Known to some as a life-long comedy rebel Tom Stade has seen everything the genre (and the wilds of Canada) can throw at him, Scott Barnett has a chat…
Canadian comedian Tom Stade has been touring his show Totally Rocks in the UK since his twelve-night stint at the Edinburgh Fringe in August. You may have spotted him on Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow or Live at the Apollo. You might know him for his work on Frankie Boyle’s Tramadol nights, or you might know him for his unflinching and unabashed live performances.
Now living in Edinburgh with his wife and two kids, Tom talks to us about his career, what it means to be a rebel and the afterlife. Tom’s first live DVD is due out on October 21st, available at Amazon and HMV.
S: How are you?
Tom: Just hanging, thinking about comedy all day long.
S: What are you up to at the minute?
T: Thinking about coffee…and finishing this tour and getting on with the next show. We’ve been doing this show for a while now, and I’m getting to the end of it and I’m getting itchy to write a new one.
S: This one is about being a rebel into your 40’s?
Tom: Yeah loosely. In my interviews I’m a rebel.
S: What does being a rebel mean to you?
Tom: I think rebel means to me…not conforming to what I would believe to be the norm. I think rebel has a lot of room for movement. What I would decide is a rebel might not be someone else’s idea. Compared to a 40 year old heroin addict in ditch somewhere going “I did it!”
S: Are there any aging rebels that you admire?
Tom: Yeah there are guys like Craig Campbell, who I consider to be a good friend and still in excellent rebel form. Seeing as he’s a couple of years older than me, living out in the woods, no kids, and having a great time in his career. Yep there’d be guys like him.
Pretty much all the guys that I started out with that are still doing it. That stuck to their guns and decided that they were going to do this comedy thing or die trying. I think that would be my answer to that.
When I had my kids, a lot of people would have quit comedy at that time and decided to raise these things properly. I actually said “No, I’m not gonna give up my dream to be a comedian to make your dreams come true.”
I think I took the right path, to tell you the truth. We’ve had some rough times you know, but we came out the other end looking pretty decent.
S: Speaking of die trying, have you ever died on stage and what was that like?
Tom: There’s not a comedian out there that hasn’t died on stage.
S: There a time that comes to mind?
Tom: Whenever I think about that. I think dying was a lot easier when I had a lot less expectation on me. Right now there seems to be a lot of expectation on me, and sometimes people don’t realize I’m still just a mortal man. I remember a quote from a famous comedian friend of mine when I first started out;
He said and this made a lot of sense to me, I was in New York at the time and I was worried, we were practicing for Comic Relief and we were sitting around talking and he said, “Tom if you die, you’ve got a minute to win them over, and if you don’t, you just die and nothing really happens, you can do it again tomorrow. They’ll give me about 10 minutes but if I die after 10 minutes its gonna be all over the papers. And its gonna be the worst death you can imagine.”
I think I read something about Dave Chappelle not doing well in front of about 12,000 people and all of a sudden it became a news story. So yeah I think dying now is actually a little bit harder than it was 7/8 years ago.
S: What are your feelings about people filming gigs and posting videos on Youtube?
Tom: If I put it on Youtube it’s helpful, if somebody else is putting it on…
S: There are some comedians who like to walk the line of having the audience on your side or not on stage. Is that something you strive for or enjoy?
Tom: Yeah, actually a lot of the time. I’m always looking for a way to go off my material and go off on a tangent, because that’s the one thing that does get me in the proverbial high; taking a risk and believing that you are the comedian that you think you are in your head. Believing that you’re able to take something and make something on the spot for these people, instead of just bringing all your prepared goodies.
So, yeah there’s that thing in me that likes to take that risk. Once you take that risk, you don’t know if it’s gonna be funny or not, but the belief in yourself is kind of a thing that keeps me going when I’m on stage. If you really think about it, you’ve got that luxury of being able to take that risk, you’re not like the rolling stones who have to play the same songs every freaking night the same way. So that to me, taking that risk and risking that it might die…it also might be one of the best pieces you’ve ever created, because you’re in the moment. You’re there and you’re inhabiting the whole situation, so yeah for sure.
S: Do you have a favourite piece that you either enjoy performing the most, or a piece that a lot of people have really responded to?
Tom: That’s a real weird question. Over this whole career there’s been some real fantastic bits that’s I’ve written. There’s probably pieces that have propelled me further than other pieces, it’s pretty obvious to me; the meat van seems to be a big piece that everybody seems to love, but that’s also a piece I did like six or seven years ago, you know what I mean? So I move on kinda from that.
I did a show this year called the Essentials, which was really interesting to me. Not a lot of people would have seen it this way. It gave me a chance to go back and do older material, like jokes that I haven’t done in twelve years, and I got to do them again. It was really funny because I did them a lot differently and I enjoyed actually re-writing them and doing them as a comedian twelve years later, you know? Most of the time people will do a joke and that’s it, they move on, they don’t get to go back and say, “oh, that joke wasn’t finished”, or whatever.
So I guess if I haven’t done a joke in a long time, it is kinda fun to go back, and I guess I did go back and pick out my favorite pieces for that show.
S: Tom Stade’s greatest hits?
Tom: Yeah, like Tom Stade’s greatest hits, but like remixed. There were some really great ones; I’ve always loved the Great Wall of China joke. There was also an Indian snake charmer joke that I did and brought up to date. I started comparing it…say if Scotland were trying to charm snakes with bagpipes, it never would have happened.
S: You’re living in Scotland now; do you feel like you’ve assimilated?
Yeah, my Canadian compadre’s are not gonna like this, but I feel more…I wanna say Scottish but I feel more British…more UKish. There’s the word I’m looking for UKish than Canadian. Like when I went back to Ca-nay-dia…
When I went back to Ca-nay-dia there, that’s how much I’ve lost…you were asking if I feel like I’ve assimilated? Obviously now that I can’t even pronounce my own country…I even pronounce my own country like a UKish guy.
Yeah, I definitely feel more a part of life over here than I ever felt like a Canadian. I think that’s why I stayed over here, because I felt more akin to the people here than to the people in Canada. I mean I fit in over there but not as well as I do over here. I feel I have a lot more in common with the Brits and the Scots and the Welsh and the Irish than I do with my mountain buddies. Although I still love those weirdos.
S: How has being connected to Frankie Boyle and Tramadol Nights affected your career and has it changed the way you work?
Before I start this question, people have gotta realise that I’ve known Frankie and a lot these people that are now famous for a long time. Before they were famous, before they were put on a pedestal and became the gods that they are, do you know what I mean?
I see them as just another artist to work with, and Frankie has been a really great friend and he’s always been a funny dude. I think that any time you work with a great artist it always rubs off on you. You know I like to think it goes both ways, you know we collaborated for one series, we were hoping for more, I’ll tell you that! We were hoping for more, definitely. It always has a lingering affect when you sit down and you have so many different ideas coming from so many great minds, so yeah of course I took a piece of that away with me.
I realised that the one thing I got from that, is that I’m willing to cross the line a bit more. After working with Frankie and Jim (Muir) and even Rob (Florence) it was really interesting because for me, probably at that time I was willing to cross the line but not THAT much and now I realise being with them and the comfort I got from being there, sitting with Frankie and him saying “Nope, there’s nothing out of bounds here, any idea that comes around.” He had pretty much the final say too, it’s his career and his show, but he said; “Any idea that you have, there’s no boundaries to it.”
I guess after that, I came away and it’s pretty much stuck in my head, and it’s made me feel comfortable being able to do that. I was always willing to cross the line but when you do work with an artist like Frankie who says; “What line Tom? What line? Are you with them or are you with us? There is no line when you’re an artist.” Things like that definitely came away with me, working on Tramadol nights for sure.
S: Is there anyone you really admire; someone that you’d love to work with on future projects?
Yeah, there’s tonnes of guys right now. I would love to get together, like I say with my buddy Craig Campbell or Steve Hughes. I just gigged with him and he blew me away with where he’s at too.
I think it would be interesting; I would love to work with a guy like Daniel Kitson. I’ve seen some of his shows but I’ve never actually worked with him and got an insight into his mind to be able to collaborate with a guy like him.
Stewart lee I think would be an interesting one, I would like to actually hang out with that guy. These are people that I admire too. Even like Danny Sloss but I’m actually writing with him, he lives just down the road and we get together like every Monday or whatever or so, and we sit down for about two or three hours. It’s fun working with a younger comedian, because not only does he bring his ideas, he brings his youth. He reminds me that just because you’re forty, doesn’t mean you have to talk like you’re forty for fuck sake.
S: What was the first thing that made you laugh?
Tom: I think the first thing that made me laugh is when my father played me the first George Carlin FM & AM album, probably when I was about five or six, maybe seven years old. He made me learn all the routines from George Carlin back then. I can still kinda do the poem about hair to this day. That was probably the first comedy album that I laughed at, at a very early age.
S: It’s great your dad introduced you to George Carlin at such a young age.
Tom: He was a big comedy fan, my father was. He always used to say to me…my mum and dad would get into an argument about me listening to Richard Pryor, and he would always say that; “There are no bad words Tom, there’s only bad times to use them and if you say fuck in front of your mother I’m gonna slap you.”
S: My final question; If there was an afterlife what would you like it to be like?
Tom: If there was an after life what would I like it to be like? I guess I’d like it to be like Star Trek. I would love to have a cashless society and be able to float around in space and discover what the true secrets of the universe are. That would be my after life for sure. If I could get off this fucking planet I would, I would totally go and fucking explore and see space man.Follow @iamscottbarnett