Why is a standup comedian pawing through boxes of old family letters—and being so serious as he does it? Why does his wife say she’s the funny one in the family? And how do two Los Angelenos adjust to living in the desert full time?
Meet Tom and Casi Parks.
Tom Parks, 67, was born in Washington, D.C. The eldest of three kids, he went to grade school in South Carolina and high school in New York before spending time in Texas, and ending up in Los Angeles. He studied journalism at the University of Florida—and before long was hosting Not Necessarily the News on HBO.
“To my mom,” he laughs, “doing comedy about the news was doing the news, so I hadn’t totally wasted my education.”
How did Tom end up with a career in comedy? “My mom loved broad slapstick. She roared when my brother hit me in the head with a ball,” he says.
“My dad had a quiet, reserved sense of humor. Dad had served as a bomber pilot in World War II, flying out of England, but was shot down in 1943, a month short of turning 22. He was in a (prisoner of war) camp for 18 months. When I was 14, Hogan’s Heroes ran on TV, and I was worried for my dad. But he started laughing, with tears in his eyes, and said, ‘I don’t remember it being this funny.’
“My mom also served, and she got one more battle decoration than my dad. They always argued about who was the toughest.
”When I graduated college, I was in Atlanta, and I had no idea what I was going to do. I was managing an apartment community, and I met a girl on the stairs. I asked her out (and was) totally shocked when she said yes. We went to see Harry Chapin at the Great Southeast Music Hall. Between his songs, he would tell stories and talk to the audience. I realized that was what I did at parties with friends, and I made them laugh. Friends encouraged me, and two weeks later, I got up onstage in that same club to impress that girl—but I wouldn’t have done it as a career if I hadn’t gotten laughs that night, from strangers. It was a revelation to me, and I’ve never thought of doing anything else.”
Tom’s career started with small college appearances that he booked himself. “(Colleges would) book anything for $100, and to me, that was huge money,” he said. “Once I did a few colleges, I had credits to my name. From 1976 to 1983, I had 700 college dates and was named Campus Entertainer of the Year and Top Comedian.”
Tom’s career includes a first appearance on The Tonight Show in 1987, hosting Not Necessarily the News on HBO in 1989, movies, television, Comic Relief, cruise-ship appearances, a game-show hosting gig, and writing.
In the mid-’80s, Tom was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. “I knew it was a possibility, since my dad had it as well, but when I passed age 35, I thought I had missed it.” Tom acted in a humorous film about diabetes which raised about $500,000 for the American Diabetes Association.
Tom’s current passion is old family letters, going back to the 1800s, including correspondence between his dad and grandmother while his dad was at war. Tom writes a blog at www.aboxofoldletters.com to share what he’s found.
Casi Finefrock Parks, 55, was born in Oklahoma City. She has a brother and is the youngest of three sisters. Casi comes from an artistic family: Her parents started a theater, and her two sisters are both painters. She was a dance major at the University of Oklahoma.
“I didn’t finish,” she says. “I got married, and when that was over, I came to Los Angeles, since my brother was in L.A. studying acting. My reaction was, ‘It’s California!’ and I never left.”
Casi went back to school for an accounting degree at California State University, Los Angeles. “I once worked for two gals who were with Prince and the Revolution, running errands for them while I finished school. I never met Prince, but,” she laughs, “I learned that having a backstage pass just means you don’t get to see the show.
“I started doing securities accounting during the online boom. I almost went to work with the FBI, but they said I had to carry a gun—an accountant in bank vaults! I’m very opposed to guns, so I backed out.
“I’ve finally decided to retire because I’m ready for a change, especially following Tom’s heart attack last year, although I may still look for consulting projects.
“I’ve always loved it here in the desert. I’m a big architectural buff, so I do the modernism tours, and there’s so much to explore. Plus, I can run to the store without it taking forever.”
Tom and Casi met online.
“I had never done it before,” she says about online dating. “I was career-oriented and almost 40, so I decided to do a two-week free trial. When I met Tom, I knew immediately.”
They lived together for eight years and married in 2009. “He got on his knee on New Year’s Eve and gave me a box of engraved stationery with both our initials on it. Besides,” she laughs, “I think he was tired of trying to find the right word for me. ‘Girlfriend’ didn’t feel right, and ‘partner’ could have meant a business associate.”
Despite Tom’s career, Casi says she’s the funny one in the family. “Tom is hilarious on stage, but quiet and reserved in real life, while I laugh too much! I talk to everyone, where he hangs back. But he’s the one who is organized at home, even though I’m the accountant.”
What are the challenges of retirement and moving to the desert full-time?
“You don’t end up doing the things you thought you’d do,” says Casi. “We’re remodeling the house, so we have to move out while the work is being done, and we have to build a social life and new friends to hang out with.”
As for Tom: “It didn’t feel like a big move, but it is a big difference,” he says. “I loved L.A., but I’m ready for life to be calmer and quieter.”
Adds Casi: “Life’s easier here, but you do have to keep an eye out for eating too much!”
Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays at noon on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at Anita@LovableLiberal.com. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.