Tom Stade: What Year Was That? in London

Note: This review is from 2011

Review by Steve Bennett

Tom Stade might not be that familiar a name – a McIntryre Roadshow and a couple of other stand-up slots is pretty much all he has on his televisual CV – but that he can play three nights to decent-sized houses at the Leicester Square Theatre should provide heartening proof that quality will always find its audience.

For almost a decade as a stalwart of the British circuit, this audacious, cheeky and sarcastic Canadian has built up a formidable repertoire, epitomised by harsh jokes which he justifies by sophisticated arguments. That way he should appeal to both those seeking the sick, and those seeking the insightful – though they are not always mutually exclusive demographics.

Half of his set is personal; a front-line report from a man deeply embedded in a 16-year relationship, where passionate romance has long been replaced by placid, soul-sapping acceptance. He feels trapped, with his dreams sacrificed and his sex life almost tragic. It makes him bitterly frustrated, which erupts in raw gags that cut very close to the bone. Some of the chuckles are surely bitter laughs of recognition.

On the face of it, he is discussing those most well-worn of ‘men are from Mars…’ topics, complaining, for example, that women talk too much. Yet he approaches with such a fresh angle – a unique theory as to why this might be that has a ring of plausibility – that the gives the routine a real edge.

The same is true of other topics. Fat Americans, airport security and shopping at Primark might be the set list of any lazy McHack comedian, yet Stade creeps up on such topics from the undergrowth, rather that taking the well-worn path to their front door.

His disarmingly charming approach goes a long way, too. When he teeters along the edge of taste and decency – which he so often does – it’s with a snigger in his voice at how naughty he’s being, making his mischievous little gags about Islam or Third World famine.

Some would say this is no ground for comedy, but Stade is unapologetic about the fact that he’s just saying things that amuse him, sometimes precisely because they are verboten.

Another technique – which gives this show his title – is to assume one front-row punter is an age-old friend, Jimmy’, who’s been on many adventures with him. ‘When we went to Somalia, what year was that?’ he prompts, seeking confirmation his tall tales. Even if tonight’s Jimmy was a little slow on the uptake about what was required of him; that provides more laughs. The technique also provides Slade with an instant scapegoat, putting any dubious material on to poor Jimmy’s shoulders.

But when it comes to taking the credit for a bold, brilliantly-written show that forever teases the audience’s expecatations, Stade shouldn’t have to share the plaudits with anybody. This is a genuinely classy, genuinely funny show from a slick pro.

Review date: 7 Oct 2011
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Leicester Square Theatre

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