Canadian comedy star Tom Stade christens Music Republic Magazine’s brand new “Comedy Zone”.
A no-holds-barred, in-depth interview with the man who really should be prescribed on the NHS as the antidote to comedic mediocrity.
The anthesis of political correctness, on and off stage, and a larger than life party animal. As editor Simon Redley (and his liver!) recently discovered…
Is he a comedian or a magician? Canadian comedy star Tom Stade made almost two days of my life disappear, when I turned up to do a scheduled 45 minute interview and a 30 minute photo shoot with him a few days ago!
Let’s do it over lunch in the lovely Italian restaurant San Carlo, I say to his PR rep’, as he has a show that night in that fair city of Leicester. I book the table for 1.30pm. Tom turns up five minutes early and immediately orders two beers.
Wind forward three and a half hours later, we are leaving the gaff after Tom has sent the menus away, and never was our glass empty for more than a minute or two. I can smell the food in the kitchens, I’m drooling over the plates hitting all the other tables on this busy Saturday afternoon, but not a bite touches my lips.
The rumbling noise was not the traffic outside, but my stomach. Shall we order some food, I suggest. “I’d rather just sit here, drink booze and talk, man. What am I gonna do: ‘Oh Simon, this steak is so delicious. Fuck that, we’re talking and drinking. I’ll have a kebab somewhere later man!”
It’s gonna be that kind of day, is it? I best go with the flow…He charms the waiters and the suited managers after we’d taken over a big table set for six, for an afternoon on a busy Saturday and not ordered any nosebag. “Can I have another Peroni please,” Tom asks the waiter as he passes by our table. “I got a show tonight and I need about another seven of these. My career’s going downhill and I want to speed it up as fast as I can”.
Waiter and other staff laugh, and we soon get two more beers. Oh boy. After half a dozen times of switching off the tape machine during the interview, while he goes outside for a cigarette and I become intimately acquainted with the toilets after drinking all this beer, we eventually leave the place about 5pm, and Tom leaves a big tip and pays the bill for our liquid lunch.
Staff and bosses eagerly lined up to shake his hand, receptionist still has him on her iPhone from Googling the man in action on “Live At The Apollo” after he arrived. A few diners clocking who the celeb’ was in their midst.
TV Tom v Live Tom…
I need to get some photos of the guy and then head off to get a train home. But Tom has other ideas, and insists I stay for his show that night, saying that “TV Tom” is very different to “On Tour Tom”, and I really should see that before I write my piece on him.
He marches across the road and books me a room at the posh Mercure, which I remember as The Grand Hotel back in the day. So, I’m not going home today then. “Follow me, Simon”. A walk to the Air BnB flat he has booked for two nights, sharing with the support act on this leg of the tour, Aussie comic Ro Campbell, one of Tom’s best mates and one to watch as a comedian too.
On the 15-minute walk to his digs, he pops into a store and picks up a bottle of Vodka and a two litre bottle of Pepsi. Here we go………..I shoot a few pictures on the way and we arrive at his bolt hole. Ro buzzes us in and we have a natter, listen to some of Tom’s favourite music (Supertramp, The Isley Brothers and Stephen Stills among it) drink some Vodka (I have not drunk spirits for 15 years and I so need food…..) and I need to finish the interview with him. So we sit down on the sofa for half an hour and tape the rest of the Q&A. A few shots of Tom in the flat and a few with Ro, and I’m done.
All three of us walk over to the venue and Ro is on first. He’s really good. Tom is away in his dressing room, chilling out and preparing himself for the gig. Maybe 300 people in, and some of whom have seen Tom on many of his tours, and some have even already seen him on this tour and come back for more. He never asks his management or the venue how many tickets have been sold for any of his shows. He can play to a few thousand or a few hundred; it matters not to Tom. His ego is much smaller than his desire to do his job and “fuck with the audience”.
He tears the place a new one, and really is staggeringly great at what he does. Even after a day’s drinking. Totally in command and I have never seen women laugh so much at X-rated potty mouth humour before. Some very clever social commentary too, about the difference between this generation and the older buggers like me. But the main focus was that this Canadian guy with the drunken drawl of a delivery – which he has even if stone cold sober – could make a rotting corpse piss itself laughing.
I’m not into spoilers, so I am not getting into the specifics of the topics he talks about or repeating any of his gags. But this is not a one liner merchant or a man who is ever going to tell you a joke you can write the ending to before he gets there. Trust me on that. This is a story teller. A born story teller who has an infectious way about him and no filter. A born story teller with no filter who uses swearing and cussing as punctuation, to give his black and white stories full Technicolor and Surround Sound stereo.
He will be an acquired taste for some. I’ll sum him up like this: Tom could make an onion cry with laughter! But some peanuts are allergic to him! (Cue the groans…)
After the storming set, he gets the well deserved standing ovation – even from me and I am struggling to stand after that beer, Vodka and no food, by now! When Tom emerges from the backstage area, he’s mobbed by 80 or so fans who all want selfies, and are gagging to tell him how great he was. Not a problem. He obliges every last one and then suggests they move this thing into the venue’s bar. But when we get there, it is closed.
Let’s go paarrttyy…
No problem. He asks the fans, who wants to party? Out into the cold night air we go. By now there’s more punters outside who want their selfies, and he happily obliges. Some fans peel off and leave. Others stay with Tom and off we saunter to find a local bar.
I am reminded of the Pied Piper of Hamlyn as I survey this surreal scene of a star who just filled a venue, with some of those same fans, trotting off to drink his own body weight in shots. These guys and gals think they have won the lottery, getting to hang out with their comedy hero on a Saturday night in Leicester city, the home of Walkers Crisps, Gary Lineker, Jamie Vardy, Kasabian and Showaddywaddy.
This is not normal celeb’ behaviour unless that star has a hidden agenda, shall we say. I can safely say, Tom Stade doesn’t have one. He just wants to have fun with people he’s not met before, all of them couples apart from a few sets of male mates. And this is not for my benefit as a journalist, either. He does this at many gigs on tours, as a trawl of social media confirms.
The door staff at the first two bars refuse us entry, as they do not allow large groups in. The third one, Yates’, are happy for us to enter and one of the bouncers recognises Tom and shakes his hand. It’s bloody loud music in there and the average age is about 20.
So, for the next three plus hours, Tom is surrounded by his adoring fans at the end of the bar, and the shots are disappearing faster than the PM’s manifesto promises after the election. Around 2am, there’s just me and Tom left. He’s currently doing a good impression of Tommy Cooper, as the booze has taken its toll on his ability to speak properly. He’s sat me down and is now trying to add to the interview content, having thought about some other stuff he wants to discuss. Not a chance!
At 2am and desperately in need of food and my bed, at a dozen years older than this maniac, I am not having any of this and we leave the bar to head to his flat, and then me off to my hotel room. Cheese burger and chips eaten on the walk back for me, while Tom is on the mobile to his beloved wife Trudy, who is back at home in Scotland.
More Vodka back at the flat with Ro (I know, I know…) and I leave there at circa 3.30am and stagger back to my hotel, sleeping until 11am the next day, standing in the shower for an hour to stop the room spinning. After two trains and a cab, I arrive at my house at 5pm on that Sunday – 24 hours later than planned! It took me a good few days to recover too!
Tom Stade’s next tour should be called, “Bad Influence”. He’s the kind of guy you should never under any circumstances, challenge to a dare!!!! A 47-year-old body, or “meat suit” as he calls it, with the spirit and mischief of a 17-year-old teenager. When asked what was the dream in life, and he tells me that it was to use his comedy career to sustain a High School life style, he was not joking.
The man likes his booze and excess all areas. He doesn’t plan ahead. He doesn’t save. He doesn’t have a pension or investments. If he’s got it, he’ll spend it having fun. He likes to paarrttyy. But he adores his wife and his kids, that is a given. He’s more rock and roll than many of the music stars I have been around for the last 39 years. His comedy is dangerous. Unpredictable. Outrageous. No boundaries. Do not ever tell Tom Stade that he cannot tell jokes about this or that. Don’t ever tell him he is being disrespectful telling gags about any given topic. “They are just fucking words, man. It’s not real…”
On the surface, he seems like what you see and hear on stage is what you get off stage. But I think he’s actually a lot more complex than that in his personal life. He skates over too much talk about his childhood and the split between his Mum and Dad when he was young, and if it affected him that much. He does though later, come back to praise his elderly Mum and his late Father for being great people.
He was born and lived in Canada until 2001, after his friend and fellow comedian Craig Campbell suggested he move to the UK. Tom, his wife Trudy and their son Mason moved to London, but found it too expensive and moved to Wolverhampton where they lived for about five years. Then a move to Edinburgh where they live now. They have two kids, Mason who is 21 and their daughter Kira who is 16. Both have left home now, and so Tom and Trudy just downsized to a one bed place near the airport.
He’d known Trudy for a very short time before they married in Vegas. Tom laughs out loud when I ask how they met. To condense a lengthy story, when Tom was beginning his comedy career as a comedian on the Canadian club circuit, he palled up with a doorman at one club in London, Ontario who was a trained botanist and who grew his own pot. He invited Tom to his place to try some out, and when Tom turned up, this guy was nowhere to be seen, but a beautiful blonde lady was, and this was Trudy.
“Proper ‘Fear and Loathing’ shit…”
She’s Canadian, but her parents are Geordies. Trudy was, says Tom, one of the most beautiful women he had ever seen. They laughed and laughed. Trudy started going to Tom’s gigs, he was heading to Vancouver to do a show there, had about $20 grand on him, cancelled his air ticket and they drove. She took her Akita Husky dog and they ended up in Florida and Vegas, and hit the Route 66 trail.
“Proper ‘Fear and Loathing’ shit. We saw racism for the first time; in North Carolina. We were kicked out of motels, almost got into a fight. I liked to party and get really hammered every night. I’ve got better at it! We got to Vegas, just got hammered and said let’s go and do it. Let’s get married. The ring was five dollars. I wore a cowboy hat and she had no shoes on, and we had an Elvis impersonator.
“We had only known each other for three months. That was 23 years ago, and we have two great children and I love her and the kids to bits, man”. During our time together, Tom speaks about Trudy often (she is his official photographer and has a great eye) and also refers to himself in the first person a lot. “Tom, did you hear that lame question Simon just asked you?” He does that on stage in his set too.
Since the very first time he set foot on a comedy stage in Canada in 1989 to 20 people, Tom has shot to stardom with annual sold out runs at the Edinburgh Festival and smash hit appearances on such TV shows as Live at the Apollo, The Comedy Store, The Live Floor Show, Stand Up for the Week, The World Stands Up, Mock the Week, Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow, Dave’s One Night Stand, Lee Mack’s All Star Cast, The John Bishop Show and Frankie Boyle’s Tramadol Nights (which he co-wrote).
He was part of the star-studded line-up on Channel 4’s Comedy Gala at London’s 02 Arena, appeared on ITV2’s Comedy Cuts and multiple performances on Comedy Central’s The Comedy Store. He was on BBC 3’s Edinburgh Comedy Fest Live. He appeared on Frankie Boyle’s stand-up show The Boyle Variety Performance in August 2012, and recorded a live DVD at the Bloomsbury Theatre, London (released in autumn 2013). In March 2011 and December 2012, he appeared as a guest star on Soccer AM.
Since 2011, Tom has toured the UK every year with a new show, playing to packed houses and garnering rave reviews. His current tour, “I Swear” has seen many sold out signs go up, and he still has shows scheduled on this tour in Norwich, London (three nights at Leicester Square Theatre), Watford, Glasgow and ending in Southend on 8th December.
Back in his native Canada, Tom appeared in the critically acclaimed sitcom The Newsroom and the award-winning feature film My Own Private Oshawa. As a stand-up, he starred in his own hour special for CBC/Comedy Central Stade and Confused. He starred as a spoof chat-show host in Come Fringe Yourself with Tom Stade, which was recorded at the Edinburgh festival and gathered a cult online following and he made an online sitcom with Daniel Sloss, called “M.U.F.F.”
Tom has performed at notable comedy festivals worldwide including New York, Aspen, Montreal, Toronto, Amsterdam, Kilkenny, Adelaide, Melbourne and New Zealand. He’s entertained the troops in the Falklands, Afghanistan, Iraq and Kuwait, and once had to run for his life from a ‘plane, after the runway was bombed. He got into trouble when he, in his own words, got three injured war heroes “high” – on weed!
When he tells that story, it is pant-wettingly funny, but true! Him and a fellow comic mate were the very first comedians to perform at a front-line base, known as a FOB (Forward Operating Base) and not even Bob Hope has done that. Wish they’d send Katie Hopkins there.
The Tom Stade gig I saw in Leicester, was something like show number 78 on his current tour, “I Swear”. There’s a clue in the title, folks. But Tom will not churn out the same act night after night. He tells me, today he does about 20 minutes of material and 40 minutes made up of banter with the audience. He has a skeleton structure, but he can never ever know what the people he picks on are going to say or do. That is not safe territory for a comedian.
At the Hansom Hall gig in the centre of Leicester, there was a jolly elderly chap in the front row called Glen, with a bald head and bushy, white beard. The other side of the front row was a pretty 26-year-old Latvian lady from Corby called Yana. On the very back row, a middle-aged guy called Richard, who seemingly had a few bob. These three were Tom’s main “victims” for the night.
Brilliantly inventive, so funny and quicker than a parking ticket in a London bus lane. Some of the stuff he said to them you would expect could offend and upset. (“Glen, if you ever sit in the front row of any of my shows again, I am gonna punch you in the fucking face”.) Not so.
In fact, Yana was among the group who came out for drinks with Tom after the show, with her husband and their friends. Glenn couldn’t wait to get a selfie with Tom and plaster it all over Facebook. Richard shook Tom’s hand and thanked him for a brilliant show. So, no one took it personally.
The Commander and The Stadinese Army are on the march…
Tom Stade is a man on a mission. The Commander, as he is known to his loyal fans who call themselves The Stadinese Army, rebels against conformity and “mental conditioning” in everything he does. On and off stage. “He cannot say that”. Oh yes he can and he will. Always.
He has very few heroes in comedy. Zero of today’s comedy stars. He does admire his pal and co-writer on the aborted TV series Tramadol Nights, Frankie Boyle and the Scottish comedian Jim Muir, who trades under the unlikely name of Reverend Obadiah Steppenwolfe III. Then there’s past legends such as Robin Williams – who he met once and who told Tom, “If you are gonna be a star, you may as well start acting like one” – Patrice O’Neal and Tommy Chong.
Tom thinks most of today’s comics are the entire opposite of him, as he feels they are chasing fame and desperate to be on TV to hit the big time. At the cost of their material and being true to themselves. He is that guy who smoked a joint before his first appearance on BBC’s “Live At The Apollo” and completely smashed it. He is the guy who admits to having to concentrate hard to stop himself swearing on that show!
Tom tells it like it is: “It’s an act but it’s not an act. Me on stage is the same as me off stage. It’s the reason I am finding it hard to be an actor, because I can’t not be real on stage, to a point. It has to be that way for a comic. It’s what I don’t like about comedy now. Because I don’t feel like I am watching a real person anymore. I don’t think he can get away from his fucking lies to actually be a comedian. To make something up on the fucking spot and risk your perfect set. Just be in the moment for once, because you are too worried about fame”.
What like Frankie Boyle, who doesn’t give a toss what he says and who he upsets? He is what I call dangerous. You either love him or loathe him. No middle ground. “Dangerous. Yes, we are. Frankie to me is the master. He shows you what you think you’re looking at, and he gives you the exact same picture in such a beautiful and dangerous way, because you are not allowed to think like that.
“Frankie and Jim Muir are easily my two favourites when it comes to that kind of thing they do. Frankie doesn’t tell stories, have you noticed that? I tell stories. That’s the difference. Because he does similies, he’s great for TV, because it’s soundbite and it’s quick. There’s two guys for me, Frankie and Jim. It’s the Ying and the Yang for me. (At a show Tom was at) Jim had the audience hating him, seriously. Some people were like me; dying laughing and other people were standing up and shouting. One person yelled at him, ‘Sexual assault isn’t funny’, and Jim the Reverend Obadiah turned and said, ‘Sir, you are right. Sexual assault is not funny. But jokes about sexual assault are hilarious.
“One of my favourite quotes is from John ‘Cougar’ Mellencamp. He says: ‘It’s what you do, not what you say. If you’re not part of the future, get out of the way’. I want to hear how somebody hates my guts. I am going to find it hilarious, because that’s that guy’s opinion of me; it’s called free speech. It has a dark side to it. But you take away the dark side, it ain’t so light on this side no more either.
“That’s what Frankie and myself, and all these guys can embody. We know that it isn’t what you say, you are allowed any God damn idea you want to put out there. It’s your job not to just entertain, but to actually change somebody’s opinion, or at least give them a new one to think about when he gets fucking home. Is it OK for me to say that? Can I say that? Did you hear what that comedian said? Oh my God, that is against every one of my boundaries. Is it right that he is allowed to say that?
“We are also now in dangerous times, Simon. We are in a name and shame culture. You know what, OK, tell me what you think about this. The thing that bugs me the most….” Tom goes on to talk about people making accusations of men making lewd remarks or offensive remarks, and how even without a trial people are losing a career on somebody making an accusation.
“That’s it. I am gonna tell everybody that fucking Russell Crowe raped me the one time I saw him. I am going to destroy Russell Crowe’s career right here, right God damn now”. NOTE: Libel lawyers for Mr Crowe, please bear in mind this is a joke, a gag, funny, comedy, satire, light hearted but naughty banter, to make a point about a bigger topic. It’s not real. It would never happen…..OK?
Are there any taboo areas, any no-go areas for your comedy then Tommy lad, in this PC era? “Never, never, never. I haven’t found ‘em yet. Any topic that you take on – I love talking about this shit, Simon – will always have a bunch of sides to it.
“There’s a sad side to that topic, there’s a terrifying side, there’s even a happy side. You know, you think about a guy that’s gone through a whole bunch of shit, well thank God he’s gone through it to become the man who he fucking is. Do you know what I mean? But there’s also a fucking funny side to everything. My mind lets me go; that’s just a joke, it ain’t real. It’s something that I get to think about, but if it actually happened I’d be horrified”.
Frankie co-wrote and appeared in the Channel 4 TV series called “Tramadol Nights”, with his mate Frankie Boyle. But the second show got into hot water and had 500 complaints to the TV Watchdog (upheld), after one particular joke that Frankie told about the glamour model Katie Price, aka Jordan, and her disabled son Harvey. She went ballistic, spoke to the media and took legal action. I’m not repeating that joke for legal reasons, of course.
I asked Tom if he had seen that joke prior to broadcast and if he had told Frankie not to use it in the show. “I didn’t care one way or the other if he told that joke on that show. I just didn’t even think it was a big deal, dude.
“Katie Price walked into the Mona Lisa, pissed on it and got it banned…”
“Frankie’s great. He’s intelligent. That joke stopped something that I thought was gonna go way further. I want Katie Price to know that she walked into the Mona Lisa, pissed on it and got it banned because of taking something like that seriously. To me, it shows how petty you are, actually.
“I’ve never said this stuff to anybody, but come on man, you stopped a great TV show because of your stupid-arse conditioning and quest for fame. It blew my mind man. It put a road block in front of someone like myself who loves that kind of stuff, and there’s a lot of us out there who like that kind of humour. Katie Price destroyed it that day by getting mad over something that nobody else even noticed, until she fucking mentioned it. That’s the thing that pisses me off. Who would know who Harvey was if she didn’t wheel him out on TV?
“If you are going to put your kid on TV….I don’t see Tom Cruise’s kid in the paper or on TV. I don’t hear all of these big stars having their kids on TV and in the papers. How the fuck do I even know who Harvey is; because you put him on there. Once you get into the public eye, you can’t expect everybody to think you’re a saint”. Frankie won a court case and damages against a national tabloid newspaper who called him “ a racist”, from that same show.
Tom says there are only two comics that have ever influenced him in his life and career; Robin Williams and Tommy Chong, of Cheech and Chong fame. “Tommy was the first guy I ever went on tour with that was famous. Hanging out with Tommy Chong when I was 21, 22 changed everything for me. I saw what a star really looked like, I saw how a star acted. Tommy was the best, man”.
So, swearing in his act. He tells his audience every night, if you have a moral compass, there is the exit. This is definitely not a family friendly gig, so leave the kids with the grandparents – and pack some Tena pads. The F bomb, The C bomb, and most other cuss words you can think of may well pop up on any given night, and the topics he will discuss and drag his chosen audience targets to get involved in, could make Bobby Charlton’s hair curl. But above all else, it is expertly crafted and funny as fuck. See what he’s got me saying now?
But those who would object to Tom’s potty mouth or his no filter style of comedy, are also probably the same people who defend Brexit, turn off spell check and have their caps lock on all the time!!!! Who literally only just found out that Kennedy was shot.
For me, the right delivery of a swear word in a joke can be the difference between a laugh and a blank stare for a comedian. I see swearing in a comedian’s set, the expletive equivalent of punctuation. But only if the material is clever and funny to start with. Otherwise it is just lazy. But if there’s anyone reading this who thinks that swearing is a sign of being less intelligent; I got news for ‘em. Science says otherwise. A new study has found that those who have a regular repertoire of naughty words, probably have a much wider vocabulary than those who don’t. Which backs up what Stephen Fry says: “The sort of twee person who thinks swearing is in any way a sign of a lack of education or a lack of verbal interest, is just a fucking lunatic.”
Tom takes up the theme: “Take that word c*nt off into the corner and say it, it will have more resonance than if you just use it like it is your everyday vocabulary. If you give it no meaning, it will have none. I can throw it around. You know who else can throw it around, Jim Jeffreys. Very good friend of mine. I was there on his first amateur night. He’s a guy who realises those words don’t have any meaning. It’s just a way you talk.
“It’s the conditioning that it is crude language. If you put c*nt or fuck in, it doesn’t change how smart you are. It just changes the way you say it. To me they’re colourful. When I go on Live at the Apollo, I have to actually concentrate not saying them. One of my Dad’s fundamental things was, and what I have drilled into my own kids: ‘There are no bad words. There are only bad times to use them’. Don’t say, ‘hey Mum, is that the fucking shopping, when you’re six! They’re words, that’s all they are.
I am curious to know what his live show later that evening will be like, compared to what I have seen on TV. “I’m going 40 minutes in the crowd and 20 minutes of material. I’m so bored of this monologue shit. I’m on my ninth album, dude. If I could tell you how many fucking hours I have written…………
“I stumbled on it, when I created this Heroin Jimmy guy. I put somebody (in the audience) in an actual role, where they can be funny and the hero of this show, and a show that they are never going to forget in their life. It’s going to be an important moment in their life. They’ll say, ‘I was Heroin Jimmy, I was fucking Heroin Jimmy, man’. To them it is a legendary story.
“With this tour, I Swear: I am now taking three different generations; your baby boomers, your Gen’ X and the 20-year-olds, and putting them in a position where we can all see where every generation is at, in the climate we are in. It is amazing to see the similarities and it changes every God damn night, man. I’ve got what I call a skeleton, a frame, and then to put the meat on that bone is terrifying. Because it puts you in the moment every God damn night, where you have to think on your feet. I am now the most comfortable I’ve ever been with myself.
“The audience wants me to think they are cool.”
“Do you know, this is the one thing they always say about me, and I never really ever said this to anybody. They go Tom; you are one of the only comics where the audience wants you to like them. When I go up on stage the audience wants me to think they are cool. Everybody else wants the audience to love them. I’m on a whole different side of that and now that I am so comfortable where I am at, I love making those people the hero of this fucking show. Because I’ve been the hero of so many shows. They want you to like them. Yeah, man, I’ve cultivated that since I was in my 20s. It’s there. My fanbase is such a cult awesomeness, it lets me not want whatever other people have……I’m not looking for adoration…You come to my show and there’s people who have been there eight or nine times”.
When Tom came out with the, ‘they want me to like them, and not the other way round’, line during our “lunch”, it was a comment that had an impact on me. I wondered if this was a fact or just a line fed to hacks. But I saw it for myself at his show and afterwards, with his fans in the bar. I heard it and felt it. That statement is 100% spot on. Seeing how the fans reacted not only to his set, but also how much respect they showed him.
It is the only gig I have been to for many years, where not one single person fumbled with a mobile phone to take a picture or video footage during a live performance. And he had made no announcements for them not to do that. Tom said he has no issue if they do, in fact.
I also saw how spending time with him off stage in the venue, in the street and those who came with us to the local bar, lit up those people’s lives for a few moments. And reading what they said afterwards on social media about it. Those people will dine out on that story for decades. For Tom, it is one night. For them, it is a major part of their life’s story now and he has made a friend and a fan for life. That’s grass roots marketing and branding you cannot buy, folks.
Is laughter and/or applause a drug for a comedian? For Tom? “You need it in the end, but you shouldn’t be afraid of silence, either. Silence builds tension, and tension makes a belly laugh. If you don’t have tension, you’ll never have the belly laugh. You’ll never have that anticipation”.
Tom has been given the label “rock and roll comedian”. Why does he think he got that moniker? “Because,” he says with a mouth full of olives and a big swig of Peroni, “I create moments. I don’t just do jokes. But you have to go back to understand what comedy is now and how I must look in it. “When you’ve got everybody scrambling to get on ‘Mock The Week’, everybody scrambling to get on any TV show that might make them famous, they lose that spontaneity. They want that set to be tight, but a rock star ain’t tight, is he?
“A rock star is a guy that goes up there, he knows his song, but he is going to create something out of nothing just with the tools that he has. That’s what makes a great rock star, that’s what makes every great rock concert I’ve ever been to. I create something out of nothing by abandoning that material, and by going into that fucking audience. I have structure, to the point where I know where I am going to be leading people. I just don’t know what they’re gonna do. That to me creates a moment that everybody witnesses, and that’s what makes the rock and roll atmosphere that you see.
“I think it takes a long time to get to that point, because if you had asked me could I have done that 15 years ago; I was trying to do that, but you just get better and better and better at it. You don’t start trying and then 10 years rolls by; you’re never going to get to that point. Because you haven’t studied that, you know”.
So, to emphasise this rock and roll-ness and sense of freedom, here’s a Stade Stat’ for you: To fill the 23 hours every day while on tour and living out of hotels, Tom once blew so much cash on betting on the gee-gees, his missus confiscated his credit cards! He still likes a wee flutter, but it is nothing too crazy today.
Their 16-year-old daughter Kira auditioned for a prestigious dance school, and as one of 900 who were up for just 14 places, she got in and has now left home to pursue that career. Son Mason (21) got his degree at University and is now starting out making films and screenplay writing. He will be producing Tom’s next comedy DVD. Tom and Trudy sold their three-bed house in Edinburgh when the kids left home, made £80,000 profit on the sale and downsized to a one bed place near the airport and the motorway. The couple plan to “get back on the road, go see some shit, now we don’t have to come home every night to feed something”. He laughs and says: “I watched all you big guys buy lots of shit and now you are all broke. I just want a crash pad again”, he says with a smirk.
When he lived in the Midlands, him and a mate were walking home after a night out, with fish and chips for his family and a van stopped, two guys got out and launched an unprovoked attack on the pair. When the cops arrived, Tom and his pal had actually come out on top, but all four of them got arrested and charged with affray. But the charges against Tom were later dropped.
Tom with close pal and fellow comedian Ro Campbell
Tom is the person most NOT likely to become a Scientologist or a member of any religious cult, because he will not be programmed or to think in a certain way or be told “you cannot say that, do that or think that.” I doubt he’ll even use “conditioner” on his hair! He’s just like a mischievous kid; tell him or her not to do something and on any given day, they’ll probably go and do it to see what they can get away with and how far they can push it. Just to liven up a dull day!
He’s that mate, that brother, that workmate who you would never, ever dare to do anything, because you know no matter what; he will do it. Tom’s one of those cats that doesn’t equate actions to consequences. If it’s fun, fuck it, let’s do it. If you utter any resistance, he’ll call you a pussy and paranoid. You’d not be offended either. He has a likeable roguish charm about him. Yeah, you know the sort of guy I mean. An infectious, addictive quality that makes even the most level-headed person, forget about right or wrong for a moment. FYI: I hadn’t drunk spirits for 15+ years until my 14 hours with Commander Tom.
He gets back to one of his pet topics: todays TV comedy stars. “You’re all being fed Josh Widdecombe and Last Leg and that’s what you’ve decided is funny. How many times do you see on BBC, great comedy specials that have been made, that the BBC could buy cheap and it would be original content. It would show you something outside their world. Instead they keep feeding us these…” he breaks off mid-sentence. “Ahh. I just hate it Simon, I’m so sorry man.
“I love the Apollo. Let me tell you why I love the Apollo. Because the Apollo showcases what that person does. When you got things like Mock The Week and all that sort of stuff, they’re all pretty much run by agencies. I don’t want to fault them for it, because if I was the head of that agency I would do the exact same thing. That is the world we live in, and whether I like it or not, I have to accept it.
“Some performers don’t wanna accept that’s the way that it works. At least if you accept it, you are OK with it. When you get down to your panel ‘talking heads’ shows, they don’t showcase, they are just trying to make stars. They are just trying to beam this guy’s face into your living room every God damn night, until you start believing that this guy is a big dude, because you see him on TV every day.
“But here’s where I fucking lucked out. The four big shows that I have done and rocked all four of them, they get repeated on such a regular basis, that I’m in your living room every God damn night, even though the show was three years ago. You don’t know that as a person”.
Tom gets asked for certain “greatest hits” from his past shows, especially the Bilston meat van gag. But he doesn’t repeat old material, as he explains. “I’m prolific, and I like to move on. And in comedy, I’m an artist. I will be like Bob Dylan; I will lose audience members to try to change and be something different than what I was, instead of staying the status quo”. Mentioning Status Quo, (see what I have done there?) reminds me, he is pals with some stars in the music world; including members of Kasabian and Snow Patrol.
Is comedy the new rock and roll? “Not now. Unless rock and roll just wants to be famous”.
“People don’t even know I had another DVD released, because my daughter told me to put it on Vimeo and I thought that was a great idea, but nobody’s seen it. Which is OK with me; I think that’s my image, that I like to keep: If you find me that’s great. If you don’t, Josh Widdecombe’s out there, enjoy yourself.
“Richard Pryor was a game-changer. If Richard Pryor was around nowadays, no one would notice him. He’d just be another comic telling it like it is. But he was the first…between him, Lenny Bruce and George Carlin, the three different perspectives, they were the only real game changers to what you see in comedy now.
Tom talks about his school days. He “dropped out at 16”. “I said school sucks, don’t tell me what books to read. I don’t wanna come here, but I can come here to do the things that I like. But don’t put me in a science class, because I’m not gonna be a scientist, and you’re just wasting your time and my time. It’s been a draconian system for so fucking long, the school system has never looked at itself. I said, I’ll read my own books and I did, trust me. I loved them. Homer’s Odyssey is killer. You have to know it. It describes every person in here (the restaurant).
“Me and school had a big problem. I felt like I was way more intelligent than them. I probably wasn’t. I went to a school air band contest, you call air guitar, and you had to make a plywood guitar. I brought a bottle of Kahlua (coffee-flavoured rum liqueur from Mexico which is 20% vol.) to that contest and the teachers caught me. They said they would suspend me for 10 days. When I came back, I wasn’t allowed any extra-curricular activities, which meant drama. If I wasn’t allowed to do drama and just had to sit in French classes and Science classes – I could handle History and English, I was always good at those – that’s when I made my decision to drop out.
“I said I’m just not going back, and told my Mum. I said I’d take acting classes in the little town I grew up in, and join all the theatre groups. I also took an English course at night. I don’t need a certificate, only if I am going to get a job, and seeing how I am not going to be getting one of those, I don’t really need a fucking certificate.”
So was he funny at school? “Yes I was. Always getting thrown out. Just because I didn’t follow all the rules, that’s what made me funny. Because you didn’t conform and it was odd to people, that you would take on a teacher. I couldn’t tell you how many times I have spent in the hallways, when I was a kid. Not only when I got to the hallways, I’d even be funny out there by knocking on the wall to the classroom an S.O.S.” Tom breaks into hysterics at that memory. “One of my signature pieces when I was 12 or 13”.
So, his childhood. His parents split when he was young. How did that affect him? He was one of four children. One he never met as he was adopted at birth, he has a brother Wayne and one sibling died. His mother is in her 80s and still with us, but Tom lost his Dad. “Dad has gone, that was the biggest blow I have ever taken in my life. When you watch your hero, oh God…My Dad and his brothers; if you want to know who I am, you actually have to know who these guys are.
“The reason I have the balls that I fucking have, is because of my Uncle Tom, and my Uncle Norm and my Uncle Allie and my Dad, and my Aunt. They were all alcoholic, fucking fun-loving dudes. They weren’t the alcoholics that beat you, they were the alcoholics that had arguments at parties and they did fight each other and all of that, but it was so much fun. They never beat up their women, if anything their women took them down.
“My Dad, just one of the funnest and coolest people I ever met and he taught me how to raise Mason. One thing my Dad was great at, was he let me be me, and let me make every mistake I had to make. He would never give me advice, he would only answer questions. So with Mason and Kira, I do the same thing. I’m here if you need me, other than that I am just gonna get in your way, and that’s how my Dad was with me. That’s how come I got to get into so many fucked up situations when you were too young to handle it. When you are too young to handle it, that’s the best time to handle it”.
Acid and Metallica…
He recalls an adventure where him and his buddy Dave Brooks went to see the best gig he says he has ever seen. Metallica. But after taking “two hits of acid” (LSD) when he was 22-years-old back in Vancouver, Canada. “It was a game changer, to the point where I’m ripping my fucking shirt off. James Hetfield shouts out, we are gonna play for the next hour, and I’m losing my mind. The most spiritual, powerfully, easily best thing, man”.
His very first time in front of an audience, was at a Vancouver comedy club, Punch Lines, in 1989. His great friend and comedian Craig Campbell got him a spot on amateur night. Tom had two weeks to write something; an actor at the time, and he created a drunk character called Fish. “If I was looking at that now, I would make fun of what the fuck I was doing, because I didn’t know what I was doing. There was maybe 20 people there. I did so good I wanted to come back for more.
“There’s a thing that I realised; after I came off stage that night, I realised this was the job that was going to enable me to maintain my High School lifestyle forever. That was the real excitement. Not just you are entertaining people, but you are helping yourself by creating the life that you want”. So what was the dream, Tom? “To maintain the High School lifestyle forever, dude. You are only on this earth once and how you want to live it is very important. Do you wanna be a worker bee, you know? Nothing wrong with it if that’s what you are in to. I saw them all work so God damn hard and die ,and it’s not for me”.
Ambitions? Aims? What’s the plan? “There’s no plan. I’d like to die through decadence. Not cancer; a good O.D. story in a fucking room. I’d be totally happy with that. At least I stayed true to my word….”
It was at this moment I wondered if I was being had? If this guy was such a great actor that he had fooled me throughout this whole time together, to thinking he was so carefree, so unshackled, so ‘couldn’t give a shit’ and living his life exactly how he wanted to, but what I was actually witnessing was a ‘con’. You remember the Sex Pistols movie, The Great Rock and Roll Swindle? Was this the Great Comedy Swindle, and I was the victim? Was I swallowing horseshit and liking the taste. Putting my bowl up to funny Tom; “Please sir, can I have more?” Was this hard drinking, weed smoking, non-PC, no filter, “old hippie stoner” Tom a character he had created for gullible pricks like me, and he was protecting the real Tom?
Was his drinking with his fans after every show, his way of hiding in plain sight so to speak or was he as sharp as a bag of razor blades and tapping in to what these real people who buy his tickets really liked, and what makes them laugh and tick, to aid his next writing sessions?
We discuss the “Tears Of A Clown” phenomenon; where a funny guy on stage is a sad, depressive off stage. “You kind of need that because without that depression you don’t question life. That’s why they’re so good. But the more that you question life, sometimes you can get overwhelmed by it and see what is actually going on. That is probably the curse of the comedian, because you can also get enthralled in too much of your own exploration. Then you do see the depression come out and this is their only release valve; to be able to pour out. They’re finding the funny side in all this horribleness.
“So, I understand it. Do I let it overwhelm me? Never. That’s where you have to rise above any label that’s given to you and understand life. Some of the greatest comedians are the most un-awakened beings that have ever been. But they have to be like that because they are playing the part so well, that they understand the situation so good, that they make the best character. To be a comedian, I think you do have to go there, but what you do when you are there is up to you. You could be Jerry Sadowitz; you could be this reclusive guy. But I see the same things as him, and I don’t think like that and don’t go in that direction. But don’t think I ain’t the same, that we don’t see the world the same way”.
How about feeling any pressure from the constant expectation, that you have to be funny all the time? If you were a fireman, people would naturally expect you to put out fires on every job and to rescue people. You could never never turn up and say, ‘Sorry, I’ve had a shit week and I don’t fancy doing this today’. But as a comedian, you have got to be funny and create new material all the time. Surely that must be pressure? “I don’t know what rock star said it, but he said it the best. His quote resonated with me and answers this question. ‘When you want to kick ass and you’re too tired to do it, but you do it anyway, that means you kick ass’. If I’m down and out and I am sitting there and saying I can’t do it today, there’s something inside you that just brings your game back up, and knows you have done this so many times, it becomes common ground.
“If you can’t handle it, you shouldn’t put it on your f*cking shoulders. Be careful what you ask for, because you just might get it and it’ll kill you”.
A quote I read recently by someone whose name escapes now, said: “I don’t have any rules, because I’d only be breaking them”. That so applies to Tom Stade, both in life and in his chosen career methinks. Tom recalls one of my favourite comedians, the late Bill Hicks and what he said. “Whatever scares you is the thing you should totally fucking say. That’s the job of the comedian; not to be afraid of that fucking idea, right?
I reckon this geezer Stade is a provocateur. A mediocrity assassin. His comedy is about as safe as standing on the borders of South and North Korea, painting yourself orange, while wearing a Donald Trump mask. Is this Canadian maniac the saviour of dangerous comedy? Some may well use the label “alternative comedy.” I wouldn’t. To me, that often means an alternative TO comedy. When it just ain’t funny. As funny as sea sickness and lockjaw at the same time.
This man is funny. This man is outrageous This man is a trader of the lost art. He crafts a skeleton, but doesn’t have to stick to the script word for word, and rely on a tired bunch of well worn “ad lib” put-downs to combat hecklers at every show. Like those comics who get others to write for them, as they are actually about as spontaneous as the words to come out of a politician’s mouth at election time.
This geezer has no filter. He is not scared of silence. He clearly doesn’t crave applause or to be liked by every last punter in his audience. I think it might actually turn him on a bit to think that every now and again, this could be THE night that he “dies” on stage. The night his act bombs. The night it all goes tits up.
His regime of a power nap, a shower and a joint before he goes on stage, can sometimes go out of the window, like the very night we got together. In favour of a belly full of booze and a bloody good laugh. But he’s honestly still 100% in control of his faculties, his comedy sat’ nav’ – blowing the audience away with such power and presence. Truly. I’ve seen it.
He has cheated death at last twice in his 47 years. The first time, Tom was about seven, and fell off a horse onto a rose bush, part of the bush impaling itself into his back. He still has the scar today. Luckily it missed his vital organs by a fraction. The second time his number clearly wasn’t up, he was 11, with pal Dwayne walking on a frozen river near to the radio studio where his Mother worked. Tom plunged through into the freezing water and floated back up, trapped under a thick sheet of ice. Terrified and with only a short while before he’d have had his chips, young Tom desperately punched upwards through the water into the ice, and eventually managed to make it crack, and then just about pulled himself up on top of the main ice sheet until he was rescued. Very lucky boy.
To finish off our chat, I slung some quick-fire stuff at him, to see what the first thing was that came out of his mouth. So, here goes:
God: All depends how you think about it.
The Devil: He’s the one I listen to the most.
Peter Kay: Wow!
Ricky Gervais: Can’t believe he’s as big as he is.
Brexit: You’re so fucking stupid!
Boris Johnson: My God, what is that?
Pet hates: Racist paedophile junkies!!!
There was more of ‘em, but this’ll give us a clue where his head is at. But then his disclaimer followed. “Don’t forget Simon, I’m just being funny here….” No shit, Sherlock!
“I’m gonna call you the Liam Gallagher of comedy, Tom. That OK?” He comes back to that, asking me why it is never ‘the Tom Stade of comedy’. “I’m the most original anyways. Maybe all those people are actually like me? I’m definitely ahead of the curve…..”
Well, I do believe he is. I do believe he’s a genuine guy who loves to enjoy himself and the stuff he fed me about being carefree and not giving a toss about fame, fortune or the future, is really how he thinks. But is he a role model or a warning? Mad as a box of frogs, but definitely way out there as a comic in today’s sanitised, uber-safe, PC zone, patrolled by the word police, 24/7.
Blimey, I’ve found me a celeb’ who’s a genuine guy; should have him stuffed and wall-mounted! In our lifetime, we will each meet around 80,000 people. I am glad this crazy Canadian bastard is among my allocation. Not sure my liver is though…….
By Simon Redley
All photos copyright: Simon Redley
* Special thanks to San Carlo Restaurant, Leicester and Just The Tonic Comedy Club, Hansom Hall, Leicester… *