Are you already a big giant fan of Fusion’s No, You Shut Up!? Good then skip ahead to the part where we talk to Paul F. Tompkins about season four. If you aren’t, welcome to your new favorite political show. “No You Shut Up!” has just kicked off their fourth season on the Fusion Network, and it is the best election-themed programming on television today.
“No, You Shut Up!” is a comedy/entertainment news program covering politics and current events in a very original way – Paul hosts the show and has puppets (from the Jim Henson Co) as panelists and celebrity guests such as Jack Black, Key and Peele, and Bob Odenkirk participate in conversations and sketches with the puppets.
NYSU! is one of the smartest, funniest and quickest shows on television covering what’s happening in Electionville, USA. Tompkins isn’t just stylish, he’s also pretty damn brilliant, and his team of puppeteers will blow your mind. Don’t let the felt content, and high percentage of googly eyes on NYSU!’s panel scare you away. This is no kids show- the content is 100% for grown ups. Paul and his team, plus an incredible guest list, cover everything election, and they make it funny.
Last week’s season premiere promised a season full of fancy graphics, great sound effect to tell you how you should feel about things, and even a “clockmander in chief” to count down the days to the big election. If you miss your power hour of Stephen Colbert plus Jon Stewart, you’re going to be thrilled to discover NYSU!
We talked with Paul F. Tompkins about the series, and what to expect in season four. New episodes air on Fusion every Thursday at 10pm. Miss an episode? Catch them all on YouTube the week after they air.
The Interrobang: How did you get involved with the show?
Paul F. Tompkins: I was asked if I would be interested in hosting it. It was created by David Javerbaum who was a long time “Daily Show” producer and he was making stuff for Fusion which was a brand new network that hadn’t even launched yet and this was one of their first shows. He asked me to meet with him and said ‘Hey I got this idea for a show, it’s a meet the press style show but with puppets as panelist would you be interested in hosting it.’ And I loved the idea. It sounded crazy and I said sure, it was simple as that.
The Interrobang: Had you ever worked with puppets before?
Paul F. Tompkins: The closest I came was a series of ads for the Ford Focus. These were internet ads for the Ford Focus and I was the voice of a puppet that someone else operated. Originally I was supposed to operate the puppet, but it turns out that is a skill that you cannot learn in a weekend, so I was the voice and a guy named Ron Binion was the puppeteer and we developed this weird symbiotic relationship where I would talk– and it was all improvised– and he would kind of follow my voice. We did movements as best we could and then the more we did it, the more it was like a strange push-pull where sometimes I was following him, sometimes he followed me. But that was the only time I’d worked with puppets before.
That was one of the best jobs I ever had. I loved doing those ads, and that’s where I met John Ross Bowie whose a brilliant comedic actor that a lot of people would know from the Big Bang Theory- the long-suffering straight man in that bit and a hilarious guy. I think you can still find them on line.
The Interrobang: What’s it like to hold conversations with puppets? Is it an adjustment from performing with people?
Paul F. Tompkins: It is. And is something that I became used to fairly quickly It was very strange at first, especially in the first season of the show, it was almost all improv. It was all improv, there was very little script and so we’re carrying on these conversations– me and a puppet. And I can’t even see the puppeteer. So it becomes very unnerving, and then it becomes second nature. And that’s a credit to the puppeteers who are so good at their job. They give so much life to these things, that now its strange when I suddenly realize, oh yeah, I’m talking to glass eyeballs.
The Interrobang: I know! How do you not burst into laughter having a serious conversation with a cockeyed lunch pail?
Paul F. Tompkins: Its weird when it does happen now. All of a sudden I’ll have this moment of clarity, and it will take me out of it but yeah those guys are so good that they make those things real.
The Interrobang: You have an amazing guest list. Do you have to help them adjust to working with the puppets or does everyone get in the groove pretty quickly?
Paul F. Tompkins: Everyone gets in the groove. I think that if you’re willing to be on our show you’re going to be able to get into it pretty quickly. I’m very proud of the guest list that we’ve had on the show so far. I can’t believe some of the people that we’ve gotten and everyone’s been a good sport and everyone’s been into it. For some people you find out they love puppets and they are so thrilled to be having the interaction with a puppet. It’s a certain subset of people that are really excited about puppets being there. And its funny because you never know who it’s going to be.
The Interrobang: So you’re starting a new season. Are there any changes? Will there be a new suit?
Paul F. Tompkins: The suit is slightly different, I’m going with a double breasted suit this year and a brand new tie. There’s going to be a lot more talk about politics obviously because of the election and there’s also for the first time we’re adding a human correspondent which I’m very excited about. We’re going to be doing field pieces going out side the studio and we have a young comedian that I’m very fond of Rhea Butcher, whose going to be our first ever human correspondent. She’s a really terrific stand up and a very socially conscious comedian so I think that her stuff is going to be great and a great addition to the show.
The Interrobang: Who are some of the guests who will be coming on this season?
Paul F. Tompkins: For the premiere we have Cenk Uyger from the “Young Turks” and Colin Hanks. And then we have Dr. Bassem Youssef who is an Egyptian satirist who has been called one of the most influential people in the world by Time Magazine and also Adam Conover from the tv show “Adam Ruins Everything” on truTV. We’re looking forward to getting not just celebrities, but also people who have stuff to say about the news and current events. More newsmakers. We’d love to get someone who holds elected office on our show. We did a special where we had congressman Ted Lu talk with hot dog so we’re looking to get more of that. More newsmakers on the show.
The Interrobang: I think your show is the perfect next stop for Obama on his tour of comedy shows.
Paul F. Tompkins: Oh my god. Obviously that would be incredible and we would drop everything to have the President on at his convenience.
The Interrobang: You could have Hot Dog talk interview him. That would be great.
Paul F. Tompkins: Oh hell no. There’s no way I’m letting a hot dog puppet talk to the President. I’ll run up the steps of Air Force One with a microphone if I have to.
The Interrobang: So how does the shooting schedule work? The show is so topical.
Paul F. Tompkins: We shoot on Tuesdays for a show that will air Thursday of the following week, but what we have started doing in this season is shooting a thing on Tuesday for that coming Thursday’s show. So we can have something in there that’s as fresh as we can possibly get on the air. because we’re a very small show and we’re a small staff, and we can’t turn stuff around as quickly as larger comedy shows that are topical are doing. So we’re trying to get stuff as recent as possible in the tv show but also we’re doing a lot more digital stuff, exclusively for the web that will be even more timely.
The Interrobang: That sounds exhausting.
Paul F. Tompkins: Yes and no. The team is great and they make it as easy for me as possible. I’m really proud of the show we’re able to make under the circumstances. I think we pack a lot of comedy and satire into our little show. I hope we can get a lot of people watching so we can grow even more. The dream would be to be able to do it live to tape in front of an audience but we’re not there just yet.
The Interrobang: You just performed at Riot LA live. How did that go?
Paul F. Tompkins: (laughs) It was a lot of fun. It was not how we would ideally do it in front of an audience. We wouldn’t be in a tent where you can hear a block party happening that is louder than our microphones but yeah we sat together. We were given a modest budget to do something live. It’s great that everyone on the show has an improv background. We weren’t able to write the live show the way we write the tv show. It was very much a skeleton that we just riffed on. Like we had topics we knew we were going to talk about but it’s not scripted so they’re all terrific. I can’t say enough about the puppeteers. They’re so talented. They just roll with everything, we have a great back and forth and you can see the inklings of what it could be like with an audience. So fingers crossed one day we might be able to do that.
The Interrobang: Do you have a favorite character?
Paul F. Tompkins: I love interacting with Star who is voiced by Coleen Smith, and that’s our conservative squirrel who is a really hateful character- just a hateful character. And she says really outrageous things. She I think makes me laugh, she makes me break character more than anyone. And then Hot Dog–Hot Dog is voiced by Victor Yerrid– who is just a completely vacuous jerk, who weirdly means well. He doesn’t realize how vacuous he is and thinks he’s helping. But we made the decision that Hot Dog would be the only character that I would get mad at. That I ever showed physical displeasure with so its great to have him as a foil and victor is just hilarious. I love working with those guys.
Watch No You Shut Up! with Paul F. Tompkins Thursday nights at 10pm on Fusion. Join Paul, Hot Dog, Star Schlesinger, Armond Mite and the rest of the gang each week. You can watch episode one of season four, below.