When I first met Maine-based comedian, Ian Stuart, I thought he was a bit of an ass clown. I was out with a friend and we stopped in at Slainte Wine Bar in Portland for a drink. We’d both just “sworn off men,” or some stupid single girl bullshit, and I was in no mood for pick-up lines. So when tall, tattooed, hockey hair-sportin’ Ian approached me, I kind of laughed in his face. He was unfazed and told me I’d come around.
Fast-forward to a few months later, and somehow I found myself alone with Ian in his Portland apartment, a few glasses of Two Buck Chuck deep, listening to this supposed ass clown talk about his hippie parents, adopting a dog, the origin of his tattoos, and how comedy “saved his life.”
I know, I know. Is this guy for real? But restrain your eye rolls, please. This wasn’t my first rodeo. Adopting a dog in need? Being saved by “the craft”? I can spot a line with the best of them. And those lines, in particular, are pretty much from the cliff notes of How To Get Laid 101. But despite the obvious “hey girl” nature of Ian’s speech, I still couldn’t help but feel he was, for the most part, authentic.
And perhaps it’s that authenticity that makes Ian Stuart, as a comic, so refreshing. Dude’s nothing if not honest. He started doing standup comedy “seriously” for just over a year, and is already working with manager Charles Handy and serving as a headliner at some shows. When I asked him why he was doing so well, I was surprised with his answer. “It’s all perception.” Ian said. “And people are dumb. I’m dumb–so they like dumb. Bring on the dumbness. Maybe me being a shitty comedian is totally funnier than me being a good comedian so why not hammer out being a shitty comedian and just do it up?”
Believe me, considering the cockiness I first encountered that night at Slainte, I was kind of shocked to see glimmers of…modesty? But despite what Ian says about being a “shitty” comedian (he’s not–I’ve seen him do standup), his assumption that people “like dumb,” though often true, isn’t why the kid has seen some success. He’s busting his ass to get the word out. “A lot of people think you can’t advertise yourself, you can’t hit the pavement if you’re not at a certain spot in your career, but again, that’s all perception,” Ian tells me, pouring (a rather heavy-handed pour, I might add) another round of red into both our glasses. “I was raised in the DIY hardcore scene [Ian was previously in the Portland-based band, Mechnical Hound] where it’s all about putting out your own record, doing your own tour, doing your own shit. And with comedy, you can do the same thing. People will help you out but only so far and at different levels. It takes YOU. Yourself [laughs]….man that sounds like some Tony Robbins shit: ‘IT”S YOU! YOU’RE THE GIANT! GET INSIDE OF IT!’ But seriously, DIY. That’s why I’m headlining.”
While Ian does promote himself well to the public, he also takes comedy very seriously. “I’m a 100% guy all the time. Work ethic. I just want to be intense. I’m an intense person.” And trust me, he really is. I’m pretty sure he didn’t take a breath between those four sentences. He also spoke nonstop for over three hours. You can see the wheels turning as he’s talking. Time and again throughout our interview, one story would get lost in the memory of another one and next thing you know, we’d be talking about what his first tattoo “means,” the shitty dog food that gave his childhood dog liver cancer, and his custom Beavis and Butthead cartoon given to him by Mike Judge. I laughed as I played back the recording at my desk later and heard him ask “what were we talking about?” repeatedly. ADD? Maybe. I think it’s that creative type thing. The amount of stuff on his mind at any moment sort of made my brain feel lazy by comparison. He’s observant and he’s a storyteller. Probably why he’s both a comedian and a touch of a ladies’ man. His bedroom alone reveals the guy’s intensity (yes reader, I was in his bedroom–he was showing me the Beavis and Butthead cartoon so just calm down). His walls are plastered with posterboard-sized sheets of paper. Jokes scribbled downwards in a list-like fashion. I’d heard of the “joke books” comedians keep but this was….well, intense.
Inherent intensity and work ethic aside, Ian doesn’t take himself too seriously. He explained, “growing up, my heroes were touchable people that I could literally meet any given weeked because they were in hardcore bands [not rock bands]. Having that as my stepping stone gave me this like ‘everything is possible’ feel. It was all so accessible. Like ‘dreams come true if you aim your sights low enough.’ [laughs at such an ambitious maxim] So every time I’d aim my sights low and I’d hit that point, I’d next aim my sights a little higher and so on. That’s how I approach comedy.”
In addition to “aiming low” and taking a cue from the DIY scene, Ian credits his unconventional upbringing for his professional success, as well. Growing up the son of a well-known sound engineer, Ian explained that he saw that art could be a means of putting food on the table. And as a result, he never thought he’d have to keep his art a hobby. You can put your all into it like anything else. His “hippie” childhood is also reflected in his material. “It’s why I do so well in Burlington [Vermont]. My parents are hippies. So my stuff is stoner comedy.”
Though he may have some jokes about pot smoking days of yore, it’s clear Ian is more than just “stoner” comedy. While probably not corporate event comedy with the amount of f-bombs he’s likely to drop, his stuff doesn’t just appeal to one specific group of pot-smoking college kids. He emphasized the importance of knowing the crowd. “The best review I’ve ever gotten was at Levity in Burlington. My Saturday night show completely sold out and the manager was apparently nervous about the sold out show because [I'm] kind of a dirty f$%&ing comic and she’d seen me do two shows on Friday night where I’d done well but with a mostly younger crowd. But Saturday was some older guys and she was worried. But afterwards she was like ‘I was worried about you but you shifted in a way where you made everyone laugh and it wasn’t in the same way you did it on Friday. You read the audience.’ And that was cool.”
The manager of Levity must have been impressed with Ian because he’s headed back this weekend (Friday, July 6th and Saturday, July 7th) to headline and record his debut album, Day Drinker. (For the record, when I first arrived to find Ian surrounded by multiple bottles of wine, he said “Oh hey–I don’t do much other than party…by myself. I love day drinking. This interview is going to be ridiculous.” So it seems he’s come up with a rather appropriate album title.) And because the dude can’t sit still or seem to shut up, he’s got a lot more than the Levity show on his plate for the summer. He’s got an upcoming show at Geno’s in Portland, dubbed The Punk Hunks of Comedy, accompanied by several of New England’s “alternative” comedians: Ethan Marsh (Boston, MA), Kit Rivers (Burlington, VT), Joe “Unbookable” Timmins, Josh Day (NH), Aharon Willows-Hebert, and hosted by That’s Just It! host, Connor McGrath. He’s also got a website in the works and some pretty exciting things in the fall that he asked me not to talk about, yet. Damn this “journalistic” integrity, she says while nursing the hangover caused by drinking during an interview.
At the end of our rather long chat (he was on bottle number two I believe at this point so things got a little epic), Ian told me “a really bright flame dies fast. I’m down to die fast. It’s cool, bring it on.” And while he may indeed be a “bright flame,” I’m not sure he has to die out fast. I see good things on the horizon, and well into the future. Really, the important thing here is this: the fact that I left the interview no longer considering Ian Stuart an ass clown really bodes well for his “dreams come true if you aim your sights low enough” axiom. All it took was a few bottles of $3 wine. How much lower can you get?
Image from Charlotte Stuart Photography