviews or when you’re just with friends. I feel like there’s some way we can push the format a little more, be a little more expressive with it and express the jokes in ways that go beyond the stage. What that ends up being in the final product, we’ll have to see, but that’s the goal.”
At Laugh Boston, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 and 10 p.m. Tickets: $29-$39, 617-725-2844, www.laughboston.comNick A. Zaino III can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.