In Tom Segura’s fourth Netflix special, Ball Hog, the special’s namesake bit is a disgusting one that combines several of the special’s recurring themes: your mom, his mom, some sort of sexual act, and an extreme level of discomfort.
In the special, shot at the Moody Theater in Austin, Segura doesn’t shy away from vulgarity, but he’s not intentionally cruel. An example: about halfway into the special, he says cancelled dinner plans would be a reason to masturbate; but if the reason for the cancelled plans was a car accident, he’d make sure you were okay before continuing.
Segura said he’s always been attracted to off-color topics, and the special is rife with them. Under the outrage-optimized jokes, such as one about Arkansas, made to double down on a previous special’s bit about Louisiana, there are deeper, meaningful themes that Segura spoke about with VICE before the release of his special.
“I like saying something that makes somebody pull back and then hopefully laugh. It's a two-part equation: you have to bring about an idea that makes people go, ‘oh, shit.’ And then if you can make that funny, I think that's a victory,” Segura explained.
“It's always fun to get a laugh out of a topic or a bit that people aren't jumping at the opportunity to laugh at,” he said.
In multiple points in Ball Hog, Segura also tells stories about his mom, stories he says are all factual.
“When you do stand up, you want to get to a place where you're really talking about things that you feel strongly about,” Segura said. “And to me it was like, I obviously have all these strong feelings about having this combative relationship with my mom.”
Without spoiling the bits, the stories that Segura tells about his mom, and what he’s imagined his mother doing, are squirm-inducing even for a third party. And Segura, who takes pleasure in creating discomfort before a laugh, was terrified for her to see it.
“What I did was, I kept telling her how brutal I was to her in the show, to the point where she was like 'Jesus, why do you keep telling me?'” But he wanted to give her a fair warning. Finally, his mom asked if she should even attend. “Well, I mean, you're here.” He replied. Segura’s sister accompanied her and ensured there were a couple cocktails involved. When his mom’s post-show review was “that wasn’t bad,” Segura was shocked, but relieved. The second time she saw the show, she came backstage and just shook her head, and said “you’re terrible.” If you watch the special, you will be surprised for such a muted response, though Segura, both on-stage and off, is quick to remind his audience that his mom will benefit from his jokes, whether it’s tagging along for a casino gig, or getting sent to Bloomingdales, in exchange for Segura being mean. Segura, whose mother is Peruvian, chalks this up to Latin culture.
For viewers who are familiar with Segura through Your Mom’s House, the podcast he hosts with his wife and fellow comedian Christina Pazsitzky, his standup will seem both sharper and meaner, something Segura said comes from the expectations of the medium.
“If somebody likes your podcast, they probably like you as a person. If they were to meet you, they might enjoy having a meal with you," Segura said. "The same cannot be said for your standup. Somebody can enjoy your standup and not necessarily like you because it is an art form. It is a performance.”
Segura has signed on to produce two specials for Netflix: Ball Hog and a yet-to-be shot special to be performed in Spanish. Segura grew up speaking Spanish and spending time in Peru. Performing in Spanish, Segura said, is a “real thrill of an experience” that brings him back to the excitement and panic of the first few years of his standup career. While he estimates he’s done over 10,000 shows in English, he’s done less than ten hour-long sets Spanish. In December 2019, he launched another podcast, Tom Segura en Español, to practice and converse with other Spanish-speaking comedians (and his mom.)
When so many of the jokes in Ball Hog are clearly meant to initially disgust or shock the audience, there are reappearing, and somewhat out-of-place encouragements to chase your dreams. For Segura, this seems legitimately important to emphasize.
“When you actually go after a dream in real life and you do it, you start to really process how good that is for you,” he said. As he mentions in his special, he meets an inordinate amount of people in his day-to-day life, and often, after mentioning his comedy career, they’ll say that they don’t like their own job, or life. And it is something he thinks about a lot.
“When you meet a lot of people, you hear it a lot. And plus you get tons of messages from people that are like, ‘I love your stand up,’ or ‘I love your podcast, it's the only good thing in my life, my life sucks,’ and you're like, ‘Jesus Christ.’” “You should try to go after things that are fulfilling to you, and so it's a matter of trying to present that sincere idea, but not be too serious about it,” he said.
Because you can’t not talk about it, Segura mentions how Coronavirus has effectively shut down comedy, since “there's not much we can do without a venue and a crowd,” he said. It also seems up in the air as to when he’ll be able to shoot the Spanish special, though, as Segura himself says, that’s the last thing to be concerned about right now.
For a brief respite from all things pandemic-related, Segura’s special is a definite distraction, though it’s not guaranteed you’ll like what you’re thinking about instead.
Ball Hog is streaming now on Netflix.