Breaking barriers: Stevie Jay comes home
Stevie Jay smiles at his audience and coyly refers to the performance they're about to see as "a multi-chakra extravaganza." Like nearly everything else about his supremely hilarious one-man show, Life, Love, Sex, Death and Other Works in Progress, it always gets him a laugh.
And, much like everything else in his show, it cuts right to the heart. Of the matter, of the audience, of the performer, of whatever else you might like that to mean. Because, you see, beauty– and humor and pain and pointed, revelatory insight– is in the eye of the beholder.
"Tonight, I'll be whatever you want," Stevie tells the enraptured viewers, playing delightfully devious games of implication and innuendo. "I'll just leave blanks in these sentences, and you fill them in however you want: man, woman. We're happy as long as it's healthy."
Each audience member makes an independent decision about how to interpret the anecdotes that follow, and here we have a microcosm of the performance which he has recently taken on the road to colleges. Stories, jokes, and wide-swinging tangents about love, sex, death, peace, and hip-hop stay real and accessible, but at the end of the evening, Stevie has somehow woven them into a deceptively modest and undeniably profound whole. In one fell swoop, he has busted heads, hearts, and guts wide open.
And that's precisely why Stevie Jay (last name Savit) has spent six years working on the same performance, honing his act and perfecting his ability to covertly do away with the destructive notions about sex and barriers and race and little conceptual boxes that have come to dominate social dynamics.
"We don't need tolerance; we need understanding. Tolerance is just one tiny little step that keeps us from killing each other," he says. "Tolerance implies putting up with something that's unpleasant. What I need to 'tolerate' is the leaf blower on my cul-de-sac. I don't need to 'tolerate' my neighbors.
"There's a lot of bridge building that needs to be done," he adds. He fully intends to help build them, in part by using frank, hilarious discussions about sex and relationships as a doorway.
"People care about sex," he says, "They don't care about politics, but when they brought sex into the political arena, everybody went to the polls.
Though it gets laughs for its "naughty" subject matter, the show is more than a collection of off-color jokes.
"This stuff really digs deep into people's issues," he says. "People come away from it working things out– in about 90 minutes."
In part, that's because he pours himself into his performance, but it's also because the audience members pour themselves into theirs.
"With one man shows, the audience is the other character," he says. "The show is like making love, or like a duet, or like any relationship – you can't make up for what the other person isn't doing."
Fortunately for his audiences, Stevie seems to have a talent for reliably coaxing his co-stars into a state of subtly cathartic realization.
"You want to be funny, but you're talking about stuff that people might be dealing with," he says, "I can't be addicted to making them laugh, because this could be the heaviest stuff in their lives."
To that end, as the show progresses, he starts to get the audience progressively more involved, whether it's by having them read his punch lines to the rest of the crowd or aiming his commentary directly at whichever members happen to turn themselves into the most willing targets.
"You just keep convulsing," he says to one woman who is far too amused to answer his most recent call to arms.
And finally, somewhere in the space between interview and performance, Stevie turns to the figurative camera and pronounces to the empty room that is nonetheless filled with a captivated audience, "You guys will either make or break this experience."
On Tuesday, January 25, the Gravity Lounge will no doubt be packed with people who want to make it happen.
Age: ...does not guarantee maturity.
Why here? Charlottesville is The Velvet Rut!
Worst about living here? Nowhere to go out and play in the middle of the night.
Favorite hangout: The squat rack at Gold's Gym during rush hour.
Most overrated virtue? Marriage. And a college diploma.
People would be surprised to know about you: I had my tonsils taken out when I was in first grade.
What would you change about yourself? More singing, more music, more collaboration!
Proudest accomplishment? I still love people like crazy.
People find most annoying about you: There is simply not enough room in this publication.
Whom do you admire? Margaret Cho, Alfred Kinsey, Lenny Bruce...people who get back on their feet when they're been knocked down. And also, people who apologize for the mistakes they've made.
Favorite book? Pathwork Lectures (Eva Pierrakos) and The Artist's Way (Julia Cameron)
Subject that causes you to rant? Heartlessness, arrogance, the misuse of power, and bad Chinese food
Biggest 21st-century thrill? All these new plastic surgery options.
Biggest 21st-century creep out? It's never been easier for a person to fall through the cracks.
What do you drive? Toyota Camry
In your car CD player right now: Keith Jarrett's Arbour Zena
Next journey? Performance at Gravity Lounge on January 25 and then back on the road!
Most trouble you've ever gotten in? In 12th grade, during my early days of social awareness, I got on the loudspeaker during morning announcements and told the entire student body that no one would be required to wear a tuxedo or a formal gown to the upcoming prom– that it would be okay to just "come as you are."
Regret: Not having enough money to afford psychotherapy on a daily basis.
Favorite comfort food: Scrambled egg sandwich
Always in your refrigerator: An open box of Arm & Hammer baking soda
Must See T.V.: Girls Gone Wild advertisements
Favorite Cartoon: Mister Magoo's Christmas
Describe a perfect day: All the surplus food in the world makes its way into the hands and mouths of all the starving people across the globe– and nobody, anywhere, gets killed unnecessarily.
Walter Mitty fantasy: To be Danny Kaye.
Who'd play you in the movie? I'd insist on playing myself which would infuriate the producers, and they'd end up cancelling the whole project.
Most embarrassing moment? I was hired once by Frito-Lay to dress up as a gigantic Dorito chip and pass out coupons in a grocery store in Manhattan.
Best advice you ever got? Remember who you are beyond this circumstance.
Favorite bumper sticker? Why is it that, as a culture, we are more comfortable seeing two men holding guns than holding hands?
PHOTO BY JEN FARIELLO