Tom Papa and Natalie Morales talk Marriage Ref, Thursday on NBC

NBC’s new hit Thursday night series “The Marriage Ref” features comics Jerry Seinfeld, Tom Papa and TV personality Natalie Morales.

Papa is known as an actor and a touring comic, and has done so for years, often times appearing with Seinfeld in comedy clubs across the country.

Their new TV show was created out of their observation, that all marriages in many respects have equal dilemmas. The two comically examine married couples’ most divisive domestic squabbles and choose which mate is right and which is wrong.

Papa’s role on the show is to end couple’s marital fights once and for all by declaring a winner. His brand of humor shines as the assembled guest starring comedy panel add to Papa and Seinfeld’s branded humor.  

The “Ref” airs footage of real couples in their homes, having real fights and then give them something they desperately need– a declared winner.

The Marriage Ref airs on Thursdays at 10:00 pm, and this week’s installment is not one to be missed with marriage experienced Madonna, “Curb Your Enthusiasm” star Larry David, and comedian and actor Ricky Gervais serving as celebrity participants.

Monsters and Critics participated in a conference call where we listened in as Tom Papa and Natalie Morales gave us some insight to the series.

How do you get the people to come on the show?

Tom Papa: Well we’re really trying to put together a combination of people that we think is number one going to be hilarious, and number two is going to give us some good perspective and some opinions that you are not used to hearing from.  I mean to hear from Madonna and Larry David on the same panel with Ricky Gervais, you know you’re in funny territory right off the bat.

And then you’re also going to see these people in ways that you’ve never seen them on regular talk shows.

There’s like this thing when you go on The Tonight Show or something like that where it’s fun, but you’re kind of on your own, you’re talking about your projects. But here, you get to actually get into issues that people never see you talk about. So we’re really just looking for interesting and funny.

The tone of the show is it’s a celebration of marriage and it’s a fun comedy show. The couples that come on aren’t victims. We’re not attacking anybody. There’s not a mean tone to the show, and we want the panelists to feel that way also.

It’s just about having a good time. And you can come on, you can talk about your personal life if you want. If you don’t, we’re not going to press you. It’s just – we just want it to be a fun, safe environment for the panelists and for the couples that come on.

How are the couples chosen?

Tom Papa: Well the greatest part about all of this is we’re finding that when you do a show about married couples that have arguments, there’s an endless number of people out there. They are just everywhere. So there’s like a whole process where we meet them in shopping malls and other places all around America, then we interview them. Then we go to their homes with a video camera and we try and capture it.

What we’ve really found is you have to capture that first fight right off the bat because that’s when married couples – they’ve had these fights their entire relationship.

They don’t care who is watching. They don’t care if it’s family, they don’t care if they are out in the middle of the street, they are going to go. So we show up with our cameras ready to catch it.

You can also go to and we’d love to hear from you. We’re getting a lot of people who aren’t saying they themselves want to be on, but maybe their – “My uncle has to be on this. You have to talk to my friends.” There’s a whole bunch of people starting to come through

People send us little videos of themselves, and just give us information and then we contact them and gather it. I mean really, if you are looking to do a show about married couples arguing,  you’re not going to run out of material.

Is there a way to have the marriage ref bribed or swing your way?

Tom Papa: I have not been bribed yet, but I would not discourage it.

Natalie Morales: He can be bought at a price.

Tom Papa: I’m a big, big fan of cookies.

What are the most common fights among married couples that you’ve seen on the show, and maybe if you could give me examples of the most bizarre ones that you’ve come across?

Tom Papa: Natalie, what’s the most bizarre one that you’ve seen in your opinion?

Natalie Morales: Well it think we have some upcoming ones that are probably going to be you know pretty out there. Like the guy who wants to put a urinal in his house.

That’s slated for one. He’s already built the urinal in his man cave.
So I think that one is out there. If my husband did that, he would be in the man cave forever (with the door locked).

But I think the most common complaint we hear — and it’s always like a side note, but you know it’s a much bigger issue — is the lack of as Tina Fey put it, “Shnookie.” So that was on last week’s episode.  It’s been sort of the underlying theme to all of the couples, but usually there’s an issue that’s reared its ugly head around that.

Tom Papa: Yeah and then you’d stop fighting about the little things.

Natalie Morales: It’s usually that.

Tom Papa: One of my favorites is the guy who keeps his Harley Davidson in the living room and (she)’s got a problem with it.
His wife wants to have company over and he’s – and she can’t do any of it because this giant Harley is sitting right smack in their living room.

Natalie Morales: But there have been so many good ones.

Tom Papa: That is a common issue (shnookie)-

Natalie Morales: Yeah, like the stuffed dog. The stuffed dead dog was another one.

Tom Papa: But there’s enough women causing trouble in the home as well.

Tom, with somebody like Ricky Gervais on the show, he’s not married. What kind of perspective does he give?

Tom Papa: Well he’s been in a long-term relationship living with someone. And while we don’t really count that as married – because as you know, I’ve gone from living with someone to being married. It does definitely change. But his comic perspective is just so strong, we couldn’t resist. We have certain people that we will make a slight exception for, but you’ve got to be really funny.

Everybody has the same problems. That’s the most hilarious thing. I mean when we were coming up with the idea for the show and Jerry and I would hang out, I mean we couldn’t be you know further apart from a comedian on his way up and a guy coming off one of the greatest TV shows of all time.

And we got married around the same time. And when we would go on the road together and do standup gigs, we would just start complaining about things that were happening in our relationships, and we just started realizing they are exactly, exactly the same. It doesn’t matter what level you are at. If you are married, you are dealing with the same stuff.

Natalie you mentioned some of the odd things that were on the show. What are some of the more common disputes that the couples have?

Natalie Morales: I think a really common one that we saw just last week was the issue – the wife has the dining room table set year-round for Thanksgiving dinner. I think we all have – we have all relate because we all have sort of our rooms or our – what we consider our territory in the house and we mark our territory whether you’re a man or a woman.

For the men, it’s the man cave. And for the women, we have our way in the kitchen or other areas of the house – our office, whatever it may be. But I think there’s always a little issue of controversy when it comes to the husband and wife.

Like my husband for example, when he works out, he throws his dirty, sweaty, smelly workout clothes in the bathtub, and it just sits there for days smelling. And I’m like, “Why didn’t you throw it in the washing machine?” So that’s my area.

Tom Papa: It’s true. Territory really comes up a lot because you’re both in this one little space, you’re a man and a woman, you have nothing in common. It really becomes a turf war.

Natalie Morales: Yes, absolutely. We like to make sure we mark our territory very clearly.

Tom Papa: It’s hilarious.

Are you hearing from single people that are watching the show?

Tom Papa: Yeah, it’s hilarious. I’m hearing so many people that are saying that their kids like it and that their parents like it too. You know it’s funny. As a standup comedian, these are the jokes that I tell all the time. It’s all family based, and relationships, and marriage, and all of the insanity that goes with it.

And I used to think when I was starting out that maybe I would have to change it if I was in front of younger people, but my act works. Those jokes work when I’m at the Laugh Factory at midnight in Hollywood or if I’m doing a corporate gig with all 60 year olds.

Because it’s really family more than it is just marriage. I mean we all came from parents, we’ve all been humiliated by things that our parents have done. It’s really – it’s a universal thing. It’s really just family and people living together. And from that, there’s so much tension that people of every age really kind of latch into.

Natalie how are you finding this experience on this show as compared to your Today Show, which also has its comedic time but also has its heavier times. How are you comparing the two?

Natalie Morales: Absolutely.  I’m really lucky that both of my worlds are colliding in this way. I feel – you know from the news perspective – you know obviously working the Today Show, we do have you know a very hard news format to start out the show. But then the nice thing is that I think we all get to show a little personality and let loose a bit, and we just came back from three weeks in Vancouver covering the Olympics.

So I think we’re allowed to have a little more variety on a show like the Today Show, and then it’s just great now to be able to kind of take that one step further and you know enjoy myself and laugh alongside. I’m working with brilliant people. You know Jerry, and Tom, and the writers on the show are amazing, and so it’s been a real learning experience for me also to see how hard they all work to make this a number one show.

Tom – what is your pet peeve at home?

Tom Papa: I have this thing I’m going through now where whenever I open up a book and start reading, my wife sees that as a giant neon sign that says, “Let’s talk.” I don’t know what it is. If it’s she thinks I’m giving too much attention to the book. I don’t know what it is,  the jealousy that she has for the printed word is driving me crazy.

I’ll even try and make it really obvious. I’ll delay in my response to her. I will slowly put my finger down on the page as if I have to really kind of concentrate. “I’m sorry. What did you say,” and still nothing.  Although if she reads, there’s no problem. Then it’s quiet time.

Natalie is there anything else I mean other than the workout clothes that’s kind of a constant bicker at the house?

Natalie Morales: Oh, you know just the usual I feel like I do the lion’s share of the housework. You know I think it’s the typical husband/wife complaints. I’m sure he would love to tell you all the things that he complains (about) me as well.

But I think another one that we joke now, although at the time it was ugly was – and I told Tom this one. My husband refuses to change the toilet paper roll when – he refuses to change it when the toilet paper runs out.

So I’m constantly the one who has to run down to the basement and refill the toilet paper, and it’s become an ongoing battle to the point where I decided to boycott changing the toilet paper roll for 24 hours just to see if maybe he’d take the hint. And I left little notes on his desk thinking maybe he will do it this time. Instead, I went 24 hours going down to my son’s bathroom and finally decided this is just too painful for me.

I just sucked it up and just resigned myself that I will forever be the toilet paper roll changer in the house.

So how important is it to have your own area like the man cave, you know like your reading room, or whatever?

Tom Papa: I have given that up. I think – when it was just the two of us, you can kind of have that territory. Once kids enter the picture, forget it.

Natalie Morales: Yeah.

Tom Papa: My father had one little drawer in the kitchen and that’s all. Everything he owned and loved was stuffed into this one drawer and I always thought that was so bizarre. But now that I’m in that position, I realize if you can get a drawer, you’ve got more than enough.

Natalie Morales: Yeah, I’d have to agree with Tom. With kids now, I mean they take over everything. Toys are everywhere including in your closet. I thought at least my closet is my sanctuary, but no. I mean I’m discovering like stuffed animals in there and things that shouldn’t be. I stepped into a show the other day and thought it was a mouse. It was a stuffed mouse. I still screamed.

What determines whether a contestant take the panel’s advice or not?

Tom Papa: I really try and get into it and kind of really figure it out. And it’s funny. I’ve had to reverse a couple of calls because they really convinced me and I thought I was kind of going one direction. And sometimes Natalie also will throw a fact in that I didn’t know that changes the whole perspective of the argument.

So I try and keep it as fluid as I can. I try and judge it not just on the argument, but also on how people fight is a big thing with me. If you get a little too mean and a little too nasty even if you’re right, I have a hard time going for those people.

Natalie Morales: Yeah, Tom is Mr. Nice Guy.

What kind of fact would she throw out that would sway your decision?

Tom Papa: I don’t want to give anything away, but there is one that you will see in the Larry David/Madonna show this week where I thought it was all cut and dry, and Natalie gave us a fact from deeper back in the relationship that someone had done something that changed everything. It changed the whole perspective on it, and I ended up having to flop the call.

Tom, how did you become associated with Jerry Seinfeld. How did that all come about with you?

Tom Papa: When he was done with his show after a couple of years of whatever he was up to, he came back to New York to start working on his act again and getting back into standup, and I was in the clubs in New York doing my thing.

Were you all good friends before the idea of the show came to be?

Tom Papa: Not before that. This is about nine years ago. And we just met in the clubs. He saw me doing my thing, thought I was funny, and we started – you know all of the guys that he came up with weren’t in the clubs anymore, so we started hanging out with him, and Colin Quinn, and the three of us became really good friends.

And then we started going on the road together, and performing, and then it just became this just great friendship. And we had all this common ground. We were both going through this marriage thing; we both loved standup comedy, and just really hit it off.

Yeah, right after he had this argument with his wife and had a friend there that broke up the fight for him and acted as the marriage ref, he started pounding the idea out and was running it by me.

I mean we had this thing where whenever we were out on the road and we would start complaining about something that happened in our relationships, some kind of fight, the more miserable the other guy was, the happier the other one was. It just made us laugh. And then all of a sudden with this idea gelled, it was like, “We could make a show about that.” We realized we were really onto something funny.

Were you the natural choice as cohost?

Tom Papa: I was always his choice. I mean you know he really couldn’t go with anyone else. (What was he going to say)?

Natalie how did you get into this whole thing?

Natalie Morales: Well I think you know they were looking for somebody who could provide a little bit of a different perspective, you know actually coming from a news and information background as their just the facts ma’am – to kind of be this (frank) person.

But at the same time, I think a lot of times when people fight you know as a couple, when you are fighting you become so – you know you become so entrenched in your fight and the issues that you tend to lose sight of the facts.
So I think they wanted somebody there to kind of moderate in a way as you know providing some of the issues surrounding the couple as well as the facts surrounding whatever the issue is they are fighting about that could help the ref then make his decision.

Tom Papa: But another reason why we chose Natalie is that she is one of the most fun people to make laugh.

Natalie Morales: I laugh very loudly.

Tom Papa: It’s so great. Oh, it’s so great having her there. When you can get her to laugh, you know you’re into something funny.

Natalie Morales: I had interviewed Jerry a couple of times,  we’ve had him on the Today Show for various projects that he’s worked on.
I didn’t hang out with him, but I knew Jessica just from a charity that she’s involved with – so his wife. So it kind of evolved from there.

Natalie, what is your home situation?

Natalie Morales: I have two kids. I have a 6-year-old. Two boys – a 6-year-old and an 18 month old.
Well you know we all have kids. And that’s the great thing is that the Today Show allows me – I do that in the morning and then I have the afternoon. And the great thing about The Marriage Ref is we – they all have kids too, so they want to get home to their families. So sometimes, we’re there later than we’d like, but – that we expect. But we definitely – we get it done you know earlier rather than later.

Although we did have kids in the audience last week, although I think sometimes the subjects can be a little racier probably and especially with guests like Madonna. I understand there’s some bleeping in this episode, but other than that, it’s good wholesome fun for all.

From NBC, a video preview:

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How the Marriage Ref Works Before you watch The Marriage Ref, you should know how it works. Series Premiere, Thursday 10/9c.

Inside The Marriage Ref Executive Producer Jerry Seinfeld, host Tom Papa, and celebrity panelists talk about what makes The Marriage Ref tick.

Marriage Secrets: Kelly’s Happy Marriage Secret Kelly Ripa offers her twist on the age-old advice about never going to bed angry.

Marriage Secrets: Old Guy Marriage Secrets Comedy legend Don Rickles explains some of the secrets of his 45 years of wedded bliss.

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