Even in moments where he’s trying to upset his audience, Tom Segura gets incredibly personal in his newest Netflix special Ball Hog. Be it telling a shocking joke about a friend performing oral sex on the Wu-Tang Clan or how he’d kill a dog if it hurt his son, there’s a lot heart in the special streaming on Netflix now.
A man of many talents, Segura is featured on a number of podcasts, including his own, Your Mom’s House, Tom Segura En Español, 2 Bears 1 Cave, and regularly appears on others. Segura has already revealed his plans for Ball Hog‘s successor-a Netflix special in Spanish.
While many comedians’ jokes rely on darkness or shock, Segura has a particularly silly approach to upsetting topics. Segura describes it as “child-like” and “playful” to Newsweek, which makes him much more lovable than someone like the incredibly dark Anthony Jeselnik or the edgelord king Ari Shaffir.
Segura spoke to Newsweek about tuning out offended people, writing more personally, and writing in a different language.
How is Ball Hog different from Disgraceful?
I think it’s a lot more personal. For me, it felt like an evolution. Every time you do one of these, you want to have a goal as far as improving in the art form. I meant the stuff about going for dreams, because it really does stick in my mind a lot. I just tried to make jokes around it.
That kind of stuff, talking about my relationship with my mom. I think when you try to talk about more personal stuff, it’s good for you as a comic.
One thread I’ve found throughout all your specials is the tone is the humor coming from using different voices and tone. In some places it works as an impression, but in others, they come as impressions. Do those voices come naturally and what role do they play in your writing?
They do come naturally. After doing this for a while the only thing you try to do sometimes is try to make a certain voice distinct from something else; so, they don’t all sound the same. I’ll do an impression of my dad, and it’s so him that I try to keep that exclusively-that voice to be his. Sometimes, I’ll be talking about somebody else, and I’ll be like, “Oh I feel like I’m sounding like my dad.” I do try to switch it up.
Most of it comes in the moment onstage. Maybe you just spoke to somebody or you had a conversation on the phone with somebody, and you end up doing their voices, but for the most part, they come out the way they come out.
Do you ever feel like people end up talking about specific distinctions between your onstage voice and your normal speaking voice that people hear in podcasts and interviews?
Yeah. People sometimes tell me, “Wow you’re different onstage than you are on podcasts.” I’m like, “Yeah, it’s a good thing man.” Onstage, you’re performing. In podcasts, like this, you’re just having a conversation. On a podcast, you’re being genuinely yourself, and you should be a bit more relaxed and pulled back. In a standup show, you’re turning up the volume on your personality.
At one point in the special, you say you enjoy upsetting people. What about upsetting people appeals to you and your audience?
That’s a good question, man. I feel like I’ve been like that my entire life. I was upsetting teachers when I was in elementary school. I was upsetting my mother, and I still do, and I’ve always gotten some kind of joy from it. It’s almost a child-like form of rebellion. I’m not trying to ruin somebody’s life, but I like provoking people. I feel like as a kid, it’s a fun thing to do, and I feel like as an adult, you lose that fun, but as a comedian, you can keep a hold of it. It’s almost like the part of you that stays a kid. It’s like poking at an adult and being reprimanded for it, but it’s playful!
And you’re not like Jeselnik when you do it, you’re sillier when you do it.
I think so. He definitely has his own lane of evil [laughs]. I enjoy it thoroughly, but I would say that mine’s definitely sillier.
You open Ball Hog with a divisive joke about how you’d kill a dog to protect your son. Do you feel like opening with something like that, it prepares the audience for anything that might happen later in the special?
They’re definitely gonna see a lot of people turn it off when they analyze the data. I like jokes like that as a tone-setter. The people that already like you are gonna be onboard, and the people that don’t know you yet are gonna make a judgement about you then. I’d rather give you a joke like that, and have you make your decisions than mislead you, and then you’re like, “Oh, I thought this was a different kind of guy.” Well, I’m not. I’m that kind of guy.
One of my favorite parts in the special was when you talk about getting in trouble for saying “gypsy” through offending a large group of people. Can you talk more about writing that material and how it came about?
I think that’s probably the most thoughtful piece in the special. It’s a bit that took over a long period of time. The message of the bit is essentially: you can walk away from things you don’t like. You don’t have to tell everybody how much you don’t like. You don’t have to tell everyone how much you don’t like them. That’s the end result of it, but I went through all those experiences.
I did go through that gypsy thing. It was something that nobody cared about. I was on Conan, and he’s a pretty progressive, liberal guy, and he took it as a joke. People get so upset about jokes now, but I also feel like it’s up to us as comedians to either pull back or still go for jokes. The message there is: yeah, I like jokes. I liked f**ked up jokes. I understand that it’s going to upset some people, but I’m willing to accept that. I think part of the message there is: I accept the reality that I’m not for everyone, and no one is for everyone.
I feel like we’re at a point now that there’s always going to be a faction of people that are offended or say they’re offended, but the people that already like you are going to say, “Well, that’s just Tom’s material.”
Yeah. I also feel like the lesson that I learned over the last few years of doing this and reaching a bigger audience is when you really do upset someone, don’t engage them. Just let them be upset. I really subscribe to that now. There is no need for me to work it out with you if you don’t like it.
And you talked about that when you said you stopped reading messages from people. At what point did you stop reading things people wrote to you or about you?
It’s also been a process. I’ve talked to a lot of comics about it too. Even if everything were good about you, I just don’t think it’s good to get lost in an online world. You can spend so much time reading these emails and these comments, and with what we do, of course, you’re gonna dip your toe in it every once in a while, but I try to maintain a policy of don’t go looking for it.
I just don’t think it’s good for anybody to consume all those messages about yourself. It ends up making you feel like-I don’t know. It’s not good mentally or emotionally for you to just seek that constantly.
Was there any significance to filming in Austin?
I always pick the cities based on where I’ve had a good time multiple times. When I chose Seattle, I was like, “I’ve been to Seattle a couple of times. I always have good shows.” So, when it came time to pick a city, I was like: let’s do Seattle. Same thing with Denver, Minneapolis. It was like that. We were considering a few cities, and I was like, “Man, every time I got to Austin, I have a good time. I have good shows. So, let’s just shoot in Austin.”
You’ve announced that your next special is going to be in Spanish. Even though you’re bilingual, is it harder to write jokes in another language?
Definitely. When you do English specials, you still run those jokes all the time. That’s one of the big challenges of the Spanish thing is I can’t just drive down to the Comedy Store and work out ten minutes in Spanish. I have to book a show and make it a special event kind of thing. That’s the biggest challenge.
I talk to Spanish-speaking comedians about this phrasing and that phrasing. I even hired a tutor to go over grammatical things. It’s a lot of work. It’s way more work than I planned on. If I’d known it was gonna be this amount of work, I wouldn’t have agreed to do it, but now I’m in!
I also feel like the way language works across cultures: you could have something funny on paper, but it doesn’t translate to that culture.
Yeah. Even dialects are different. I learned Spanish primarily in Peru, and most of the audiences I perform to are Mexican. There’s a bunch of things like “this word and that phrase-they don’t line up in those cultures.” You have start figuring out how to say things.
Do you think that a special in Spanish can still appeal to an English speaking audience if someone watches with subtitles?
Honestly, I feel like if it’s good! Everybody is just drawn to quality. If I put out a good special in Spanish, and people talk about it and recognize that it’s a good piece of material, then, for sure, people who would otherwise not check it out will check it out. It just reminds you, you’ve gotta put out a good product.
Do you think you’ll do an English version of the special?
Netflix told me, when they gave me this deal, that I could just do Ball Hog translated, and I was like, “Well, that’s kinda boring to me.” So, right now, as of today, the show I’m doing is about 50 minutes long in Spanish, and it’s about 25 minutes of completely new material, and then 25 minutes of translated material, but of those 25 minutes, 15 minutes of it are jokes that have never been recorded before. Right now, it’s still leaning about 40 minutes completely new, and only like ten minutes of translated stuff. Who knows? By the time we shoot it, I might be looking at a completely standalone hour of things that have never been recorded. I don’t think I’ll do those jokes in English-I don’t think, but you never know.
Besides standup, you have a bunch of podcasts and appear on others. Is there a project that you’ve wanted to pursue, but haven’t been able to?
A lot of TV development stuff is hard to get into the next phase. I actually have one that I can’t talk about yet, but it’s a pretty big one. We’re working on it right now with a couple of big producers-showrunners, but that stuff is always the balance of trying to do those things and trying to do standup all the time, do podcasts all the time. It really presses you on your scheduling ability.
Do you have anything you’d like to add?
I’m excited about the special coming out. I’m looking forward to people seeing it. It was a lot of fun. That tour was a spectacular career achievement for me. So, it’s fun to know that there’s a final thing to celebrate.