Tom Stade: “I call myself Naughty and Nice…”
The slick, effortless attitude that Tom Stade takes onstage oozes star quality from every orifice. His boyish charm allows him to stride directly to the line of decency, leaning perilously close to its edge – but talking to Elliott Clarke earlier this week, Stade admits that he thinks of himself more as a “comedy purist” than a rock-n-roller.
EC: Hey Tom. Your new show is called Tom Stade Totally Rocks. Do you?
TS: The only reason we named [the show] that is that it sounded catchy – because I don’t like to put themes behind anything. I did loosely base the show on my marriage, looking back. We married in Vegas 3 months after we met. Trudy is one of the best women I’ve ever met in my life; I knew after 3 months of being with her that this was the lady.
My marriage is just one of the themes though, there’s 4 or 5 ideas that I rolled with. Marriage is always going to one of them, because it’s a continuation of my life, and marriage is a very big part of my life; I have 4 big things and that’s my dog, my kids, my wife, and comedy.
The show is all personal. If it wasn’t personal, it would have to be political.
EC: Journalists will eventually pigeon-hole every act. Do you work hard to avoid being labelled?
TS: It would be a lie to sit there and say that I wouldn’t write a certain type of joke. When it comes down to it, I’ve always thought the fact of the matter is that my mind is open to any kind of humour that comes my way. I wouldn’t want to pigeon-hole myself because I like to think of myself more as an artist than as a person trying to get famous. Through all the years I’ve been doing comedy I’ve tried to do my own thing.
EC: Can you just elaborate on that last point? What’s the thought process behind your work?
TS: If you had to describe comedy in a spiritual sense, I just let whatever happens happen. I don’t try and force anything, and it seems to work for the goals I initially had – mainly to better myself every time I go onstage; to just push myself that little bit extra. I may gain a lot of fans or I may lose a lot of fans – who knows?
I don’t know where I am compared to other comedians, but I know where I am against when I first started. I’m pretty far away from my starting point. I think when I first started out I wanted everybody to think I’m a really complicated person, but 25 years later I just want to simplify it.
Whenever I’m writing a joke, I like to think of a quote – someone asked Hank Williams what’s a hit song, and he said, “4 chords and the truth”. Whether it’s Doug Stanhope’s kind of mind-blowing, or something that’s so simple it’s been in front of your face for so long, does it have truth behind it?
EC: How does that kind of ‘truth-telling’ material work when it comes to doing club nights or work-in-progress type shows?
TS: If you bring a 5 or 10 minute segment to a Jongleurs setting where there’s just Stag nights, you have to win them over, with kinda artsy material. You work on little bits and pick up the pieces that should have been there. Sometimes I’ll work on a different routine every night, or I’ll get really fascinated with one of the routines and stick with that for around 4 or 5 shows. I like to take the show and work it piece-by-piece in front of people who don’t know me.
I video tape it and watch it back to see what I should have said, to see what the audience is watching. I’ll think, “Why didn’t I continue with that thread? I just dropped it right there…” A lot of people just like to record their show, but I think that’s a tool of old. That’s all that was there 2 years, but I think if Richard Pryor had videotaping in the 60s they would have used that.
The fans at Edinburgh will enjoy it, but because they’re fans they give a little more leeway. If you take the show to people that don’t don’t know you, and work on it there it becomes real-world funny.
EC: Why is Edinburgh so different then?
TS: There’s Edinburgh funny and there’s real world funny. Edinburgh funny is that two week scramble where you’re writing a show and trying to perfect it, running a few previews before all the journalists come in and give their opinion.
When comedians take their first show to Edinburgh, it’s always going to be killer material because it’s been worked in clubs for 12 years. After Edinburgh a lot of comedians take their show on tour right away, but I was offered that and I didn’t want to do it.
The show changes for me, just like the show changes through Edinburgh, from the first night to the the last night. The jokes are there, but the structure changes and things may have been added or lost – it’s more honed. If I can work it on the circuit for 3 or 4 months, there’s a lot more time to find the things that could have been included in the Edinburgh show.
The fans then enjoy it more on tour, because it’s gone from Edinburgh funny to proper funny. The tour is the most important thing, for me.
EC: This year was your fifth Edinburgh show, but over the years you’ve become much more skilled at stretching the comfort zone onstage…
TS: When I first started out I probably pushed things more, because I had nothing to lose. That’s not to say I wouldn’t push a joke out quite far now, it’s just that I’m more skilled at doing it.
A younger Tom may have crossed the line into offensive and not realised he’s in offensive territory. Before, when I was in the offensive jungle, I didn’t know the path. Now, if I accidentally stray there or someone brings me there, I know my way around.
EC: Does this make it difficult to pitch your material on TV then? We’ve not really seen you around since Live at the Apollo.
TS: You’ve got to be aware of the situation. I’ve tried the part of saying, “Fuck you, I’m gonna do it my way”, but whenever you do that it doesn’t get you where you want to be. My Dad always had a good line: You can either chuck rocks at the boat, or you can get inside and blow it up from there.
TV gives a new audience an idea of who you are – and I don’t go out and start screaming “I’m gonna fuck your babies” or anything, it’s still me on TV and they are jokes that I’ve written. I can go from TV material to can’t-be-on TV material, but it doesn’t mean those two jokes aren’t as funny as one another.
I call myself Naughty and Nice, and for all the people that stay, there may be two that leave. I’m not too worried about it, I’ll risk those odds.”
EC: Do you see that fearless stage persona as a character, or are you just a brave soldier?
TS: OK, I’m not playing a character. I always like to give the audience a character, I like to talk to the audience and I like to talk to one person throughout a show, because it makes it feel like it’s personal.
It’s like riding a wave – you don’t know if it’s going to be a big wave or a little wave, but unless you get on it you’re not going to enjoy the thrill. I like the fact that, even though I have a structure, as soon as you go into the audience then that structure is really only your boat, and the audience is the ocean you’re riding on. You never know where this ocean is going to take you. That’s the adventure of it.
I enjoy interacting with that one person, because that one person represents what the audience is thinking. Plus it gives some authenticity to the show because I’m not stuck to a script – without being surreal.
EC: Are you as thick-skinned when it comes to reviews then?
TS: I try not to read reviews, but I’d lie if I said I haven’t done it. I don’t mind good or bad ones, I think I come against that when I throw things out there. You’re in a position that’s too subjective for everyone to like you. Even the most well-liked person in comedy still has has reviewers that hate him, and yet he sells out arenas. Some things can be quite nasty, but you have to accept it.
I think bad reviews are harder on people that are first starting; a bad review can send fans away when you’re first starting out, and may mean you lose the few fans you already have. Now I have a good fan-base and I enjoy having drinks and talking with them after shows. They know that I can fuck up, and it’s only if I fuck up 8 or 9 times in a row the fans start to leave you!
Frankie Boyle gets bad reviews, and it doesn’t affect him any more. But if Mr. Up-and-comer, whoever the next big thing is, gets a bad review, of course it will affect them.
EC: You filmed a DVD last year but it wasn’t released. Why?
TS: The DVD release is next November. It was filmed – everything on the DVD is done – but they didn’t release it this year. They said that they also did Jack Whitehall’s debut DVD and they could only release one. They had to choose between them, and if I were to bet on anyone I’d do the same. Jack Whitehall is a great trend, and a fantastic comedian, and he’s big and famous. But they said, “Next year is yours, Tom.”
Tom Stade Totally Rocks visits the Newcastle Stand on 19 February; Doncaster Dome on 21 Feb; Liverpool Camp & Furnace on 28 Feb; and The Lowry, Salford, on 27 March. For details, see: tomstade.co.uk