Tom Stade was born in Canada but has called Edinburgh his home for almost 2 decades, where he can often be found at the Fringe Festival. You’ve probably seen him on Mock The Week or Stand Up For The Week (confusing really, does he like the week or not?), but it’s on stage where Tom really unleashes his personality and his comedy. His current tour, I Swear, has just been extended, so if you haven’t seen it yet there’s still chance. We had a chat with him about the swearing, Canadians vs. comedians and Facebook fame, amongst a whole heap of other stuff.
Tom Stade: TRASH, I love the name already, man. At least we know what we’re getting in the title. It is what it says on the tin! Finally, someone not trying to fool me.
TRASH: A bit like you’re current tour title – you swear, right?
Oh I swear, alright. You betcha. I love a good double entendre, man.
While being professional and doing my research, my favourite thing I found about you from Wikipedia – a very reliable source – describes you as a comedian with “a drunken Canadian accent”.
Is that offensive or is that pretty apt?
I don’t take offence to anything, man. I come for the ‘90s – we have a disease that’s called thick skin! It’s very hard to get to my feelings. The only people that seem to be able to get to my feelings are my children, and I’m going to find out how they’re getting in and I’m going to block that up too, pretty quick. I don’t ever want to be known as a snowflake.
That term’s used a lot to describe millennials.
You betcha they are. Creating a utopia without pain… Good luck with that!
How’s the tour going?
It’s going really good, to the point that they’ve extended it, man. I thought we were going to be done within one year, but the agent called and said, ‘Tom would you want to do another 20 or 30 dates?’ and I was like, ‘Well it’s kind of better than staying at home now, isn’t it?’.
You swear a lot – we’ve established that. I’d say I was a moderate swearer but there are certain people I won’t swear in front of. Do you have to curb yours in front of elder family members, or people who have known you since you was a kid?
Here’s the thing – when we talk about that, it’s my punctuation. Some people swear and mean it, know what I mean? For me, I’d rather throw in a colourful thing than say ‘um’. And as for older people, the funny part is because I hit around 47, there’ll take offence more to the swearing from younger people. Because I’m kind of in their age group I can call them on their bullshit. So they can handle it. I’m like, ‘Really old man? You were fighting Germans and you never said the word ‘fuck’, while you were in the trenches and you saw your buddy die? Did you go, ‘Gosh, darn it. I really liked that guy’? You’re a hypocrite!’ And most people who don’t enjoy that stuff aren’t comedy fans anyways. Anybody who has a sensor in them doesn’t normally go to comedy so I never really have to worry about those kind of people. Plus I’m not trying to be a role model either. That’s why I do what I do, and for some reason I’ve done some big TV shows which helped bring the fan base in – but now that they’re in I don’t really need to do the TV shows that much anymore. And because you’re not on them they can’t hold you to the standard that a lot of the people on TV are held to. Like, was it Dec that just got caught for drinking and driving?
Ant – if nobody knew who he was he’d just be faded. But because he’s a big ass role model he’s not allowed to make any mistakes. And that was a big one! A real big one.
My dad was a swearer – I’ll never forget walking past my youngest sister’s bedroom as she was playing with her dolls, and one said to the other: “That’s a bit of a…” and then dropped a C-bomb. That wasn’t OK… Were your kids swearing earlier than they should have been?
Well, here’s where I come at swearing with kids. It’s hard for me to hold back, but my dad said it the best, he goes, ‘There are no bad words, only bad times to use them’. So maybe saying the F word in front of your mother when she’s trying to buy groceries might not be a good idea. But if you’re on stage entertaining 500 people a night, that’s a good place to use it. I don’t like any language being censored anyways because they’re just colourful words, that’s all they really are. You put what they mean to you – that’s your own opinion on them. So for me they don’t have the same meaning as maybe somebody else has for them.
Was it weird when they were at school talking about what mummy and daddy do for a job, and daddy’s was telling swearing and telling jokes?
Well, it goes through stages with kids. My son’s 21 and my daughter’s 17. When they were young they loved what I did. It was like, ‘My dad’s on TV’ – and I’m one of the cooler dad’s in the schoolyard. But then they get to an age where they feel they’re not under your umbrella, and they don’t have a personality of their own, so that’s when they start shunning you, and they don’t want anyone to know that you’re their dad. And my son is out of that – he’s back to liking what I do, but my daughter doesn’t tell anybody that I’m her dad. So it’s really an interesting dynamic as the kids get older.
In a couple of year you can tell your daughter, ‘I told you so’…
Oh you’re going to hug me again?! Get out of here – that’s weird. We haven’t touched each other for four years!
The tour’s been going on for some time, and has been extended. How different is show 1 to the final show?
For me, if you know me, I’m always never satisfied with anything. I’m always looking for the next joke. The one great thing about this show is it’s so interactive, because the whole show is really just taking 3 generations – a 70 year old, a 40/50 year old and a 20 year old – and talking about how they’re feeling about the times they’re living in. For me, I feel like I’ve travelled into the future, for some reason. Because most of your conditioning is in your 20s, that’s your view of the world and it stays that way, even when you get to your 70s. So, I just feel like I’m on holiday in the future until I die. And it’s very funny because there are a lot of difference between a 70 year old and a 20 year old but you wouldn’t believe the similarities that are between them. Like, you were saying you were worried about old people being offended – old people don’t get offended! That is a myth from what I’ve figured out. These guys, they were banging their gal in the 1950s in a car overlooking the city. Now try and do that now you’re going to get arrested, or you’re going to have 3 people jerking off in a window looking at you. Times may have changed, but people haven’t.
I do always think of my grandparents as being grandparents, when they were probably more reckless than me.
Yeah, because think about you, you’re going to get older too, but are you going to get offended when you get old? You’re actually probably going to be a component against people trying to stifle you from saying stuff, or shame them into saying, ‘How dare you say that, that is my idea of a rude and that should be everyone’s idea of rude’. And that’s when you go, ‘Why don’t you sit down and shut the fuck up?’ because there are 300 other opinions in this room, and we’re going to have to deal with all of them. Because that’s what delivering in a democracy and free speech is all about, buddy.
You’re not the catchphrase sort of comedian, is there anything that people shout out to you in the street?
I think the one thing I’ve got is memorable jokes, so they’ll call me ‘meat van guy’, or they’ll tell me about Argos or Primark. But that’s because that adds to your popularity when people identify with a joke so much, it’s like a hit song for comedy. And I had a number one hit song! As long as you have that you’ve got longevity for the rest of your life. And that will always stay in their mind more than any TV show that you do.
What I love about that is that you’re charging people for a seat and then you tell them how stupid their country and how funny their traditions are, which is kind of genius.
Well sometimes the thing is, it takes someone else to come in and spot the absurdity of what’s going on right in front of your face. Because to you it’s just normal, but imagine someone from Nigeria coming in and looking at all this stuff. ‘Jesus, what? You guys got water from a tap?’ And if there’s anyone from Nigeria reading, yes I took the liberty of saying that you’ve had droughts.
You’ve been in the UK for years and years now, have you gone back to Canada and seen things that you’ve thought, actually, this is really weird?
Oh Canadians are the worst of the weird part, for sure. They’re like a good two-shoe country. I feel like I was raised in the wrong place, like England gave me up for adoption and sent me over to Canada but I just didn’t get along with them, so I’ve come back home and now everybody likes me. Canada’s this crazy ass utopia thing, it’s properly political correctness gone mad, man. I go there and it’s just the safest country and it’s so boring.
But you’ve never toured over there to the extent you do here?
When I was over there we were getting pretty famous in Canada – we did all the TV shows you could do there, and we signed deals in LA and all that sort of stuff. But I just never fitted in there because it’s such a sanitised comedy. To be a comedy star in Canada… That just doesn’t happen. Comedy is a stepping stone to something else. Whereas over here, comedians just being a comedian is a big of a deal as being a rock star. And that’s what I love about this country – you get known for what you do, and it’s not a stepping stone. You can live the life you want doing what you love without worrying about going anywhere further, or your perceived idea of what further is.
Most of the time in Canada they’re looking for comedians who are unoffencive, to be on a sitcom and that sitcom can sell advertising, all that kind of stuff. And the difference is there are people who make you laugh, and there are comedians. People that make you laugh are people that remind you of stupid stuff that you do that doesn’t challenge you at all, it doesn’t challenge the norm so they’re safe. They sell out arenas because there’s no offence or anything like that, there’s only laughing. And then there’s comedians that point out things that may be uncomfortable, but you point out the absurdities of those things. Like the Mark Twains and all of these guys, they were comedians. You need both of them, by the way, but you’ve got to decide what side of the fence you’re going to go on and I just grew up around comedy, so I like taking on any challenging subject. And I think if you do it and you do it well it’s funnier than any joke about what’s in your drawer.
Ken Dodd – one of the UK’s most recognisable comics – recently passed away. Based on what you’ve just said, would you say he was a comedian?
From the interviews that I saw – because obviously I wasn’t around for the Ken Dodd era, but I don’t like to not be aware – for his time he was pushing his boundaries. Things were probably a lot different, and – what, he was doing it for 60 years? – so things were probably a lot different in 1950 and 1940, and what pushing the envelope was might seem very tame in this day and age, but from what I gather he was a very intelligent man and he just loved his comedy, and he knew how to entertain and push. But eventually, it’s like that Batman thing – you live too long and you become the villain. All of a sudden all of these guys who were making you laugh are all racist, sexist assholes. But 20 years ago they were Batman for crying out loud.
Jim Davidson was recently on Piers Morgan’s Life Stories, he’s a probably an example of that.
He’s always an interesting character, that one. He’s got a backlash of unbelievable proportions, but anyone that I know that’s ever seen him thinks he’s such a great performer. He’s definitely got it in his bones, y’know. What was acceptable 20/30 years ago isn’t acceptable now, and you’ve got to decide if you’re going to change with the times. Will Jim change with the times? Who knows, I’m not Jim. Is Jim happy being Jim? What do I know? ‘What do I care?’ is the other thing… I’m in that kind of danger too. It’s hard to stay in touch with someone that’s in their 20s, and I try to keep up with the times as much as I can, but there’s always that deep-seated rootedness that you might not believe that they should go this direction. For the most part we live in too much of a social media generation where everyone has their opinions, so it changes a lot faster than it did because it can get around a lot quicker.
The social media thing is interesting because what that’s done as well is there are now a lot more comedians out there who are “Facebook famous” – they don’t sell out tours but they’ve got millions of followers watching them.
Well that’s where all the kids are watching their stuff now. They’ll binge watch a Netflix special, or series or whatever. And they’ll love a little soundbite on Ladbible or whatever the thing is.
Are you aware of any of these Facebook comedians?
There’s one guy who did a YouTube thing that went crazy, and now he’s selling out the Apollo. But that’s going to be interesting, because I still have the belief that you still have to pay your dues. Because the one thing about the YouTube thing is it’s instant fame. And OK, so you’ve been doing it for 2 years and you have a really good routine and it’s on there, but you haven’t gone and played all the tough pubs. You haven’t learned how to change course if something goes wrong – that can only come with playing all the different venues. I appreciate theatre now more than anything, because I’ve played in the roughest clubs you’ve ever seen with hecklers and all that sort of stuff, so nothing phases me.
Now, when you get hecklers is that exciting because you don’t know what’s going to come next or is it more a case of ‘shut up, let me get on with the gig’?
I’m of two schools of that. One is if you’re having a really great show there shouldn’t really be any hecklers. There’ll be joiner-inners, but they’re different to hecklers. Hecklers are there because they’re bored and they’re not enjoying the show. Joiner-inners are having such a good time that they can’t help not to blurt something out, and I enjoy the joiner-inners more than I enjoy the hecklers. But you have to be able to deal with both of them, because comedy isn’t like a play on the West End. Anything could happen in that room and you have to deal with it.
Ken Dodd was playing four hours long shows when he was in his 80s, do you hope for that kind of career?
Yeah, I’m going to die on stage for sure. I’m going to pull a Tommy Cooper, there’s no doubt about it. I’m going to have a heart attack in the middle of my best bit and then you’re going to see me die smiling. Of course that’s the way I’m going to go, man.
Live on Facebook as well?
Of course! We’ll make it go viral, not a doubt in my mind. Life is hilarious.
Tom Stade’s I Swear continues up and down the country until June, tickets can be found on his official site.