Correction: An earlier version of this misspelled Ian Stuart’s name in a photo caption. This has been corrected.
PORTLAND, Maine – When the camera fades up, there they are, facing the lens.
The taller of the two men sports a scraggly beard and bugged-out eyes. The shorter fellow flashes a sarcastic grin, waving his hand in a broad arc across the screen.
“Well,” he says, as if feeling a little sorry for you, “Welcome to Maine.”
That’s how comedy partners Ian Stuart and James Theberge begin each of their Welcome to Maine videos. The pair then go on to explain a Maine cultural oddity or iconic location, studding copious facts with jokes about beer, weed and Allen’s Coffee Flavored Brandy.
What started out as a pandemic time-killer has now grown into a recognizable and profitable Maine comedy brand with almost 20,000 social media followers, nearly 40 videos and a new podcast. Stuart and Theberge even performed a sold out live show in Bangor over the summer. They hope to replicate that in-person success down south with a show at the Portland House of Music on Dec. 22.
Stuart and Theberge are both veteran standup comics and longtime friends. With the pandemic keeping them offstage in 2020, they decided to try their hands at comedy filmmaking instead.
“We knew we had to do something during the pandemic,” Theberge said.
Their first attempt was an immediate success.
“We put up that first video with the characters – just on our own Facebook pages – and it popped off,” Stuart said. “We thought we should make some more.”
“Now we’re up to 38 or 39,” Theberge said.
Stuart is the taller of the pair and does most of the writing. He also directs and edits the pieces. Ironically, his character, Mark, does not speak.
Looking a bit like a stoned Muppet, Mark only says one word: Yup. Except he never quite manages to pronounce the final consonant, coming closer to saying “Yught” instead. But with a single syllable, he’s able to react, make statements and even ask questions.
“I wanted to kind of free myself up to direct things, pay attention to what we were filming,” Stuart said. “I don’t have to worry about lines.”
Theberge plays a motor-mouth named Troy who is full of information and snide asides about Mark’s personal life.
The classic comedy dynamic, where only one half of a duo speaks, has a long history. Think Harpo and Groucho Marx, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker, Penn and Teller and Jay and Silent Bob.
Stuart and Theberge said they are well aware of the tradition and proudly count themselves part of it.
Stuart said their travelogue format was inspired by another Maine comedian.
“The idea came from Tim Sample’s ‘Postcards from Maine’ segment on CBS Sunday morning,” he said.
For several years in the 1990s, Sample’s loving and poetic video essays about Maine aired on the network morning show about once a month. They were quaint and sincere.
Stuart had something a little more downhome in mind.
Like Sample’s work, Welcome to Maine often expounds on a Maine topic or locale such as Italian sandwiches, whoopie pies or the pier in Old Orchard Beach. But the Welcome to Maine version has 100 percent more beer and weed references.
“You know, like real friggin’ Mainers who say, ‘Jeezum crow,'” Stuart said.
They also deliver their information with a heavy dose of sarcasm and blue collar irony, coming off more like Temp Tales’ Green Bud Kelly than PBS’ Marshall Dodge.
But don’t get them wrong.
“We’re definitely not making fun of Maine,” Stuart said. “It’s about our love of Maine – we’re roasting Maine because we love it.”
Last summer, Stuart and Theberge sold out a live show at the Bangor Arts Exchange. Since then, they’ve been getting recognized on the streets with people shouting their catchphrases back to them from yards away.
“It’s nonstop,” Theberge said. “I’ll be in the grocery store and people will yell at me.”
“If I go to Walmart, I get recognized,” Stuart said. “If I go to Whole Foods, I don’t.”
On top of their live shows, Welcome to Maine’s videos are generating income for the partners. Instead of selling on-screen advertising, they’ve sold product placements to – you guessed it – beer and weed purveyors.
They’ve also been asked to film political ads but Stuart and Theberge said no. They vow to never get involved in politics, social issues or religion.
“This is supposed to be for everyone,” Stuart said. “This is our love letter to Maine humor.”
Stuart and Theberge bring their Welcome to Maine stage show to the Portland House of Music on Dec. 22 at 7 p.m.