Gridiron: A Tradition of Comedy and Community

By Peter Barhydt

For over six decades, New Canaan’s Gridiron Club has been a staple of the community, providing laughter, camaraderie, and a unique form of tribute to its members. Founded on the premise of celebrating individuals who have made significant contributions to the town, the Gridiron Club has evolved into an institution cherished by both its participants and the community it serves.

Each year, the Gridiron Club celebrates local citizens who have set great examples of community spirit and leadership, with a dinner and roast, as the Fall Guy’s life story is portrayed on stage in an original musical. The cast features a group of businessmen-by-day New Canaanites who shed all modesty to sing and dance their way through the life and times of the Fall Guy.

2024 Honoree Tom Stadler

The 2024 honoree was Thomas R. Stadler recognized for his many years of community service at the 62nd annual Gridiron dinner on April 26 at the Country Club of New Canaan. 

Tom and Jan Stadler, and their two children, Nicole and Sean, moved to New Canaan in 1990, and Tom has been an active volunteer in town organizations ever since. He was honored by the New Canaan Old Timers Association for his nearly twenty-five years with New Canaan Baseball and Softball, having served as its Treasurer and Chairman. Currently Chairman of the New Canaan “Family Fourth” committee, Tom has been involved in the town’s annual Fourth of July family-friendly picnic and fireworks celebration for nearly twenty years, and he served as Chairman of the Parks and Recreation Commission from 2005 to 2008. Tom has also served as Treasurer and Chairman of the New Canaan Chamber of Commerce, and on the Board of the New Canaan Community Foundation. He is currently active on the boards for Staying Put, New Canaan Chamber Music, and the Rotary Club.

First Selectman Dionna Carlson declares Tom Stadler Day in New Canaan L-R Front: Dionna Carlson, Tom Stadler, Jan Stadler / Back: Robert Curry, Russ Kimes, Rab Ker, Kitt Watson (Contributed Photo)

Following a successful 40-year career as a C.P.A. with Deloitte, Tom spent twelve years as Administrative Officer for the Town of New Canaan, retiring in 2020. He still works part-time for local C.P.A. firm, Davis & Associates, and volunteers his time in helping others prepare their tax returns.

The Gridiron Club donates net proceeds from the show to a charity of the Fall Guy’s choosing, and Stadler chose the New Canaan Community Foundation to be the 2024 recipient. 


In a recent interview with long-term member Robert Curry, who has been involved with the Gridiron Club for 29 years, the essence of the organization’s enduring appeal was brought to light. When asked about the changes within the organization over the years, Curry remarked, “No, other than the men that we roast get older and die off, which we all will do, the Gridiron show really has not changed.” This sentiment underscores the timeless nature of the club’s mission, rooted in honoring community members while providing an outlet for humor and creativity; and raising money for local charity.

Curry’s involvement spans nearly three decades, during which he has witnessed firsthand the evolution of the Gridiron performances. Reflecting on his experience, he shared, “My favorite part of the evening is doing the drag roles and listening to the audience as they go, ‘Oh my God, who is that? What is it?’ That’s a huge part of the show.”

L-R Bill Walbert, Rab Ker, Eric Thunem, Russ Kimes, Robert Curry (Contributed Photo)

However, Curry’s dedication to the Gridiron Club extends beyond mere entertainment. For him, the club represents a deep connection to the fabric of New Canaan. “It’s a way to get to know and feel comfortable with the substance of the town, who the people are that make it all work, because those are the people that we’re roasting,” he explained.

Similarly, Eric Thunem, a seasoned member who has been directing and contributing to the writing of the performances for over a decade, shed light on the meticulous process behind the Gridiron productions. From extensive research to creative brainstorming sessions, Thunem and his team leave no stone unturned in their quest to craft a memorable performance.

Thunem’s dedication to authenticity is evident in his approach to research. “We reach out to family contacts, friends, co-workers, anybody who he or she thinks might be able to help us fill in the background of that person’s life,” he explained. This commitment to detail ensures that each Gridiron performance is a personalized and meaningful tribute to its honoree.

The Stadler family celebrates at the Gridiron Dinner (Contributed Photo)

The Gridiron Club’s commitment to community extends beyond its performances, as Thunem highlighted the organization’s philanthropic efforts. “In addition to celebrating the life and times of somebody who’s given a whole lot to this community, it is a fundraiser,” he noted. Over the years, the club has donated thousands of dollars to various charitable organizations, further solidifying its role as a pillar of support within the community.

For this year’s honoree Tom Stadler, being the subject of a Gridiron roast was a surreal and unforgettable experience. “It was almost like being on a rocket ship to an unknown planet,” he mused. Stadler’s reflections underscore the transformative power of the Gridiron performances, which not only entertain but also leave a lasting impact on their participants.

Tucker Murphy, last year’s honoree and first woman to be roasted, added “Being honored as the First Fall Gal certainly rates up there as one of the top ten highlights of my life. While the Gridiron Club only recognizes one honoree each year, (with the exception of the Stewart twin brothers), there are hundreds of others who have done and continue to do their part to make New Canaan the special community that it is.”

L-R Eric Thunem, Robert Curry, Russ Kimes, Rab Ker, Bill Albert, Kitt Watson, Nick Renieri, Christian Murphy, Jack Donahue (Contributed Photo)

Scott Hobbs, the current President of the group agreed, “I will say the hardest part of the whole job is trying to select only one person. New Canaan is just such a special community with so many worthy people. It’s both rewarding and challenging to only select one.”

As the Gridiron Club looks far into the future, its members are both energetic and enthusiastic about the organization’s continued success. “I hope it keeps going for another 63 years,” remarked Thunem. With a commitment to its core values of humor, community, and philanthropy, the Gridiron Club is likely to remain a one of the many beloved traditions in New Canaan for generations to come.

More information is available on the Gridiron Club of New Canaan website (

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