He's funny. Seriously.

Karla Hayward
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That voice. That droll sense of humour. That's Stuart McLean and he's bringing 'The Vinyl Café ' to town.

"I think some people are definitely better storytellers than others. Some people just enjoy spinning a yarn and talking and sharing. ... Some people can make stories out of stuff that other people just don't even see as stories. It's kind of a joyful way to spend time, I think - to confirm your own movement in the world and confirm your existence by telling a story. The best storytellers poke fun at themselves; we usually are the buffoons in our own stories."

That's Stuart McLean on the art of storytelling. Buffoon he's not, not by any shakes. But his lead character, Dave, of "Vinyl Café" fame? Perhaps just a little.

Stuart McLean

"I think some people are definitely better storytellers than others. Some people just enjoy spinning a yarn and talking and sharing. ... Some people can make stories out of stuff that other people just don't even see as stories. It's kind of a joyful way to spend time, I think - to confirm your own movement in the world and confirm your existence by telling a story. The best storytellers poke fun at themselves; we usually are the buffoons in our own stories."

That's Stuart McLean on the art of storytelling. Buffoon he's not, not by any shakes. But his lead character, Dave, of "Vinyl Café" fame? Perhaps just a little.

"The Vinyl Café" premiered in 1994. Each weekend, hundreds of thousands of Canadians tune in for McLean's handpicked musical journey and handcrafted tale of "everyone's favourite music store," and its owner Dave, his wife Morley and their children Stephanie and Sam.

But, take note: "The Vinyl Café" is not a thinly veiled autobiography of McLean's life.

He does, however, get deep inside his characters sometimes.

"Mostly I'm looking at (Dave from the outside), but sometimes I am him. But it would be the same for all four characters in the stories - Dave and Morley and Stephanie and Sam. Sometimes I'm inside their heads, sometimes they're doing things sort of for me, other times I'm just looking at them. I have both points of view."

And while he isn't some unhinged artiste who thinks his characters come to life when he leaves the room, McLean does feel deeply about them and what will happen to their family over time.

"I'm really interested in knowing how their story unfolds. That's what engages me as a writer. That's the reason I keep writing these stories; it's the only way I can find out. I can't make it up, it's no good. It's only by writing it that I know what happens to them. And I'm really intrigued; I want it all to be OK. We all die in the end ... but I can't bear the thought of one of them dying."

With such richly textured tales, one might assume TV to be the next logical move for "Vinyl Café."

Not so, says McLean.

"I've not done anything to date because I think one of the reasons my stories seem to work so well is because I have an audience with such an active imagination," he said.

"That these stories succeed is (as much) a reflection of the imagination of the audience and what people bring to them as it is a reflection of my talent. I feel if it became a movie or a weekly series, it would diminish people's imagination, it would steal from people's imagination, and I don't care to do that right now."

An accomplished author, McLean may be rather reserved, but he's also seriously funny. His most recent book, "Secrets From the Vinyl Café," won the 2007 Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour on Wednesday - McLean's third time winning the prize (he also won in 1999 and 2001).

"You won't read that anywhere. No one will pay attention to it," he said last week of being nominated for the prestigious prize before finding out he'd won.

"Yet, if it was nominated for the Giller Award, there would be so much publicity. ... But, well, it's just part of the game. People think humour isn't serious, because it isn't. But I'm serious about it."

McLean's often shown wearing a "Free NFLD" T-shirt. He's not from here, but he's deeply fond of the province, having spent much time here over the years.

"I actually bought two of those shirts when I was last there on a visit and I try and wear them as often as possible in public," he admits.

"I had that picture taken specially to use as a publicity shot. It was a conscious moment when I wore that shirt, just to have fun with it. It was used as the author photo on my American and British book publication."

McLean says his live stage show, coming to St. John's April 24 and 25, is "just like the radio show."

"We alternate stories with music," he said.

"It's a bit longer and more fun, and often things go a little wonky on stage. ... And there's always someone nine years old and someone 90 years old. People just come together around the show and around the stories. That makes me very happy."

For this visit, McLean's musical guests will be locals Ron Hynes and Hey Rosetta! and New Brunswick's The Great Big 3."

Catch McLean and "The Vinyl Café" at 8 p.m. at the St. John's Arts and Culture Centre Tuesday and Wednesday.

Learn more at websites www.cbc.ca/ vinylcafe/ and www.artsandculturecentre.ca

telyarts@yahoo.ca

Geographic location: St. John's, New Brunswick

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