Honestly, the real tragedy in Tom's life isn't the side-eyed, for-fucking-serious looks he gets when people learn his given name. It isn't the barrage of tweets that intermittently choke his feed, battering him, hot and cold—Tom Brady fucking sucks! You're my favorite football player!—like an alloy stress test. It isn't the acetylene hatred of his home state or the predatory emcees eager to whip any anti-Patriots crowd—read: any crowd outside of New England—into a frenzy before the other Tom Brady, who is a stand-up comedian, has to get on stage and try to make these people laugh. All bad, none of them quite tragic.
So here is Tom Brady, bookended by burlesque acts in a club-cum-restaurant on Chicago's North Side. It's a long, narrow, warm space with wine-colored walls and serious bordello vibes, which may be a function of the burlesque dancers and sex-heavy comedy routines. Tom, who used to smuggle hardcore gay porn into the most homophobic of ESPN.com's comment threads under his given name, is telling me and everyone else in the crowd the worst thing about his name. The real shame of it is that, his socioeconomic circumstances being what they are—and with that new, Facebook-driven comments system in place—Tom Brady cannot really mount the old mule like he used to, loft the lance and tilt at that great, terrible windmill in Bristol. He can't comment like he used to.
"My favorite thing ever to do," Tom tells the club, "is to make homophobic assholes read erotic gay literature." He did not do this through threat of violence, or force of argument. "I need to trick them," Tom says, and here he evokes his unlikely satirical social justice warrior:
"'As a Southern Baptist preacher'"—here it should be noted that Tom's Southern Baptist preacher sounds like Will Ferrell's Harry Caray by way of Florence, South Carolina—"'I guess gays should be allowed to walk amongst us; but I don't wanna hear about what they're doin' in their bedrooms!'"
The hook has been baited; his prey eagerly flock to the comment, Preach!
"'I'm a Christian man. I don't want to hear about some hot dude, sitting at home, all oiled up, and then his fireman boyfriend Eric kicks in the door, and they haven't seen each other all week—they got in a fight before—and things are kinda tense, sexual tensions are high. Eric rips both their shirts off, and immediately starts kissin' down his lover's hot, oily torso, like softly but passionately at the same time, like he wants it, and he's gonna get some; he's Pappa Bear and he's gonna get what's in that sweet, gay honeypot.
"'He makes his way lovingly, slipping down the oil to his hard abs—and he's got abs ... he's made out of abs, he's a fucking ab king, dog—and he climbs down that ab ladder all the way down to his lover's hard, throbbing candlelit dick ...'"
And now Tom Brady's got them, he's walked right into the mirror-lined viper pit of sport fandom that is the echo chamber of The World Wide Leader's comments section. For a few brief, glorious moments, he has ripped the scales from their eyes.
"There would be all these comments on it," Tom says, "people like 'Yeah!' Then three comments down, the same dude is like 'Oh no! I'm so sorry baby Jesus!'"
The bit kills, and that long, dark shadow out of Foxboro gets slightly softer, if only for one night and in one room. This is life, for the other Tom Brady.
His real name is Tom Brady—it's right there on his birth certificate—and sometimes it fucking sucks. He has considered changing it, which is no small thing for a comedian, particularly one on the rise and who has recently opted out of any part-time backup plan. This is his only gig, now, and you don't want a Jennifer Grey's Nose situation on your hands in that scenario. It's not that his name is his only distinguishing feature, but it is one, and distinguishing features are things comedians need to have.
Because fate is particularly cruel, Tom—born in Bloomington, Indiana—is also a devout Indianapolis Colts fan, which makes him something of a pariah whenever he gathers with other Circle City faithful. His Roscoe Village apartment is covered in Colts paraphernalia, including a framed Jim Sorgi jersey and various Colts flags; his bedroom doorway is flanked by the flag of the United States and the Navy torch-bearing flag of Indiana, the whole place pretty well steeped in sigils declaring that he, despite that name, is a member in good standing of Chicago's proud, quiet Hoosier diaspora. The whole thing is really pretty heavy, sport and love and pain and expectations all attached to a name he drags from show to show and bears as a standard and a cross. It's also just his name, and just one of the things he drags onstage with him.
Tom, like so many other comedians, was a painfully shy, quiet kid—different because he is East Indian and because of his anxious, prowling brain, and mostly an ethereal presence in the classroom. Eager to exist in the minds of his classmates, he first turned to the state religion of basketball. "I thought I was going to be in the NBA until I was, like, 17," he says. Tom was undersized and overweight and in possession of only a fairly well-developed three point shot—hardly an anomaly in Indiana. The hardwood didn't work out, but sports would eventually be his savior, or at least help him out. His role in the proceedings was simply more passive than he could have imagined.
"I remember the day," Tom says. "The day after that first Super Bowl the Pats won. It was one of those things where, I liked that game; that was a great Super Bowl because it was a field-goal win, a huge kick. It was an exciting Super Bowl. And Tom Brady wasn't that big of a deal at that point. He was just Drew Bledsoe's backup who happened to step up. It was kind of like a nice little pop. I was a fat Indian child, so to me any attention was interesting at that point."
Before he began his comedy career, the name was nothing more than a curiosity, eliciting dumb jokes and double takes from sports fans and little more. But as the Colts-Patriots enmity developed, interactions turned caustic. "And I was a Colts fan!" Tom laments. "I am a Colts fan. So there is this terrible irony, that my name is the Judas, you know? Now it's even worse, because now he might go down as the greatest quarterback of all time, now that he's won this last Super Bowl."
Is it a burden?
"It's a nightmare. I didn't want it!"
Consider that constant Twitter barrage as an illustrative example of the challenges and joys of the famously named. Still, a healthy amount of the tweets directed at our Tom are intended for the other one, who plays quarterback.
There's a bit about this, too, about the withering fusillade of hate he receives from eyetooth-baring web-savages. He can rattle off the favorites—Tom Brady fucking sucks, Tom Brady is gay, what have you—before attributing them to his stepfather, who doesn't even watch football. Conversely, he jokes about flipping the script.
"Sometimes I'll get messages from kids, like, 'You're my favorite football players!'" Tom tells the audience. "So I like to message back, like, 'I'm quitting football now ... because of you!'"
The whole thing is an exercise in adaptation, really. Since all of the praise and all of the hate and, to some small degree, even your very name does not actually involve you, it is best to let it roll off, make the best of it, live life wrapped in duck feathers.
It's not like Tom's a ruined guy or anything—even if his Indiana ipseity does make the whole thing extra mean—or even any more spiritually bruised than the next comedian. Hell, there's almost certainly a struggling comic out there wishing feverishly for a similarly bestowed-at-birth hook. It's almost as if Tom Brady—our Tom Brady, the one that's still working for rent—was destined to do something, if for no other reason than to make his own claim to the name.
Brady's long-running comment war against Bristol and its resident orcs was, in some ways, Tom getting back at his famous namesake and the machine that made him inescapable. It was part of a broader campaign of trolling—Brady also used to rile up NBA fans, posing as a Heat fan professing his love for "LeBron Jones" and relishing the subsequent firestorm. More to the point, it was an expression of a deeper pursuit, and the fulfillment of a deeper need.
For a man who craved attention when he was young, the screaming, howling, misanthropic zealotry he could pull around him like a cyclone felt narcotic. Still, with the new measures on the boards, and the lack of a slow day job paying him for his trolling time—it is simply too painful and sad, spending any time in that black vicious trough below the articles, when one is not also and otherwise on the clock—the whole endeavor exists now as empty spaces in a comment thread. The old comments are deleted. The new ones aren't coming. Tom Brady is going to do something else.
Tom Brady is not Tom Brady, he's not ever going to be in the NBA, and he is not "the sports comic," although he has his ESPN-baiting bit and is doomed to address the name nightly. He is, however, a devout lover of sports and an eager combatant, in the way comics are, against what he perceives to be ignorant, hateful, and stupid.
There is more than a hint of Reggie Miller-style dark horse pathos in the tale of any aspiring comedian, much less one who has to drag one of the most famous names in America through the chilly Chicago comedy circuit. It is tempting, and certainly a little apt, to consider Tom's life thus far some kind of microcosm/personification of sport ideals, from his fat-kid-with-a-three adolescence to his razor-lined baiting of homophobic sports fans to his performances before audiences that detest him simply by name alone. The parallels are there, but they are tenuous. This is appropriate since sport, despite all it can do, is finally still a game. Tom Brady, despite all it invokes, is just a name.
"It does feel like it goes in line with how things work in my life," Tom says, with equal parts amusement and exasperation. "It's just this extra fucking thing I've got to deal with. There's always going to be like one more fucking thing." That's life, and that's the joke.