Did you hear the one about a global TV star comedian who celebrates 30 years as a pro’ comic next year, hiring his 21-year-old son to produce and direct his brand new DVD? Loving every second of what his offspring delivers – and then giving it away for free to his fans as a thank you for their support.
Well you have now….Canadian comedy star Tom Stade does just that with his new DVD, “I Swear”, fed up with the stale format of most comedy DVDs and “specials”; yearning for some risk taking and putting the viewer in the room on the night the gig was filmed.
A man who has appeared on BBC TV’s “Live At The Apollo” several times and fills venues around the world, choosing a cosy 230 capacity basement club in Glasgow to film the new DVD. To bring comedy back to where it all started; in the intimate and charged atmosphere of comedy clubs.
But this is not a nepotistic gesture to his flesh and blood or a move to save money. Son Mason graduated last year from University in screen writing and has formed a production company, serious as a heart attack at making a go of it – with or without Dad’s support.
Mason’s mission with the “I Swear” film was crystal clear and set in stone. “Redefining how comedy is portrayed on DVDs and television; laying down a blueprint”. A second strand to that objective too: “To show just how rock and roll Tom Stade really is”.
Mason and his team; seven in total including Mum Trudy, an experienced and talented photographer and one of the camera crew for the shoot, visited half a dozen shows before shooting the one gig in Glasgow at the Stand comedy club. Mapping out the angles they’d want to match each gag in Tom’s set. Finally shooting the set in Autumn last year (2017) on Toms mammoth “I Swear” tour, which sold out most of its entire run across the UK and beyond.
A risk giving his young inexperienced son the control over the end result of his new DVD? “It’s been the moment I have been waiting for; working with Mason”. Tom goes further. “It’s more of a risk to do it with someone who is already conditioned to doing these films, especially the way that I like to be portrayed out there.
“I know Mason’s my son, but he also went to University for three years. Him and all his friends have all the new techniques, and they weren’t conditioned to do things the same way. When he came to four or five shows before actually filming it, to decide what camera angles for what joke.
“I knew the kid actually cared. I thought; this guy is taking more time than I have actually seen any other director do. But also, it is his Dad and he wants it to be great. So, there’s actually less of a risk”.
Picking up on “the way I like to be portrayed out there”. How is that? “I want to do honest comedy, man. I want to be able to have what a lot of people are losing, which is the freedom to say whatever I want.
“It’s a core value that comedy should be rebellious. And in the times that we are living in, it is harder and harder to be rebellious.
The fact that I can still be, is the image I want out there to inspire people to stay true to this earth.
“Dishonest comedy is doing a joke for somebody else, because you think you know what they are going to laugh at.
“Honest comedy is doing the joke that exposes your truth and shame, and you don’t know if they are going to laugh at it.
“But it makes you laugh and gives you a little bit of a freeing feeling; that you have actually said that out loud and not been ashamed of something.
“Or you can bow down and go; we ain’t doing that joke because it might offend someone. Well, that’s not honest comedy now, is it?”
Tom’s shows are different every night, because while he has a structure, he can never know or plan for what his chosen-at-random victims in the audience will do or say.
So as he expands his sets more more into a larger percentage of time spent conversing with strangers in the crowd, and investigating their lives and beliefs, it delivers risky, edge of the seat and hilarious comedy. Always outrageous; you can bet on it.
He has released many albums and videos of his comedy over the years, and says all of them are censored before we see them. Even his critically acclaimed appearances on Live At The Apollo involve the show’s lawyers vetting his material, and sometimes they scratch out words you cannot say on TV.
You can’t swear either, which in Tom’s case is like locking him in a comedy straight jacket. That’s his explosive punctuation.
“When it comes to an actual DVD, you probably have a little more freedom, but there’s still things you have to sign if you are talking about somebody personal, and they have to make sure it is OK to use their name and all that shit”.
So why a small cellar club in Glasgow for the shoot for this DVD? “I like a personal setting. Comedy in a smaller room is better because you feel more akin to the comedian that you are watching.
Instead of a big ass 02 Arena kind of thing, whereas there you are witnessing something.
“So this way, you feel a part of it. Glasgow, because you can get better angles in a smaller club, move up close, move around the audience”.
The gig was shot on five cameras, but the shots and the lighting deliberately only show Tom on stage, and we never see the faces of the audience, only the backs of heads and silhouettes of the crowd bathed in darkness. Including the three fans who Tom picks out to interact with for the duration of the set. “The thinking behind that was I wanted you to be in the audience”.
But no shots of the audience’s faces? “Nobody looks over to see if anybody else is laughing. Whenever I see that, I know the joke ain’t funny enough, so they have to try and fool people that this is what actually happened on the night. What we wanted was a little bit of honesty”.
The 85-minute film kicks off with a couple of minutes of fly-on-the-wall footage in the dressing room before the gig; Tom getting his mind in the zone and chatting to a fellow comic; Scottish comedian Gareth Mutch, his support act.
“All we really wanted was to show what goes on in the green room before we head on out there. What it also gave you guys; the chance to see how I was before I walked on to a show, trying to keep my mind blank and all that stuff. It introduces the character before you see what he actually does. Makes you feel like you are backstage before this thing happens”.
For anyone who does not know 47-year-old Tom’s comedy; he explains what you are going to get with his new film. “An interactive experience, from somebody they think they have known for over 20 years. Because that’s what I want in all these shows; I want you to feel fucking comfortable that I can make fun of you, and not think that I am taking the piss or embarrassing you”.
Last year he brought out “Decisions Decisions”, and sold that for a tenner on a social media site, which he says was a mistake. Prompting the decision to give this one away. “The last DVD was sold at £10 and I thought I could still be a rebel doing it that way. Those days are gone. We live in an age where everything’s kind of free anyway.
“So, I thought giving it away for free for all the people who came and paid to see the show, is actually the right thing to do. The last one, I thought that’s how people still did things. But this time, I thought, hey; come on, move with the times, Tom. Get it out there, let people enjoy it”.
Tom’s son Mason Stade has been around comedy all of his life. He says if he had chosen any one comic to film as his first major production with his new company, Freskimo Films, Tom Stade would have been top of the target list, irrespective of being closely related to him.
“If I had a choice between comics, to try my hand, Tom Stade would be right up there. The Canadian comics over here are strong right now. Doing this with my Dad of course, it was amazing.
“I’ve watched my Mum, a phenomenal photographer, take shots of him my entire life. Been backstage my entire life. So, to have this opportunity, it was like easy, it didn’t even feel like a big deal to me when we were shooting.
“The biggest challenge was redefining the comedy stylings of comedy right now. I am so disappointed with how comedy is being portrayed, that I saw this as an opportunity to at least lay down a blueprint; to try and change how it is being filmed.
“Nothing has changed since the 80s. They are all still shooting with four cameras just plonked there. They still have the cutaways to the audience, and that front on shot. I don’t feel there is enough experimentalism in comedy right now. With such an over saturation of so many comics coming in, I can’t believe that. The biggest challenge to me was trying to bring rock and roll back to comedy.
“I have been watching comedy all my life; one of my favourite things in the world; the way a comic can come on, and it’s just about the delivery, word choice or just a slight twitch in his eye that makes the joke perfect.
“When I watch comedy, I am always at the back at the bar. So, when we were doing the DVD, I wanted you to feel like you were in there. I do not think comedy DVDs are doing that. Everyone wants to be a U2, a Coldplay; playing in huge massive arenas and theatres.
“I really wanted to bring comedy back to its roots, into the actual comedy clubs, where you have people in the back going to the bar. You can’t quite see because there’s some tall guy with a hat in front of you…I think that’s how comedy should be watched”.
Mason says they spent “hundreds of hours” editing the footage to get it bang on. “In comedy, when you watch comedy movies, sit coms… everyone has a shooting style. I feel when I watch stand-up DVDs, they all stick to the exact same style. I went to five shows before we shot, to map out the best shots to go with the jokes. Really trying to capture a style with the filming.
“I really hope the DVD shows how rock and roll he really is. He is also one of the nicest guys in comedy too”. As a father? “A fun living criminal!” A role model or a warning? “I think you gotta roll them into one!”
Masons company Freskimo Films are in the final stages of making a short film. A “wacky comedy musical” called “Hoo” – The rise and fall of a child actor. He invested the cash he made from making the “I Swear” Tomflix Special DVD, into funding the short.
There’s a decent cast in the new film too, with an actor from “It’s All Gone Pete Tong,” and an actress from the movie “The Descent”, both appearing. It will be out by September and screened at various film festivals around the world. Look out for a cameo by a certain Tom Stade, who plays an Andy Warhol-type director.
Back in the real world; Tom is currently doing a few “work in progress” preview shows to hone the material for his brand new show, “I Swear To…”, which has a month long run at the Edinburgh Festival in August and will tour after that. The theme of the new show is “understanding this Millennial generation we are living in; by raising two of them”. A reference to his children Mason and Kira. “I Swear Too…” opens at the Edinburgh Festival, in the Guilded Balloon, Rose Theatre,on August 1st to 12th, and 14th to 26th.
Tom was born and lived in Canada until 2001, after his friend and fellow comedian Craig Campbell suggested he move to the UK. He and his family have lived in London, Wolverhampton and now Edinburgh.
Since the very first time he set foot on a comedy stage in Canada in 1989 to 20 people, Tom has shot to stardom with annual sold out runs at the Edinburgh Festival and smash hit appearances on such TV shows as Live at the Apollo, The Comedy Store, The Live Floor Show, Stand Up for the Week, The World Stands Up, Mock the Week, Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow, Dave’s One Night Stand, Lee Mack’s All Star Cast, The John Bishop Show and Frankie Boyle’s Tramadol Nights (which he co-wrote).
He was part of the star-studded line-up on Channel 4’s Comedy Gala at London’s 02 Arena, appeared on ITV2’s Comedy Cuts and multiple performances on Comedy Central’s The Comedy Store. He was on BBC 3’s Edinburgh Comedy Fest Live. He appeared on Frankie Boyle’s stand-up show The Boyle Variety Performance in August 2012, and recorded a live DVD at the Bloomsbury Theatre, London (released in autumn 2013.
Since 2011, Tom has toured the UK every year with a new show, playing to packed houses and garnering rave reviews.
Back in his native Canada, Tom appeared in the critically acclaimed sitcom The Newsroom and the award-winning feature film My Own Private Oshawa. As a stand-up, he starred in his own hour special for CBC/Comedy Central Stade and Confused. He starred as a spoof chat-show host in Come Fringe Yourself with Tom Stade, which was recorded at the Edinburgh festival and gathered a cult online following and he made an online sitcom with Daniel Sloss, called “M.U.F.F.”
Tom, affectionately known as The Commander by his loyal fans The Stadinese Army, has performed at notable comedy festivals worldwide including New York, Aspen, Montreal, Toronto, Amsterdam, Kilkenny, Adelaide, Melbourne and New Zealand. He’s entertained the troops in the Falklands, Afghanistan, Iraq and Kuwait.
Photos copyright: Simon Redley * (Except Stade family shot: Leslie Mcllwrick)
For tickets to see Tom at the Edinburgh Festival:
Watch the new DVD “I Swear” in full here for free: