Stand-up star or a stray dog we love to feed?

Tom Stade Totally Rocks comes to the Old Town Hall on April 24.
Tom Stade Totally Rocks comes to the Old Town Hall on April 24.

It must be hard, a stand-up’s life on the road. Having to recite gag after gag, night after night like some kind of comic catechism, and then catching up on your kip en route to the next venue.

But it certainly doesn’t take it out of Canadian émigré Tom Stade, who, despite being woken by my morning phone call after a rough night on the Caledonian sleeper train to Edinburgh, was bright and breezy for our interview. Well, breezy anyway.

Through yawns and the dewy confusion of the previous night’s travel, Tom opened up about his act, his inability to be self-critical and his status as the UK’s adopted puppy.

The stand-up star, with his distinctive gravelly voice – in his previous shows, he says this is what the doctor likes to call ‘damage’ from smoking certain substances for 20 years – has become a TV favourite with stints on Live At The Apollo, Michael Macintyre’s Comedy Roadshow and Channel 4’s Stand Up For The Week. He’s bringing his brand of observational comedy to the Old Town Hall next week – but all the tickets were snapped up more than a month in advance.

So what does he think about the fame he experiences in the UK?

“Well,” he drawls, “I must be more famous here than back home, but I don’t really like that word, famous. It is a weird word for me.

“The fact of the matter is that English, Scottish and Welsh people have embraced me and fed me like a stray dog that turns up at the doorstep. They go: ‘Oh, it’s Tom, isn’t he cuddly?’ and they get the whole UK family to like me. I am now the UK family pet, which is OK with me.”

Tom, who has moved with his wife and two children from Wolverhampton to Edinburgh, says he likes living in the UK purely because it is not his home.

He said, “I do like Canada and my home town is a nice little place, but when you live somewhere for 20 to 30 years you get real tired of seeing the same people and hearing the same old stories.

“I enjoy setting up new friendships and having people tell me stuff I have never heard before, and you get a lot of that in the UK.

“For my wife Trudy and I, travelling was our ‘thing’, until the babies came. We tried to travel as much as we could with the babies, then all of a sudden the babies got older and started making friends and we became slugs.”

Tom’s often slightly embellished routines about his own family life can cut quite close to the bone, but he says his non-PC jokes are merely intended to highlight absurdities in some quite serious subjects.

He said: “Trudy calls me naughty and nice, because I can be real nice. I have some really lovely jokes that people are OK with, because there’s no charity behind them.

“Then I can also talk about things that people have strong opinions about. At home we laugh at all the stuff in my shows, even if it is a little close to the bone, or even if I have made it up. My wife knows it’s just a comedy show.

“I think for the next show, I’m going to focus more on myself. I find it hard to do that, so I was having to go to Trudy to ask her what my flaws are, and boy, did they come thick and fast.”

His current tour, Tom Stade Totally Rocks, comprises 40 dates over six months, in locations from Inverness to Colchester.

He thinks what differentiates his latest show from other comedians on the scene is his ad-lib approach to stand-up.

“I have been doing comedy for so long now it has got to the point where I have to keep myself entertained, or even I would get bored.

“I watch a lot of comedians who really do stick to a script, and it loses that authenticity. It becomes a scripted monologue, even though it might be a good one. But I am not an actor, I am a comedian.

“I have a few different concepts that I stick to, and I have written certain punchlines which I always use, but how I get to those could change on any given night.”

Tom is looking forward to performing this way in Hemel Hempstead because of the intimacy of the venue. Part of his aim in each show is to interact with his fans.

“I think all comedians prefer to do intimate venues, there’s no doubt about it,” he explains.

“I do prefer the gigs where you can get close and know people’s names when you are talking to them.

“I hang out with my fans because of something my dad once told me. He said if you went to a rock concert, wouldn’t it be awesome to talk to your favourite band and get a picture with them just for two seconds? It would make your night a lot better, so if I don’t absolutely have to leave at the end of a show, I will normally hang around.”

But when it comes to hecklers, Tom has a pretty straightforward solution: “I do love talking to the audience, as long as it’s not a heckle. If someone heckles, then I have to make them look bad and get people to hate them, but that is so not in my nature.”

If you’ve been lucky enough to grab tickets for his flying visit to the town, you can rest assured you’ll feel just as gratified as Tom himself after the show.

He added: “Making people look bad is not my game at all. Some comedians like that, but I like to make sure we all look good after my show. We can all walk out feeling like gods.”

Victoria Bull