The Canadian comic had a lucrative US TV deal years ago, but gave it up to go live in a cabin. Now he's suddenly a big name in the UAE stand-up scene.
The Laughter Factory welcomes Tom Stade
Tom Stade takes the trials of comedy life in his stride. Just last week the television show that helped make his name was unceremoniously axed, but the stoic Canadian has survived harder falls.
During his early days on the stand-up scene Stade was signed by a big US TV network and briefly lived the pampered life of a star-in-waiting. Then the deal ran out with no series to show for it, and his dream of global TV fame ended before it began. Rather than loiter in Los Angeles, he decamped to the Canadian wilderness.
"As soon as that [contract] was up we moved up to Ontario, bought ourselves a little cabin and two acres of land," he recalls, with a trademark drawl. "We thought we'd just hide out, deal with the depression of being young, thinking you're going be a big star then being dropped and watching your showbiz wings burn off."
Life was certainly different from LA. "We had a lot of people coming over saying things like, 'You really gotta try this, I just boiled a whole bunch of ginger!'"
Such quirky provincial tales have belatedly propelled the comic to TV fame a decade on, albeit on a different continent. After that spell in the wilds of Canada he resolved to take on the fabled UK stand-up circuit, but rather than head for vibrant London, the Stade family settled in Wolverhampton, deep in the industrial "black country". A curious choice, but "places like that are great for me," he insists. "It keeps you where you were, what made you a great comedian in the first place, not going into that ivory tower."
On stage, Stade exudes a cool bemusement about the world around him, and the move to England's downtrodden Midlands proved a priceless source of new material. One particular routine, in which the incredulous comic chances upon a local man selling meat from a car, became his signature "bit", but remained little-seen until recently. The comic's eventual break arguably came about due to the global recession, as the cost-cutting BBC began to show stand-up on Saturday nights. "It's easy to produce," muses the comic, "just a guy and a microphone."
Invited on to the popular prime-time showcase hosted by old contemporary Michael McIntyre, Stade launched into the meat-man routine and brought the house down. Further TV spots followed and the classy comic soon enjoyed a big enough reputation to embark on a lengthy solo tour.
Hugely successful, that UK tour also revealed a less appealing aspect of wider fame as Stade came under pressure to play the "hits" - his best-known routines. "You've got to do it," he sighs. "But I get flak from people saying, 'heard it, heard it.' When you've got people wanting you to move faster than the business is allowing you to, it's a real frustration."
Thankfully, there are other outlets, and before embarking on that tour, he joined the controversial Scottish stand-up Frankie Boyle to conjure one of the most infamous comedies ever screened on British TV, an uncompromising sketch show called Tramadol Nights, which - it was announced to no great surprise last week - will not be returning for a second series. But life goes on for Stade and has improved considerably since he moved again, this time to the much grander setting of Edinburgh, the hub of forward-thinking UK comedy.
His new location is certainly useful for the industry's big annual jamboree, the Edinburgh Fringe, and his shows there are often innovative. Previous years have seen Stade use ambient music as a backdrop, while last year's show involved a novel form of audience participation, which will remain secret here in case he decides to employ it this week.
"It's on the day that you figure it out, there's no set plan," he says, of the forthcoming UAE shows. "I might do a bit about the food. I love the way they overdo everything, especially the buffets: 'check out this buffet of food you've never even heard of.' Love those buffets."
Stade has played the UAE circuit several times before, and "it's so different", he says. "Most of the shows are fantastic because they're so chilled out about everything. To go over and sit by a pool - I live in Scotland, do you know how long it's been since I sat by a pool?"
Which does beg the question: how exactly will Stade explain to his long-suffering wife - and young family - that he is flying to balmy Abu Dhabi for a week, while they endure a freezing February back in Scotland?
"I won't," he laughs. "I'm bringing them with me."
There speaks the voice of experience.
- Tom Stade is part of the February Laughter Factory line-up. The shows start tomorrow in Abu Dhabi before moving to Dubai and Doha and run until February 16. Visit Time Out Tickets for more information
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