Marital Status: Single
Location: Houston, TX
Education: Some college
Hometown: Beaumont, TX
Year of first performance: April 2000
Number of performances: Absolutely no idea. Easily over 200 a year.
If you do a name search you will discover that there is one or fewer people in the United States named Slade Ham. Not surprising you scoff. True, but for all you thinking it’s a stage name, you would be incorrect. Now that we have that cleared up, let’s continue.
I have never met Mr. Ham in person or even seen him do his stand-up comedy show. To be perfectly honest, I hadn’t listened to his act on CD until recently when I purchased his latest effort, “Three-legged Unicorn”. I laughed out loud, something I am not prone to do as I fall into the group deemed “tough” audience. I was pleasantly amused by the fact that this man, whom I have chatted with online, exchanged emails and faithfully read for years, is as funny live as his pondering on paper. Slade’s work is not for the stupid, if you read his writings or listen to his live material and you don’t get it, let me clue you in, “you are whom he is talking about in his rants.”
Introduced to Slade’s blog on MySpace back in 2006 through a mutual friend, I have been annoying him ever since. I have auctioned him off on a friend’s MySpace page, referred to him as “pork chop” as though he was just a “piece of meat”, convinced him to allow a group of friends to conduct a dating contest on his blog, and periodically leave obscure comments on his blog to which he always has a clever response. If I can state anything besides the obvious; that his intellect and talents are immense, it would be that he has shown himself to be good-natured and professional.
I figured why stop the harassment now? Having just returned from another tour with the USO in Iraq, producing his second CD and touring the southwest, surely he has time for me. In replying to my email asking for an interview he wrote, “I don’t BASE jump.” Maybe not at this point in his life, but I wouldn’t remove it from his bucket list just yet. He then asked, “What angle are you going for with this?” My reply, “Please, you have read my writing, you expect me to have an angle?” Realizing whom he was dealing with, he agreed to “just go with it”.
So here’s my angle, I supplied him with 20 questions, he had a couple of days between his hectic schedule to answer them as honestly as he could without pondering the greater meaning of it all. For those of you who know Mr. Ham, perhaps his answers will offer you further insight into someone you thought you knew all too well and for those being introduced to him for the first time; I whole heartedly suggest he is someone you should know.
“Hey Slade, ask your people if you are available to do my radio show next Friday and have them get back to my people.” 🙂
1. To what degree do you think being raised in a single parent household played in your remaining in a 7 year relationship that was so toxic to your well-being?
Honestly, I’ve never thought of it in that context. I’m sure Freudian psychology screams to the contrary, but I have never really considered my parents’ relationship with each other to have any bearing on my decision to stay in or get out of my own relationships. My parents did not get along. They just didn’t. I was eight when they divorced, and as rocky of a road as that is for any kid, I somehow knew that it was the best thing for all of us. I don’t think I ever blamed them for splitting up, and I definitely never wished they had stayed together just for the sake of staying together.
My reasons for staying were entirely different. Again, there is certainly some rationalization on my part, but sometimes it is easier to stay than it is to leave. I had a lot of things going on in my life that were positive, from my career on the road to my comedy club back at home, and adding more upheaval to the mix wasn’t something I was ready to do. The drama that existed while we were together was smaller than the drama that would have come with leaving her. That’s why it was much easier to have it end on her terms.
That, and I possibly possessed a few co-dependent qualities at that phase in my life.
I think the fact that I watched my parents’ relationship deteriorate was just coincidental. I never tried to hang on for those reasons, though the possibility that I did has to seem glaring.
2. At what moment did you realize that you could intentionally make people laugh and could earn a living do so?
I’m still not positive that I know that for sure. I’ve been fortunate in that I have always found a way to slide underneath the fence of responsibility. With my radio career or opening a club or doing comedy as I do now, it’s really all just come about because I tend to do what I think is fun. The fact that they pay me for it is a happy bonus. When my club closed in 2007, it was the first time I wasn’t actively doing more than one thing. I’ve always had several irons in the fire and they always tend to overlap. Suddenly, I was presented with the reality that I only had one source of income, and it was untested as a viable, singular, income source. Fortunately, it did pay enough, and still does.
3. What process did you undertake in choosing the material on the new CD?
On Three-Legged Unicorn, it was more of a process of deciding what not to include. I taped almost 80 minutes of material for that CD and then had to decide what not to keep. On every CD thus far, I have the show in my head months beforehand, and then suddenly, for no reason, I get surges of new ideas as the weekend approaches. This CD more than anything else I’ve done has some stuff that might only have been a week or two old as of the recording. The more I try to plan exactly what I intend to put out there, the more I realize how hopeless that endeavor really is.
4. What is your greatest fear in life?
If I’m being honest, I’d have to say “success”. I’m good at failure. Really good. I have a Masters Degree in Fucking Up. Success brings with it a lot of expectations though, and I don’t always think I want to face those down. I’m not a leader, and I’m not any sort of visionary. I am a guy that stays out to late at night and gets in arguments and drinks a lot of whiskey and skates around the fringes of the system so I can pay my bills without actually working.
I just brain dump these ideas out into whatever medium I can, and hope some of it sticks. Right now, if it doesn’t, no one is disappointed. To cross that line into “success” suddenly means being accountable to a lot more people. I’m a little intimidated by the thought of having to live up to that. People’s expectations can be highly unrealistic.
5. Who is/was the most influential person in your life?
My mom was, and remains, an incredibly resilient woman. She raised four boys as a single parent on a school teacher’s salary – a wage I don’t think I could support just myself on today – and she did it without resorting to welfare, and without us ever feeling like we were deprived of anything. I’m certain that meant a lot of credit cards, etc, but she did it. She’s always set such a great example of survival.
She also never pushed me or my brothers to do anything we didn’t want to do, which I think so many parents do. Being given the freedom to explore is what has led me down these really fun, really unorthodox paths.
6. Have you ever suffered personal backlash by family, friends or associates, due to you something you said in one of your shows or that you have written about?
It happens far more rarely than it probably should. My family doesn’t really have an issue with any of it, but then again I don’t really incorporate them into what I do. Friends on the other hand, they can get a bit touchy. I just had a friend email me two days ago upset by how I had portrayed her in something I had written. I’m quite careful to change the names of people and protect their identities, but that doesn’t stop anyone from recognizing themselves in the things I create.
At the end of the day, I always fall back on the defense that anything any of us do is fair game. If you don’t want to be held accountable for it later, don’t do it around me. Still, even with that caveat, I am pretty careful not to vilify my friends or family in any way. There are so many other things to talk about.
7. If you were a recruiter for the military Morale, Welfare & Recreation department what would you say to entertainers to convince them to take part in a tour of our war zone military bases?
You have to find a way to get people, particularly artists, to turn off their selfish tendencies. I think a lot of why people say no to these tours is because they have misconceptions. First, they believe it is dangerous and dirty and uncomfortable, which is relatively untrue. It’s no country club, but it’s highly doable for a week or two, regardless of how much of a prima donna someone is.
The other area that I don’t think people are really aware of is just how tedious and boring some of these deployments really are. The little COPs and FOBs and Joint Security Stations out in the middle of nowhere absolutely suck. I think that if any entertainer knew how enthusiastically they would be received, and how much good their visit would do, they wouldn’t be able to say no.
8. In what order of importance do you place: Money, Sex, Family, Fame, Friends, Sanity and why?
Sanity and family are definitely at the top of the list, though I am neglectful of both more than I should be. With those two things intact I am quite capable of surviving without the other four. Fame and friends are fickle. I do have a very tight inner circle of friends that I consider irreplaceable, but I lump them in with family. Sex and money come and go continuously and are hardly worth making priorities. They’re definitely the most temporary and trying to hang on to them generally just disappoints.
10. What has been the most difficult personal challenge that you have faced in your life?
There was a period between the end of 2007 and the beginning of 2008 where I couldn’t seem to shake bad news. I was forced to close my comedy club in October which liquidated my entire life savings. Then, in January my father passed away. My road schedule was empty, my money was gone, even the transmission dropped in my car… it just came in waves, no matter how I adjusted.
Somewhere in the summer of 2008, I started to feel like I had finally clawed my way back to level ground. I don’t feel like I did anything spectacular to get through it though, other than just tkeep my head down and continue to walk forward. Sometimes you just have to wait it out.
11. Has there been a point where you have thought about not working as a comedian?
Every single day of my life. Every time a tire blows on a road trip or a Jameson hangover pounds away at my head after a three show night. Every hotel room or airport or restaurant sat at alone… they all make me question the sanity of what I do. Then I step on stage that night and all that doubt disappears.
I don’t know that I could ever stop doing stand up entirely, regardless of where I end up. It’s such a free medium. It really is the last bastion of free speech. Even if I landed a book deal and a travel show tomorrow, I would still have to feed my hunger for a live stage.
12. What or who in your life keeps you grounded in reality ?
I don’t know that I stay grounded in reality at all. I do think that every time I find myself too far down my little rabbit hole, life throws a cancelled gig at me or some other speed bump. Other than that though, I remain convinced that I can fly. Reality is such a subjective concept anyway. I’ve been writing a lot on the subject actually, exploring how unfixed this thing we call reality really is. I’m a big proponent of doing what makes you happy, and if that means displaying a total disregard for the “reality” around us, then so be it.
There was a Dutch scientist a week or so ago that theorized that gravity doesn’t exist. How fucking cool is that? GRAVITY is an illusion? That’s amazing, to even propose something like that. I want to live in that world, where even the most proven facts are questioned.
13. When you spend time with your nieces/nephews do you find that you act parental or are you completely lost outside your element? (Based on you having once written about tossing babies from balconies in your blog).
It’s funny, because I am actually amazing with kids. Ones I know, anyway. Stranger’s kids annoy me, especially the loud, uncontrolled ones. I adore spending time with the kids I do know, though I don’t do “parental” well. I’m a much better playmate, particularly with my nieces, the older of which has such a great imagination. She sees a world that is invisible to everyone else, and we spend time fighting monsters or being different animals or buried in books.
Adults don’t let me play that way. It’s healthy I think, regardless of your age, to exercise those muscles we had when we were young. We lose them when we get older and that’s when the ideas stop. Kids have no boundaries though. They’re not beaten up by the world. The dreams aren’t dead yet. Immersing yourself in their world is an easy way to relearn that skill.
I’m a horrible disciplinarian though, despite my belief that children are highly under-disciplined today. That’s better left to other people. I’ll help the kid kill dragons, but someone else will have to yell at them because we broke a picture frame in the process or because we were too loud and rowdy.
14. Do you think you have a combative personality or is it a compulsion or do you feel as though it’s your personal mission to point out the stupidity in people, laws, society in general?
I think too many people would call me out if I denied being at least a little combative. I think I probably overcompensate sometimes because I don’t feel that enough people speak out. Whether it’s a character flaw or not is up for debate, but I do feel driven to have my little head butting matches with people or things that I feel are completely wrong.
I think common sense was cut from the team a long time ago, and we have, as a collective, put our faith in the majority to decide the right way to do things – which is fucked up because the “majority” can’t even figure out how to merge properly on a freeway.
We let them, whoever they are, tell us what is what and we adhere to it without question. They tell us what is healthy and what is dangerous and what we should and should not do, and we just accept it without even noticing that they change their minds every few years. The global cooling problem in the 70’s became global warming in the 90’s. They just keep pumping out guesses and no one questions any of it.
I wouldn’t be surprised if we find out in five years that cell phones and cigarettes CURE cancer.
15. What is the one thing that people who meet you in person will be most surprised by?
Probably the fact that I’m not that funny in real life, or that I am much easier to get along with than I let on.
16. Is there a difference between Slade Ham “the entertainer” and Slade Ham “the person” and are you able to “chill” and not do “funny” when off stage?
Yes and no. The “me” on stage is 100% me; it’s just me with the volume knob turned up to 11. Off stage though, like I mentioned above, I don’t really consider myself that funny. It’s not that there is an off switch that I flip, but more that I just really do like to be low key sometimes, particularly in groups. I’d much rather someone else takes the spotlight.
17. If you weren’t an entertainer and writer, what would you be doing in life today?
I would almost certainly be homeless, but I would have highly creative cardboard signs.
18. Congress gives you the opportunity to abolish, reverse, or institute one law, which one is it?
Wow. Of ALL the laws… There is probably something huge that I should care more about. Traveling as I do though, I just want speed limits gone. Speed limits, and the law that says I have to sit at a red light until it changes despite a complete lack of traffic. The red light cameras and the Big Brother mentality that makes everything feel like a police state at times… I get frustrated by how I am so frequently not allowed to use my better judgment. There should be a test though to determine if you are capable of making decisions for yourself.
And while I’m changing laws, the drinking age for anyone serving in the military should be lowered to eighteen.
19. Which subject did you excel at in school: Math, Science, English, Social/Cultural Studies and why?
English was definitely my stand out subject. Writing has always come naturally to me. Math and I fought like step-brothers. We hated each other. Math is about bringing order to chaos, but I love the chaos. Science was fun too, until it also became a math class. I still am a bit of a closet science fan, but I am more concerned with the result and not the process. It’s enough for me to know that potassium dropped into water makes hydrogen, which burns and explodes. That’s fun. I don’t care about the reaction mechanism; I just want to see the bubbles and the flame.
20. List 3 words that you believe best describe you as a person.
I try to avoid questions like this because I HATE labels, particularly self-chosen ones. There’s the way I like to describe myself and there’s the way people see me and there’s the way I actually am. I like words like defiant and confident or charismatic and intelligent. The reality is that if I’m being honest, I am also indecisive and irresponsible and stubborn. So, three of any of those.
List 5 Random Facts or Habits about yourself that would be classified as weird, strange, or different.
*I listen to a lot of world music.
*I am a huge nerd. Star Trek: TNG, Battlestar Gallactica, Spawn comic books, and all things Star Wars, etc. It is probably the uncoolest thing about me, and I absolutely don’t care.
* My taste for good Irish whiskey aside, I live a pretty clean lifestyle. I kicked my cigarette habit over a year ago and I don’t do drugs at all.
*My brother is in the Wu Tang Clan.
*I have driven an M-1 Abrams tank and been on a nuclear submarine. I am qualified to do neither.
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(all photos courtesy of Slade Ham)
Many thanks to Slade for being Slade, ~Cynthia