Stu Stuart, a comedian who performs on Mackinac Island throughout the season, invited me to lunch on Friday. Please understand, this was a brand new happening – it’s usually me doing the asking – something like, “Would you please, please, please let me talk to you and follow you around all day and take pictures of you?”
But on a recent blog, I asked for ideas of people on the island you might like to hear about, and Stu, out of the blue, invited me to interview him. I said to myself, “Oh wow!” Stu Stuart is very well known on the island AND in Los Angeles as a serious comedian – I don’t mean he’s serious, he’s funny – you know what I mean.
He asked me to send him 20 questions that he could answer ahead of time. Pressure! I replied something cute back to him like, “Hey, I’m not Katic Couric, I’m just a south Georgia girl doing a blog for fun!” He nicely replied, “No problem – but it would make the interview easier.” So I sent him probably 20 of the lamest questions he had ever seen.
We met at the Murray Hotel Burrito Bar. I was so excited! You know how much I love Mexican food, and how much Ted does not like it – so I never get to eat it. I didn’t even know the Murray had a burrito bar, but believe me, I will be back – it was wonderful! Stu said it was one of the best-kept secrets on the island.
I arrived a little early, and I confess to not recognizing Stu when he came in. When Ted and I went to his comedy show a few years ago, he had been clean-shaven. Today he had a beard. He recognized me right away – I think being the only woman seated in the waiting area with a notebook and camera might have tipped him off.
We went through the burrito bar line and had a seat at a small table by the window. He apologized for not having sent me the answers to my questions until just before leaving for the interview (I had not received them before leaving the condo). I didn’t really care – I just like to talk to someone and go from there, but I confess that I was delighted when I got home and found that he seemed to have really put some thought into my 20 lame questions.
When Ted and I had seen his show, I remembered that Stu was a very “comfortable to listen to” comedian. There was none of that crazy, zany, over the top frenzy that it seems a lot of comedians use now. And his show was clean – there were children in the audience, and parents did not have to worry what they were going to hear. Watching Stu perform is more like having a great conversation with a very funny friend, and that is what lunch was like. After the initial uneasiness of being with someone you don’t know, it quickly turned into a relaxed chat – with humor!
Stu was born in Michigan and came to Mackinac Island often as a child. When his dad retired and Stu was 16, his family moved to Montana. He finished high school there, and graduated with a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Montana Missoula. Jobs following college included leadership consultant for a national fraternity, commercial real estate in Seattle, and Director of Public Relations for the Unlimited Racing Commission in Seattle.
While these jobs were paying the bills, Stu was beginning to make a reputation for himself in stand-up comedy, performing on stage for the first time in 1987. Comedy gradually became a second income for him, but was still just a hobby until it became his full time job in 1991. That was the same year he visited Mackinac Island for the first time in years. He’s done the comedy show circuit, which he says used to be great in some ways. You would be booked into a club out of town, your travel would be paid for, you were put up in a really nice hotel, and the pay was good. ” All of that,” Stu said, “has gone by the wayside”. And by then, the adventure that life on the road offered had lost some of its appeal.
Stu came to Mackinac Island 15 summers ago, and the appeal of performing in one place for that long has not been tarnished at all. Starting his act at Mission Point Resort in 1995, he supplemented his income by working at different times as a dock porter, a substitute teacher, and as the airport attendant. From Mission Point, he moved to the Island House, then Sarducci’s, and has been at the Lilac Tree Hotel for the last nine summers. The show is now his full-time summer job. He says, “Instead of traveling from town to town and club to club, I get to go home and sleep in my own bed every night after a show. The people come to you instead of you going to them. And what’s not to like about Mackinac Island, with its natural beauty, fresh air, and getting to ride your bicycle everywhere!”
Stu divides his time between Mackinac Island in the summer and Mendocino, California, in the winter. In the winter, he bases out of California, does stand-up, and teaches a beginning stand-up comedy class at the Experimental College at the University of Washington in Seattle. His comedy class was featured on KING TV’s Evening Magazine this past spring. Visit stustuart.com for a schedule of shows, classes, and for a link to Evening Magazine’s segment on Stu’s class.
Another venture Stu is involved in is Belgian Beer Me! A beer enthusiast, and brewer and lover of Belgian beers, Stu plans beer tours through, where else, Belgium! Geered for 6-14 people, the tour cost covers everything except air transportation and promises to give you the best food, scenery, history, architecture, shopping and, of course, beer that Belgium has to offer http://www.belgianbeerme.com.
With all this going on, you’d think Stu would have little time for anything else. But he considers himself the ultimate tourist. He travels around the UP of Michigan regularly, taking side trips to little towns and villages around the Great Lakes. He also travels extensively in Europe. He understands fully how blessed he is to be at this stage of his life and to be able to do what he is doing.
I asked Stu some of the usual questions for an interview. His favorite book – anything by Jim Harrison (of Legends of the Fall fame). His favorite movie – An Officer and a Gentleman. His favorite fudge – the Murray Hotel’s Chocolate Tiger (peanut butter fudge).
When asked how often he changes his comedy routine, he said, “I would never completely change the entire routine at one time. I have a conversational style of comedy, with lots of improv with the audience, which keeps it fresh for my regulars who come back year after year.”
What’s his favorite spot on the island? “I love to go out in the meadow behind the Stonecliffe Mansion and hit tennis balls to my poodle, Chloe. Then I sit back in an adironack chair, drink a nice Belgian beer, and watch Chloe arrange all the balls in a pile.”
My final question to Stu is one that I ask anyone who has lived on the island for several years – if someone was coming to the island for the first time, and only had one day to visit, what would be the top five things you would tell them they must see or do”? I don’t think I have ever gotten the same five answers from anyone, and Stu was no different. His five: Cannonball (the restaurant at British Landing), the Murray Hotel for the fudge, the fort (this one is on everyone’s list), a tandem bike ride around the island, and, of course, his comedy show!
Stu is currently working on a book tentatively titled, “Mackinac Island: The Last Best Summer Job.” He promises it will be an insider’s view of the island for both tourists and island summer workers.
We closed out lunch by walking down to The Lilac Tree Hotel and going downstairs where Stu does his comedy show. He had invited Ted and I to come tonight as his guests, but I knew I would be working on this story, so I took a raincheck for another night soon. I did get some pics of him up on stage, where you can see him for the rest of August and September. His final show for the season is Oct. 11. So, if you’re on the island now, or will be before the 11th of October, you definitely need to add Stu’s show to your visit itinerary. I can’t think of a better way to burn off those extra fudge calories than shaking with laughter!
Thanks so much, Stu, for the interview. See you soon at your show!