The holidays and Stuart McLean and his fictional family from the Vinyl Cafe stories go together like Jerry Seinfeld and Festivus. It hardly seems possible that there wasn’t a time when one existed without the other.
A Toronto native, McLean brings his Vinyl Cafe tour to Convocation Hall, Dec. 11 to 13, in support of his latest book, Extreme Vinyl Cafe, the sixth in the Cafe canon.
It all began for McLean in 1994, when the Vinyl Cafe radio show first appeared on the CBC in 1994. And for the past 15 years, he has brought the world of Dave, owner of the fictional record shop Dave’s Vinyl Cafe; his wife Morley; and their kids Sam and Stephanie to life on the radio, on his live touring shows and in the pages of his books. It is laugh-out-loud funny, but it allows McLean to explore issues of importance to him on a personal or a national level. For instance, in his latest work McLean addresses the divide between French-speaking Quebec and the rest of Canada by having Dave and Morley visit a cottage in the Laurentians owned by a Quebec veterinarian. What transpires — a donnybrook with a drugged up cockatoo and the partial demolition of a historic cottage by accident — is hysterical, but it is much more than that.
Of course, that doesn’t mean he has any idea as to the reason for their popularity.
“You know, I don’t even have an understanding of it being popular,” McLean explains. “I know in some way people come and see the show, buy the books, but I don’t feel that in any deep way. What’s going on inside my head is how can I make a story better.”
Part of McLean’s success is that he understands the value of a good editor. Whether it be someone on the show or through some input from a member of his live audience, he listens.
“I’m not one of those people who’s precious about your work,” says McLean.
“I do my best and listen to others, including my audience, whose contributions are not insignificant.”
Whatever works, says McLean, whose approach has won him the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour three times.
“I love what I do. I’m a very lucky man,” says McLean. “I guess if I could toss them off, the stories I mean, I wouldn’t find them fulfilling.… But I find them difficult, puzzling, engaging, and I can say things important to me. I get taken up by them.”