It must be tough for a stand-up comedian to be both uncompromising and charming but Tom Stade is pulling it off.
The sardonic Canadian has been making waves on the UK circuit, swaggering across stages from Dave’s One Night Stand to Live at The Apollo and winning new fans as he goes.
Now Tom’s bringing his somewhat caustic, but always witty material to the Brighton Dome Corn Exchange on Friday, October 17 (9.30pm), in Decisions, Decisions.
“The real question is: is there a good or a bad decision?” says Tom, explaining that the premise of his show came from a conversation he was having with friends and acquaintances.
“We were sitting around drinking and having a laugh and then somebody said that your life is choices. For some reason it didn’t really faze me until I thought back on it and I thought ‘life is choices’. Your life is those decisions.”
He continues: “Whatever decision you make now just always leads to the next decision and it’s a never-ending thing, so why is there a good or a bad? Mostly it’s just: whatever decision you make it’s probably the funniest thing you’ve done all day.”
With his reputation for thinking and speaking freely, Tom’s show has a philosophical flavour to it, but the comedian (naturally) doesn’t take his work too seriously.
When asked to describe his own style, Tom says he’s very self-aware and never gets too involved in his own life to make fun of it. It’s an attitude that often prompts interviewers to ask who his influences are.
“A lot of people ask me that,” says Tom. “They always assume that I’m going to say a comedian but, actually, probably my biggest comedy influence was my mom and my dad, especially my dad. He’s really the funniest man I know. I find when I’m performing I can always see a little bit of him in me...or me in him, you know?”
“He never took anything seriously,” Tom continues. “It’s all nonsense and we’re eventually going to die, so just sort of enjoy the ride. He had a Bill Hicks mentality.”
Many people seem to admire this approach to comedy but Tom’s willingness to joke about the darker aspects of existence have, on occasion, touched some nerves. With gags about diseases, seal killing and poverty, it’s unsurprising that Tom’s had a walk-out or two.
He’s empathetic towards people who take offence, especially if they have experienced a tragedy first-hand, but he’s still set on saying what he wants.
“If we worried about one or two people comedy would never get written,” he explains. “I think it’s when you touch a nerve with a subject and you never know which one it’s going to be. Do you know what I mean? And then you’ve got to decide if you’re being responsible with the joke or you’re just telling it because you want to get a reaction.”
Whether intended or not, Tom definitely got a reaction when he teamed up with Frankie Boyle to co-write the now infamous TV show Tramadol Nights. Hundreds of people complained about the comedy programme’s harsh tone and jokes about taboo subjects, but Tom insists that provocation was not his goal.
“I wasn’t really aware of that,” he says when asked about the backlash. “What we trying to do with Tramadol Nights was to create something just wild and crazy.”
“Frankie’s got a reputation behind him,” he continues. “So they’re looking for it with him. They’re looking for that offence. But if you’re going to do anything good you can’t really think about how other people are going to feel about it. It’s got to come from you and then hopefully it’s a hit or whatever.
“But we just tried to give them something different and when they did react like that... it was pretty much all on Frankie’s shoulders anyway.”
Frankie Boyle, of course, is well known for his insensitive onstage persona, so Tom’s description of the comic in real life comes as a bit of a surprise.
“He’s one of the nicest men I’ve ever met in my life, man,” says Tom. “I love his attitude on life. He doesn’t really take it seriously, which is beautiful, and to be able to hang out with somebody who’s got that free of thinking, it’s amazing, inspiring...”
Freedom’s certainly important for Tom and it’s easy to see why he saw a career in stand-up beckoning.
He explains: “I saw it as a thing where I could be the writer, director and actor in my own play, plus I could also be the script writer and I could change the lines at any time. I always wanted to be an actor before I became a comedian and then, one night, I just went on stage and I just sort of fell in love with the whole idea that you are in total charge of this masterpiece or whatever you’re creating.”
“When you do get a laugh, and it’s all you, there’s no better rush ever,” he continues. “I can’t even describe it, man. I don’t know why everyone doesn’t do it.”
Heeding the call of stand-up is one thing, but what drew Tom (who now lives in Edinburgh) to the UK?
“I think the UK scene is the most vibrant,” he says. “It’s got such a concentration of gigs in a small area that you’re actually gigging every weekend. But you don’t have to fly, you know, across eight states to get to the next gig.”
He also loved the idea that British people can have a career purely in stand-up.
“You don’t have to be anything else,” he says. “And there are very few countries that you can do that in.”
Tickets for Decisions, Decisions cost £17 (£15 concessions). Call 01273 709709, email firstname.lastname@example.org or click here