Mention comedy on Mackinac Island, and you will always get the same two words – Stu Stuart.
When Ted and I first visited Mackinac in 2000, I remember seeing Stu’s smiling, handsome face everywhere downtown – beaming from brochures and playbills – advertising his comedy show. Anyone we asked said Stu’s show was a “must-see”, but I believe it was 2001 when we walked downstairs to the showroom under the Lilac Tree Hotel to see Stu perform for the first time. I remember laughing – a lot – as he cracked jokes about life on Mackinac and as he spun stories about the uniqueness of the Island – with all its characters and strange ways of doing normal, everyday things. I also remember him asking some question of the audience, Ted shouting out some answer, and then having him pick on Ted most of the rest of the show . . . . all in good fun and all very funny. We thoroughly enjoyed the evening.
Fast forward to 2009. We’re in our second year as island summer residents, and it’s my first summer writing Bree’s Blog. I wrote a piece on Stu’s comedy show – a sit-down interview over Mexican food at the Murray Hotel. It was like meeting a celebrity! I was nervous, but Stu instantly put me at ease, and we ate and talked and laughed for almost two hours that afternoon. A short time later, Ted and I took in another show and again enjoyed ourselves tremendously.
In the four years since that interview, Stu has become one of those island icons we see downtown at least once a week – either picking up his mail at the post office, riding by on a bike, grocery shopping at Doud’s, or getting on or off a ferry. He never fails to stop and chat a moment, and I count on seeing him every summer – just like always.
It was that day in spring when we met on the ferry dock that he told me this would be his last summer doing comedy on Mackinac – his Farewell Comedy Tour. We chatted a moment about me writing about his final shows, and I filed it away for the future, thinking, “Right. Summer without a Stu Stuart Comedy Show? Not going to happen!” I honestly thought he’d get into the middle of the season and be having so much fun the idea of stopping would be forgotten, and there’d be nothing to write about.
But a few weeks ago I ran into Stu again, and he hadn’t changed his mind. This was it – his last summer – not of living on the island, but of being it’s comedy icon.
Did I still want to do the story? Yes, I did.
Trying to work around both our schedules for a long sit-down interview turned out to be impossible, so I sent him questions, and over the last few weeks, he has answered them, in depth – with thoughtfulness, with honesty, and with a lot of his trademark humor.
Comedian Stu Stuart’s Farewell Comedy Tour Interview
Where were you born? Pontiac General Hospital in Pontiac, Michigan, Nov. 29, 1963 at 10:35 p.m. On an interesting side note, I recently read where Dr. Jack Kevorkian was on the staff there at the time. Small world.
Were you always “the funny guy”? No, I was never the class clown or one of these comics who always knew they wanted to perform. I come from a family with a great, witty and dry sense of humor, was always a fan of comedy and quick with a situational joke. Then one day in 1987 I went to an open mic (amateur night) and thought, “Hey, I could do that.” From there comedy turned into a hobby, then a second income, then in 1991 I went full time.
- Who or what inspired you to become a comedian? When I was old enough to get into comedy clubs, I went to every show I could, and I would admire what these comics were doing on stage. There were many inspirations, including Johnny Carson, David Letterman, Garry Shandling, Louie Anderson, Jake Johansen, Dana Gould and even Alan Alda’s character on M*A*S*H, Hawkeye Pierce. His wit and timing were great and obviously being based on the humor of Groucho Marx.
- When was the first time you did stand-up? A little place called the Comedy Stop in Champaign, Illinois. The bar was called the Alley Cat, but on Wednesdays they changed the name and had comedy. The house emcee and comic was a guy named Paul Frisbee, who sometimes would enter the stage pushing a running lawnmower.
- Did you have any other careers before you became a professional comedian? I have a degree in journalism from the University of Montana, Missoula. Prior to becoming a comedian I was in public relations and marketing for a company called the Unlimited Racing Commission, which was the organizing and sanctioning body for Unlimited Hydroplane powerboat races. It’s now called H1. At the time, our office was based in Seattle and we put on 10 races across the country including: Evansville, Ind., Madison, Ind. Detroit, Syracuse, Miami, Seattle, Houston, Las Vegas, San Diego, Tri-Cities, Wash. I traveled with the circuit, then in the winter worked in the office in Seattle preparing for the next season.
- Where have you done comedy shows besides Mackinac Island? Just about every little and big town in the United States and Canada, especially when I was first starting out. I went everywhere I could add a date to my calendar and still make money. You really get to see North America and come to know the people and the different regions. The seeing America at ground level and being a tourist along the way has been one of the joys of being a comedian. I am the ultimate tourist. I get that from my mom, who instilled the love and joy of travel in me at an early age. The irony of comedy is when you first start out, you take any gig, some good, some not-so-much, and you are less prepared to deal with it. And once you get established, you can cherry pick the best gigs, which are much more fun and easy in which to perform, yet now you have the comedy toolbox to handle any situation.
- What made you choose Mackinac for the summer shows? Growing up in Rochester, Michigan, I had been to Mackinac several times throughout my childhood and adult life and was very intrigued by its beauty and bike culture. When I was 27, living in Seattle, and by this time a professional comedian, I visited Mackinac in 1991 after a family reunion and thought it would be a great place to live for the summer and a great place to do a comedy show, since the people come to you, rather than you come to them, as most comedians do when they travel to fill their calendar. In that regard, from an entertainer’s point of view, it is like the old days of the resorts of Catskill Mountains in upstate New York.
- When did you first bring your comedy show to Mackinac Island? The summer of 1995. My goal was to come to Mackinac for three summers, perform, enjoy the Island, then move on. But I met a girl, fell in love, stayed on the Island, kept doing my show and found it became home. I’m not with that same girl anymore, but we are friends and I’m still with Mackinac.
- Where have you performed on Mackinac Island? I have had regular shows at Mission Point Resort, Island House, 3 Brothers Sarducci Pizza, the Lake View Hotel and the Lilac Tree Hotel, where I performed for about 12 years. I’ve also done corporate shows at Grand Hotel Theatre. I also have performed around a campfire for the boy scouts serving as the Governor’s Honor Guards on Mackinac. That was a memorable show. Note to self: Scouts love fart jokes.
- What have been your winter jobs while doing summer MI comedy show? Ever since I started coming to Mackinac, I have done comedy full time with no other winter jobs, with the exception of my recent beer tours. Although, in my early summers on Mackinac, I was a dockporter at Mission Point Resort and Arnold Transit Co. One summer I was the attendant at the Mackinac Island State Park and almost got fired for wearing shorts to work, which is insane, yet prohibited. Those dark green uniforms are brutal! I was also a substitute teacher at the Mackinac Island school one fall because as I jokingly say in my act, “You only need two things to be a sub on Mackinac, a college degree and to have not been convicted of a felony…keyword ‘convicted’.”
- Who is your favorite current comedian? If I had to pick one: Jerry Seinfeld. He is clearly one of the masters. He just did it all right, with class, original comedic insight, well-crafted jokes and longevity. I had the pleasure to meet him once and he was great. He once said something like comedians don’t turn 25 until they turn 45 and I think that is in large true. Seinfeld didn’t settle down, get married and have a family until late in life. He was also once asked how comedy works and he said something like that it is like a black art, no one is really sure how it works, but it does. Very funny!
- What’s your best and worst experience on stage? The worst was trying to do a comedy show at a bar in Point Roberts, British Columbia, seconds after the Super Bowl. No one was there for comedy. They were drunk, chatty and due to no fault of their own, completely tuned out the show. The owner should have never tried to do a show right after the Super Bowl. I did just enough time of stage to get paid, then bailed. The comedian who followed me did the same thing. The owner felt bad about the whole situation, and gladly paid us for our efforts. Note to self: Never try to do a show in a bar right after Super Bowl. As for the best, I can’t think of one specific show. But there are many shows I have had where the audience hops on the comedy bus from the first joke, gets every joke, laughs loud and has a great time right to the last joke, and it flows like a river. It’s shows like this that remind me why I got into comedy. Any comic who has been around awhile will tell you the same.
- Who is the funniest person you know – past and present? Ric Shrader is one of them. He was a headliner based in Seattle when I was coming up in the comedy business in the late 80s. I opened for him many times. When there was no emcee, he would go on stage cold, focus the audience, then bring me up with a nice introduction, which makes all the difference in the world when you are the first comic up on stage. I remember Ric would say to the audience, “How many of you are seeing live comedy for the first time?” There would generally be a smattering of applause, then he would say, “Good, ‘cuz what we’re gonna being doing here is real similar!” Ric no longer performs but has a great humor column called Asking the Wrong Guy!!! , which can be found at askingthewrongguy.com
- How do you handle hecklers? I quickly dispatch them and figuratively lop off their tiny heads. Seriously, though, it is very situational. Most hecklers are just overzealous and not hostile. On Mackinac Island, I rarely get hecklers. People are on vacation, they paid money, they want to have a good time, they are not out to cause problems. In all my 19 summers on Mackinac, I have only once had to stop a show and kick out two obnoxiously drunk people, in this case women. But once they departed, we put the wheels back on the wagon and the show went great. I learned along time ago in comedy, if you got a rock in your shoe, it’s better to stop and get it out before you continue walking.
- Hobbies? I come from a long line of hobbyists. My dad collected rocks, coins, stamps, license plates, etc. My hobbies include Sunfish sailboat racing, collecting beer cans and beer signs, the Winter Olympics (I’ve been to two), watching Tour de France, and my newest hobby, collecting and flying flags, mostly historic ones. Former West Bluff and summer resident David Bankard used to fly historic flags, and I would admire how he would fly a different one most every day. I would stop by on my bike and he would tell me the historic significance of each one. I miss seeing his different flags flying over Mackinac Island. I also collect bikes and have a large functioning collection of them, which get used mostly for my guests on the Island. Many of them were salvaged from garbage drays or purchased at yard sales. Newcomers buy these old cottages on Mackinac, they don’t want the old single-speed bikes which have been around, covered with bikes licenses of years gone by, and they toss them in a dray or sell them. These are the bikes I love. The more licenses on the frame, the better. They are badges of honor and history. You can tell a cottage bike a block away.
- What’s your biggest pet peeve – on the stage and for life in general? My biggest pet peeve on stage is people who talk during a comedy show. They don’t realize that from the stage I can hear every little thing in the showroom, and it’s very disruptive to my train of thought and timing. If you want to talk, don’t come to a comedy show. Also, people who bring and chew popcorn during a show. What are they thinking? As for biggest pet peeve in life? People who are not nice. No matter what you got going on, how stressed you are, or whatever, just be nice to people. There’s no excuse for not being nice. It’s pretty simple concept and works if you apply it.
- What is the last book you read? The Great Leader by Jim Harrison. Harrison was one of my neighbors for many year near my other summer home in Grand Marais. I got to know him and hang out with him some when he used to hold court at the Lake Superior Brewing Co. He is a legend there and many places. He’s huge in France. I’m huge in Japan. Not so much popular, just tall.
- What next? I’m going to continue to design and lead beer tours to Belgium and Germany. In 2008, I started Belgian Beer Me! Beer Tours with four annual tours. Now I have expanded and added Bamberg Beer Me! Beer Tours, and combined offer 12 tours to beer paradises each year. Belgium has the indisputably best beers in the world, and the Bamberg, Germany area has the largest concentration of breweries in the world (around 300) – and is the last vestige of old world beer culture featuring the finest lager beers you will find anywhere. Bamberg is also perfectly preserved medieval city surrounded by the scenic rolling hills of northern Bavaria. Combined, they are the two best and idyllic locations for beer travelers in the world. I’m one of only several people who lead beer tours in Belgium and the only one who specializes in Bamberg region specifically.
- What’s on your bucket list? To continue to travel in the United States and abroad, spend time with my girlfriend and dogs, sail and swim in as many different lakes as possible, seek out new and eventful beers, enjoy good food, buy a new Camaro and own a nice set of Prairie Style Mission furniture. Is that so wrong?
- What’s your favorite thing(s) to do on Mackinac Island? The bike culture. I just love the idea of riding a bike everywhere you go. While I ride a bike other places I live, there is really no counterpart to Mackinac, where you not only ride for fun, but out of necessity. People ask me how I stay so thin and I say I belong to a health club. A health club called Mackinac Island. It kicks your butt and beats any “insanity” workout you might see on TV. Mackinac is not for the meek.
- Why are you retiring your long-running Mackinac Island comedy show? Through the 19 summers I’ve performed on Mackinac I have entertained thousands of people. Being a professional comedian is something I wanted to do and I did it. It provided a comfortable income and freedom for me, allowed me to live on scenic Mackinac Island all these summers and connected me with many nice people and friends. As much as I like doing the show, I feel like I’ve accomplished this goal and its time to retire it. You know how Johnny Carson retired when he was on top? I’m not going to do that. I’m going out firmly in the middle! That combined with how my beer tour company has exploded in popularity and how future growth of it is imminent, I see it is time for new chapter in my life. I plan to continue living on Mackinac Island and Grand Marais in the summer and Traverse City in the winter. To all the people, who have attended my show through the years, I say thank you. It has been a pleasure meeting you!
Stu has only seven more shows (August 30 and 31 at 9:00 p.m. and September 1, 13, 14, 27 and 28 at 8:30 p.m. – all at the Eagle Point Cave Showroom in the Conference Center across from the Mission Point Resort lobby), and Ted and I plan to be at one of them. We can’t let the longest running comedy show on Mackinac Island close out without seeing it one more time.
Although I’ve been acquainted with Stu Stuart for many years now, I told him recently – after reading the answers to the above questions – that I felt as though I truly knew him for the first time. It’s always surprising when people you have only a passing knowledge of open up their hearts and let you see who they really are – their history, their ups and downs, their heartaches and joys, their disappointments and dreams. It doesn’t seem possible that when we arrive next spring there will be no Stu Stuart brochures in busy hotel lobbies, but Stu will still be here – riding his bike, shopping at Doud’s, getting on and off the ferry.
Best wishes on all your future endeavors, Stu, and may the winds always bring you back to Mackinac.
To read my first interview with Stu, please click here: http://bree1972.wordpress.com/2009/08/22/lunch-with-comedian-stu-stuart-82209/