I love you, you can’t stop me!
Stevie Jay has this story—about his first apartment. Cozy enough except the bedroom walls were hideous, colored “hospital-green”. So, he hired a painter.
When the job was done, the painter called and Stevie came by. Looking around the room, he saw a spot the painter had missed near the ceiling.
He mentioned it. The painter stretched his neck and squinted.
He shrugged. “Oh, that?” he said. “That’s nothin’. Believe me, if you don’t look up there, you don’t really notice.”
Problem is that never happens. Stevie makes his living as a performance artist. And his material comes precisely from looking at those things others ignore. Such as themselves.
Half comedian, half existentialist extraordinaire, Stevie, the “wisecracking prophet,” as a reviewer once called him, dubs his show “Life Love Sex Death…and other works in progress.”
Like Bob Dylan’s music and Lenny Bruce’s comedy in the 1960’s, Stevie’s shows often transcends its entertainment value—becoming more a therapy session. Which is how it began.
In his mid-20’s, long before the stage years, Stevie joined a commune, living with other soul-seekers in a large house in Virginia. They met daily for intense psychoanalysis sessions. For hours, the group would sit in a large circle, often berating each other on their weaknesses, in the hopes of some Buddhist epiphany.
“We were essentially hypnotized into believing we were the scum of the Earth simply because we were human beings,” he remembers.
Rough as it was, Stevie credits the sessions for helping him see the dormant crevices of his boarded psyche that later fueled his material.
The shows are intensely intimate—dim stage lights, candles, a couch—focusing mainly on relationships, the self and the difficulty connecting the two.
“The core theme of the show explores the struggles we all go through as human beings,” says Jay. “To live our lives honestly and passionately—to love fearlessly, to risk rejection, and to reach out to people we’re attracted to even when we’re scared.”
How about tolerance?
“We don’t need tolerance,” 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.”
Through the decade-long life of the show, he has developed a cult-like following, especially on college campuses where he performs often.
Evan Merida, a graduate of Indiana University, was once an audience member. Now he is Stevie’s booking agent.
“I can say, without hesitation, that you will be hard-pressed to find another program that reaches as diverse an audience and hits as many topic as “Life Love Sex Death…and other works in progress,” says Merida.
Stevie’s desk drawers are filled with thank-you letters. His email inbox a museum of love.
On his website, he shares one such letter from a female student at Indiana University. It’s a common one.
“When [the performance] was all over, my boyfriend and I went upstairs to our room, closed the door, and burst into tears,” the young woman wrote. “We didn’t have to ask each other why we were crying—we knew why.”