Tom Stade Interview : "A club set is always funnier than an Edinburgh set"
Tom Stade is a 42 year old Canadian comedian who came to the UK over ten years ago on the advice of another Canadian comedian, Craig Campbell, who told him that the British would get his humour. Initially living in London, he moved to Wolverhampton for seven years and now resides in Edinburgh. He is just about to embark on another tour so Billy Watson gave him a call to see how his preparations are going and talk about his life and career.
Billy: So my name is Billy Watson and I am working on behalf of the Comedy Chords website and I’m interviewing Tom Stade who is quite a well known established comedian who is just about to go on a new tour. How are you doing today Tom?
Tom: I’m doing pretty good Bill. I’m trying to get sorted for this new tour that you are talking about. Yeah, I am going out and trying to see some things and get it all together.
Billy: I was under the impression it is a continuation from your Edinburgh show?
Tom: Well it is but I am never happy with anything, so I’ve brought certain jokes into clubs and work them out so that they’re funnier because a club set is always funnier than an Edinburgh set.
Billy: Why would you say that?
Tom: Well Edinburgh is people piecing together a show within two months and so you get it in shape and it’s a good show, it’s what I call an Edinburgh show. When you are doing an hour every night you can play with it, if you are not too worried about reviews.
Then people say ‘Ok we’ve done Edinburgh, it’s time to take this show on tour’, but I don’t think it’s ever super ready. Until those jokes can go to people who don’t know who you are and they are getting big laughs, then all of a sudden when you do bring them to your fans, they are way more impressed.
You can get fooled in Edinburgh because they want you to do good but the jokes can always get better and I like to take one or two pieces and work on them for 20 minutes when you are on at a club.
Billy: I saw you in Edinburgh last year. You were doing a small set at the Stand late one night and you looked quite drunk.
Tom: Me? I always look drunk Bill. Whether I am or whether I’m not, no-one can really tell. It’s been a blessing and a curse at the same time. A little bit of it is my fault because when you are 18 you are living that lifestyle but at 42 you can’t really live the lifestyle anymore. You’ve gotta move on but my voice just has that draw in me.
Billy: So you are not putting that on? You speak that way normally?
Tom: Yeah man! Some people say I am from the Southern United States. I don’t know what it is, the voice seems to have stuck man.
Billy: Dylan Moran used to be like that. He probably was drunk and he’s kept the slur a bit. Do you ever play up on that in a drunken club?
Tom: Yeah, no doubt I do, sometimes when it gets rowdy, cause you have to assimilate to the crowd that you’re playing, yeah? So I can switch it on where most people probably couldn’t, so I guess that’s another weapon in my comedy armory.
Billy: So going back to the writing, obviously you take that very seriously. What makes you think a joke is not ready? Surely if you get a laugh that would be it but how do you analyse it to make it better?
Tom: Well, this is going to sound so stupid but I try to reach into myself to find what is next in any statement. Even if the joke does get a big laugh, I’ll have video taped it, brought it back home and look at it from an audience perspective. I’ll think where should I have gone with that joke? What would I have liked to have seen if I was in the audience. Like, did I stop it too quickly? Because there is always more to be said on something. Most comedians are satisfied with what they have and they should be but if I can get a piece that started out at 5 minutes and get it up to 20 or 30 minutes that’s when I really love what I am doing.
Billy: Yeah, and every line is totally crafted.
Tom: Yeah but within that joke you have to leave room for movement. You have to be able to leave it and come back to it and you can’t really do that if you only have a two minute piece.
Billy: I was watching some of your videos on youtube today and I noticed how you would say one line which took the whole bit on a different tangent from where you thought it was going.
Tom: Well, I only talk about things I at least kinda know. I’ve always stuck to my surroundings and when you look at a guy like Doug Stanhope, their surroundings are like crazy wild ass stuff, like if you know those guys they are always grabbing a camera and finding a guy who touched them 15 years ago. That’s their surroundings but I’m pretty much a party family guy.
Billy: Well, your act lends itself to a Doug Stanhope persona, like rock and roll wild man but the things you talk about are like Primark and Argos and being married so it’s a little bit of a dischord there but it works for you, you know.
Tom: Well, me and Doug started off on the same path and where he had an abortion, I ended up keeping my kids. I really like families and all that sort of stuff. I like all the mundane things that make up life, like most people can’t live that wild crazy lifestyle without dying so most people are stuck in the humdrum. I think it’s the depth of the shallowness that I like.
Billy: You are saying you are a happy family man but some of your material is like ‘I’ve been married 16 years and I hate it’, you know that you like it but you express that feeling that people have when they have been married for a long time.
Tom: Well, I could tell you about all the good things but that ain’t the stuff that’s funny. That isn’t the stuff that makes people feel like they are normal, you know? When you talk about the shit times it helps people to feel normal cause most of the time when you are in a heated love debate or whatever you want to call it, you feel like you are the only one in that debate and that no-one else is going through it. So when you come to a show and you hear that kind of stuff, you start laughing to yourself thinking ‘Oh thank God, I’m not the only person’.
Billy: I totally agree with that because it’s that laughter of recognition and the feeling that you’re not alone in the world and someone else express what you are going through and that to me is the purpose of comedy.
Tom: Well, I don’t rule out any comedy style, like politically based comedy, there is surreal but I tend to stick in that one cause it makes me feel comfortable and it seems to be timeless.
Billy: Yeah, well you can get bogged down talking about Obama or whoever but when they are out of office that material is dead. Like, you talked about the Meat Van and it took me right back to when I was ten years old and seeing that guy in the Van selling the chops.
Tom: Yeah, every now and then you stumble on something and what really blew my mind was that no-one had ever talked about it before and it’s one of those jokes that I would never have expected to be as big as it became. It was like a one hit wonder song. Which is cool but also dangerous at the same time. It’s one of those things that people want to hear it all the time, wherever you go, which is super nice but it can lead you into a trap where you don’t move on. I am proud that I wrote a joke that became that popular. It was a joke that put me on the map here in the UK and a lot of people could just keep doing that joke. I could do it for the next ten years and make a living out of it.
Every now and then I’ll do a greatest hits show for the fans who weren’t there in the beginning. It’s sort of like the slow kids in class you gotta bring them up to speed.
Billy: You were brought up in a small town in Canada? Do you still have family there?
Tom: No, just old friends and memories. It is like the real South Park. It’s a place where you don’t lose your girlfriend you just lose your turn. It was wild, it was crazy, people died, people lived. I was just glad I was a survivor and got out of it. You know that Batman movie where they are all in the pit and they got to climb out? That was what it was like. If you got out of it, you probably did really well in life.
Billy: Yeah, get battlescarred and it toughens you up.
Tom: Completely man.
Billy: So you started comedy quite young, when you were still in school I believe. How did you get on the path that you went on?
Tom: Do you know Craig Campbell? Well, when I was tree planting at 17 I went to a comedy club and he was playing there and he died on his ass but the guy who done good was pretending he was Bob Dylan singing ‘How much is that doggy in the window?’ and this just shows how subjective humour is cause I thought Craig was so funny but they didn’t want to pay him.
I went to Vancouver a year later and I go to a comedy club called Punchlines and Craig was on again. So I told him I went to actor auditions and he said ‘Why don’t you come and do 5 mins on an amatuer night? You can make money if you get good at this’, so I was like ‘OK’ and he gets me on an amateur spot for 5 minutes and I haven’t looked back since. And to this day he’s a really good friend who is always saying nice things about me, so he’s a good guy.
Billy: So, what was your material like back then when you first started?
Tom: It was horrible material. I talked about farts. I had punchlines like ‘Don’t say that Dad’. Because you don’t know what you are doing in the beginning. Someone has given you a canvas and a bunch of paint but you’ve never painted before so you started out with finger painting. You got to start somewhere, right?
Billy: You have one good one and you think you’ve got it and then three that totally suck and it’s like, ‘Fuck’.
Tom: You never get it Bill. I don’t even think even to this day that I’ve got it. You never want to say that you have it because in the next 10 years I bet I’ll be even better than I am right now and that’s through continual learning.
Billy: So, you came to the UK. How did you end up in Wolverhampton?
Tom: Well, we decided we wanted to up sticks and once again Craig Campbell told us that we should get our butts over to England as they would enjoy my humour and that’s when I realised that my wife was English.
Billy: You never knew that?
Tom: No, man. Her mum was anyway. I always wondered why she talked funny and she said ‘Tom, I have a British passport, if you want to check it out we can do that’. So we got over here and did an audition for Jongleurs and the next thing you know they booked me for 6 months worth of work and that was unheard of in Canada. Plus it was also English pounds which at that time destroyed the Canadian dollar so we went back and forth a little while until something stuck and we decided to say here and we ended up in Wolverhampton. We were living in London but it got too expensive for one person working and one raising two kids. It wasnt feasible.
Most of the gigs were around the country anyway so we decided to go to the middle of the country and we took a tram and saw the biggest house we ever saw for only £400 a month so we took that but little did we know we were moving into the Ghetto, but what was really cool was because I’d done a couple of TV shows, we were celebrities in the Ghetto so nobody ever harrassed us.
Billy: So you came up to do the Edinburgh Festival one year and I read that the only flat you could get for the festival had a 6 month lease and so that’s why you stayed here.
Tom: Well, we were going to just come up for the month but the flat that we’d spent four grand on, two weeks before the festival, the women pulled out. So the only flat we could get before the festival had a 6 month lease. So that was like the universe telling us to get out of Wolverhampton. It was time for a change anyways.
When me and Trudy started out we said we’d never settle down but unfortunately we were young and stupid and didn’t realise that when kids get older they get friends and it is hard for us to move them from their friends. So, we are waiting until they reach 18 so we can boot them out of the house so we can start travelling again.
Billy: In Wolverhampton you are surrounded by comedy clubs but in Scotland there is not that much of a scene to keep you engaged, so I guess now you are a big act you do these big tours now. Is that how it works?
Tom: Well, once you are established in the comedy community you can live anywhere Billy. Once you play all the clubs like the Comedy Store, The Glee Clubs, Jongleurs, The Stand, it doesn’t really matter where you live cause everything is booked 6 months in advance. So I can book a train ticket to London for 20 pounds man. That’s less than it costs to get home from London if you are staying in London.
But you are right about one thing Bill, if you are starting out in Scotland, it’s a good place to start for a little bit because you can practice your craft without having to be seen but if you are thinking about making a living up here when you are starting out, it isn’t going to happen man. You have to go to London so you can go and play all these different places cause London seems to be the centre hub. So London will send you to Scotland, Cardiff, Manchester but Scotland will send you to other places in Scotland of which there is maybe seven.
Billy: Edinburgh is great during the festival as well, for you to have that on your doorstep must be quite good for you I would imagine.
Tom: Oh totally man. When the festival is here I just need to walk out my front door for a month which is absolutely fantastic. I’m going to be here for a little while longer, as soon as my son graduates we may want to move. We’ll figure it out. It’s definitely going to be one of those places when I look back on it, that I had a really good time in, no doubt about it.
Billy: How long have you been there?
Tom: Four or five years. I don’t keep track of this shit. I’m trying to get rid of time Billy. I’m supposed to be timeless.
Billy: Age is just a number.
Tom: Yeah totally. If you didn’t have a watch or a calander would you even know how old you are? So you wouldn’t feel like you have to act a different way because of the number behind you. There are some tribe members that are a hundred years old and still riding horseback. And they don’t eat processed food man, that’s a big thing.
Billy: One of the good things about living here is that there is so much fresh fruit and vegetables that taste like they are supposed to, you know?
Tom: Oh yeah, I know what you are saying. Here you just get the last little bits of nutrients that are left over.
Billy: Ok, well thanks for your time and all the best with the tour.
Tom: OK Billy, take care of yourself.
(Tom: That was awesome.)
This is an edited version of the interview but you can hear the conversation in its entirety over on Billy’s YouTube channel. We’ll also be uploading most of our comedian interviews on the new Comedy Chords SoundCloud page. The first one is now available below to listen to live or download for a rainy day.