As a veteran comedian of 25 years, Tom Papa obviously didn’t have any qualms about hosting Baked, his brand new cooking show for the Food Network that sees him search for America’s best bakers.
It also helped that Papa has been in this position before, hosting the shortly lived Jerry Seinfeld produced panel show “The Marriage Ref” for 2 seasons between 2010 and 2011.
But, with “Baked,” Papa feels much more at home. Not just because it gives him a chance to explore his love of baking, but also because he saw plenty of similarities between bakers and comedians, too.
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“There is a similarity to it,” Papa recently explained to me over the phone. “It is just one of those things where you are not just going into it, working with a big company and doing what everyone else does.”
“There’s an element to these people where you have to take a leap and go, ‘This may not work out. But I really like doing it. So I am just going to take that leap and see what happens with my life.’ That takes a unique kind of person.”
Papa even sees a correlation between his favorite restaurants and comedy clubs, too.
“My favorite places are just places that have a little soul to them. It can be a fancy Michelin star kind of a place that is not overly pretentious. I feel like this is the same with comedy clubs, you can tell when you walk into a place and it has a soul.”
“That usually comes from the owner being involved and being passionate. Rather than just passing it off to a manager and letting the place just run for the money.”
“When you walk in you can tell that the people working there are into it, because the owner is into it. It is like all good places in life, if it has a little bit of a soul to it, those are the places I am attracted to. That can be something fancy or that can be a food truck.”
Papa doesn’t even see too many differences between his hosting style and being on stage, too, as he insisted that his main object with "Baked" was to just be as “natural” as possible.
“Because the idea came from such a natural place I don’t want to make this into something that it is not.”
“I’m funny. When I meet people I am going to be funny with people. That’s just a given. Let me just learn about it and let me ask the questions that I want to ask. I just genuinely want to have fun with these people. Meet them.”
“It is kind of like doing crowd work when you do comedy. Just let it be natural and real and fun and don’t overthink it.”
“Baked” premieres on the Food Network on Monday September 3rd at 10pm EST, while you can check out the rest of my Q&A with Tom Papa below.
How did you get started on “Baked”?
Basically it was a hobby of mine. I just started baking Sourdough bread on my own, and started really getting into it and got better at it. I had never had a hobby before. I got a little obsessed. When I was touring around the country doing stand-up I would visit different bakeries. I would look up who is making the best bread in town. Just to learn and talk to them and figure out what kind of flour they were using and stuff. I would take pictures on social media and post pictures on social media. Food Network caught wind of it and wanted to explore the idea of making a show out of it.
That’s such a modern way for a show to get started, it wouldn’t have been like that 10 years ago.
Yeah, you’re right. But the other part of me that thinks it would have, and you always hear this as a cliche, is because they always say, ‘Just do what you love and what you’re passionate about.’ And, you know, I have always been passionate about comedy and doing that. But I have always just had a love for baking bread. It kind of panned out that people are attracted to the enthusiasm that people have for something.
How old were you when you started baking bread? Had you ever shown any interest in baking before that?
I had always cooked a lot. I am from a big Italian family. I have been cooking my whole life, just at an amateur level, for my whole family. My wife was more of a baker than I was. I didn’t like the precision of baking. Then about 4 years ago I was working in a writer’s room on a TV show and a friend was explaining to me about sourdough and this weird yeast that is floating around our heads, which goes into this sourdough starter. And that’s how bread was made for thousands of years before we had dry, instant yeast. So I just started doing it. And 3 or 4 years later, here we are.
I feel like that provides a lot of insight into what goes on in a writer’s room.
[Laughs] I know, exactly. You are just sitting there trying desperately to write scripts. And then you go, meh, I would rather make bread.
So what does each episode of “Baked” entail then?
I was like, ‘Why not make a show about me baking bread every week?’ But the network was like, ‘You’re insane and no-one is going to watch that.’ So basically I go to a different city and shine a light on the best baked goods that I can find. I go to New Orleans and find the best beignets. I come in to New York and go to a donut shop, a bagel shop, I go to an Italian baker that makes rainbow cookies. We have Jim Gaffigan on that episode, he is our only guest. It was such a natural fit, because we both started out in New York and he is such a donut maniac. The real stars for the rest of the seasons are the food and their bakers. Whatever is the best baked good, made by people who are fun and passionate, that’s basically the show.
Which cities do you visit?
We have shot 8 episodes so far. We have gone to New Orleans, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Detroit, New York, we did an episode in New Jersey, Cleveland. Some of the cities I had already hit and knew and had my favorite spots and recommendations, other places we would research it and try to find the best ones. You also want to do places that haven’t been overexposed before. I always find shows are at their best when they are fund and funny, and you actually learn something. So we were trying to find the places that are doing something new, some people that were established, try to mix it up.
Do you have a favorite city that you visit for food?
New Orleans is cool. Especially because, as a comedian, I didn’t play there a lot. I have been there a couple of times, but a lot of the other cities in the country I have spent a lot of time there in my career. But with New Orleans it was kind of cool to come in and go into New Orleans. Which is so legendary as a food town, and to have this kind of a show behind me. If you are going to go and learn about a place for the first time, this was the way to do it.