Acclaimed comic actor Tom Papa ’90 took a serious look at comedy during an insightful keynote address at the annual Film and Media Studies Symposium on February 28.
Sean Ramsden

Tom Papa ’90 gave the keynote address at Just for Laughs: A Mini-Course on Film and Television Comedy.

According to Tom Papa ’90, comedy is an intangible concept. It’s not that the star of a highly rated 2012 stand-up special on Comedy Central hasn’t been able to find his way to stardom. Rather, he says, the problem is trying to quantify the essence of “funny.”

“No one has a grip on it, a handle on what makes it really work,” Papa admitted to an audience at Rider’s annual Film and Media Studies Symposium, entitled Just For Laughs: A Mini-Course on Film and Television Comedy, on February 28 in the Sweigart Auditorium. “Comedy is elusive, but I’ve made a career out of it. In fact, sometimes I’ll be lying on a beach with my wife, and we’ll just say, ‘Thank you, comedy!’ ”

Handpicked by comic legend Jerry Seinfeld to open for the latter’s stand-up act on tour, Papa has since become a laughs luminary in his own right, starring in such major motion pictures as Steven Soderbergh’s The Informant!, with Matt Damon, and in the animated feature The Haunted World of El Super Beasto, opposite Paul Giamatti. A 1990 Rider graduate who appeared in a number of student stage productions, Papa is also the host of the popular comedic talk show Come to Papa on Sirius/XM channel 99, which airs Fridays at 6 p.m. Eastern.

Voted “class clown” in high school, where he also captained the football team, Papa recalled that the alternately silly and serious dual roles presented some conflict in his relationships with friends.

“When I visited Rider, and they told me there wasn’t a football team, I said, ‘This is perfect,’ ” Papa recalled, a grin spreading across his face. “I can do drama and my dad can’t make me play football anymore!”

Papa, who appeared in a number of student stage productions, said his time at Rider was essential to his success on the stage. “I can’t tell you how important this place was,” he said. “People ask me, ‘Why couldn’t you skip school and just go be a comedian?’ I tell them I needed all the things I got here to do it.”