Looking back at it, Tom Stade is the ideal performer to subdue the rowdy (but never disruptive) last-weekend-of-the-Fringe, Friday-night-on-George-Street, Assembly-Rooms-Ballroom crowd (you can only have one –ed.).
His delivery is flawless – every beat hit with the right amount of emphasis, every punchline delivered with perfect timing, every small call-back well constructed.
Once clean-shaven with carefully coiffured hair, Stade now sports long, almost shoulder-length locks with an accompanying beard that, at a distance, could see him mistaken for Jim Morrison reincarnate. He doesn’t play this rock star image down either, taking the stage to a guitar-laden soundtrack and copious amounts of dry ice.
Once the noise settles down and the obligatory shouts of admiration from the crowd subside, Stade introduces the topic that has been occupying his thoughts lately – if it’s possible to make a definitive judgement as to whether an action amounts to a good or bad decision, before the action takes place. In effect, this through-line is a bit redundant; it is just a broad ranging concept that is a means by which Stade can link together the disparate chunks of the show’s opening half.
Sitting at exactly ninety degrees to the front of the stage, as I was on the night, I was in the perfect position to get a sense of how Stade works his material, which is by no means groundbreaking, so effectively. Watching it somewhat dispassionately, I couldn’t help but be impressed. At the moments where his volume drops those few decibels, he presses up to the front of the stage, imposing himself over the front rows. When he is in full-flow, he goes backstage a few paces and lets the audience’s laughter and his material feed off one another. Where there is anything that needs a few lines of set up, he keeps the tempo up with a well-placed expletive.
I say the material isn’t anything radical; that’s probably doing him a disservice. His delivery is flawless – every beat hit with the right amount of emphasis, every punchline delivered with perfect timing, every small call-back well constructed. The material he is working with is honed-down and air-tight to the point that there is never a drop in energy in the room.
Anyone familiar with his work will know that he often picks out a few members of the front rows to converse with and play out various scenarios. This seemingly simple technique is used masterfully to keep the audience in check in the opening stages with the audience-members in question being the butt of some light-hearted quips. The production is so big, and Stade such a huge stage presence, that these one-to-ones are an interesting counterpoint and keep the remainder of the spectators engaged. As the hour approaches, Stade peppers Steve, his main accomplice on the night, with some one-sided questions to propel the routine along to its climax.
For all his whacked-out, 80’s coke-survivor talk, Stade is the ultimate pro. As you might sense, his type of comedy isn’t exactly my thing but I couldn’t help but laugh. Sometimes, some people are just that good at what they do.