On May 2, Free Comic Book Day, the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in Hollywood presented “This is Your Life: Stan Lee,” a funny and fictionally loose retelling of the legendary comic book creator’s life. The show was conceived by UCB members Hal Rudnick and Justin Donaldson, the minds behind last summer’s popular UCB show, “Tournament Of Nerds.” CBR News attended the one-night only, sold out performance and spoke to the “Fake Stan Lee” himself, Hal Rudnick, about his exaggerated impression of the legendary Marvel creator.
“I’ve been doing the character for over a year now, playing Stan Lee. I just figured it would be a fun character to play and I was doing the ‘Tournament of Nerds’ show last year and I thought Stan would be a fun person to have host that show,” Hal Rudnick told CBR. “As I started to discover the character, it just became so fun to play and I would do it in different shows and write sketches and solo stuff for it. In talking to Justin, who I did the last show with, we just thought it would be a great world to explore because it gives you the option of using real life people, celebrities and fantastical characters like the Marvel characters.”
The show’s format is that of the popular TV show of the late ‘50s and ‘60s, “This is your life.” The format is simple: take a celebrity, put them on stage with a host, have the host introduce voices of people from the celebrity’s life, the celebrity guesses who the voices belong to, and then is introduced to the people from their past.
“We thought the ‘This is Your Life’ format would be a great way to explore the different facets of Stan Lee or our fictional interpretation of Stan Lee,” said Rudnick.
The show began with host Bruce Banner. After much taunting and egging on from the audience, Banner quickly ran off the stage and returned screaming in anger as his alter ego, The Hulk. However. this version of the Hulk, bravely and hilariously played by co-creator Donaldson, was less menacing and more out of shape than we’re used to. Donaldson was painted green with ripped clothes and really let himself hangout, much like John Belushi’s famous interpretation of the Green Goliath from a “Saturday Night Live” sketch in the late ‘70s. Donaldson’s Hulk is a misunderstood character, a Hulk who can talk and is actually calm and thoughtful. He claimed that Lee’s take on the character “gave the public the wrong idea” about him.
It was finally time for the man of the hour, Mr. Stan Lee. Welcomed by screams from the crowd, Rudnick ran out as Lee, dressed in signature v-neck sweater, mustache and shaded glasses. Yelling famous Lee catch phrases like “Excelsior,” Rudnick leaped to the stage and took his place.
|Rudnick and Donaldson as Stan Lee and the Hulk|
“It’s not dead on mimicry, but I feel like I try to capture a certain piece of the spirit and then I have to take a little bit of license because to improvise as a character is a little different than playing him in a movie or on TV,” Rudnick explained. “If it were a film of Stan Lee’s life, I would look for more nuance in what I’m doing. But the most important thing for me in finding a character is that point of view. Once I found that point of view of enthusiasm, wonderment, encouraging people to view the world through child like eyes and enjoy the fantastical, once I find that key point of view then I just made it my own from there. In improv anything goes so you can discover something new for the character on the spot. But the point of view is the most important thing in developing any character.”
Rudnick continued, “I watched some interviews online and made sure to check out a few of his cameos in film. I started trying it and immediately started having some success. My version is more so the ‘80s Stan Lee, the Stan Lee of then through today. He’s just so full of enthusiasm, vim and vigor and he seems like the perfect salesmen for Marvel’s comics.
“He’s got so much excitement about everything. That’s a really fun character trait and that helps me zero it in. I kind of have his worldview and it’s being excited and enthusiastic about everything. That’s the driving force in me when I’m doing the character. Obviously he’s a human being not a characture, I’m playing a larger than life version of him. Although the needle starts to get in the red a little bit when it comes to Stan’s actual life because he himself is a larger than life character.”
As the show continued, different people from Lee’s fictional life were introduced, including his stalker, his accountant Murray, his doctor, and even a group of feminist writers that Lee mentored. Marvel characters that were on hand included Spider-Man and Wolverine, who ended the show by attaching and killing the “Fox Executive” responsible for leaking his film. Also appearing was Skeletor, who got lost going to the He-Man roast, and the ghost of Jack Kirby, who claimed that Lee stole all his good ideas. “Where’s the Iron Man money?” shouted Kirby.
|This classic photo of Stan Lee inspired much of the production|
Included in the show was video footage of Lee’s wild “Swinging ‘70s parties.” The footage included Stan Lee partying it up with ‘70s icons like Liza Minnelli, Elliot Gould and an “Annie Hall” era Diane Keaton. Rudnick explained this choice for the character. “I was partially inspired by a semi famous picture of Stan. I think it was taken at a Comic-Con or something where his shirt is open and he looks like a ‘70s type gigolo with his mustache and his hair is darker. So I was just inspired by that and the feeling of the ‘70s, you know, sex and drugs. We gave him a bit of Hugh Hefner mixed with the Studio 54 days. We decided to make that his heyday and we thought it would be fun to play with him in that era.”
Also playing a recurring character in the show was actor Drew Droege as Ruth Lee, Stan’s fictional, estranged wife. Droege played the role like an evil version of Nathan Lane’s character from “The Birdcage.” “I had seen Drew and he’s so great at playing crazy female characters that I thought were amazingly funny so I wanted him in the show somehow,” explained Rudnick. “I thought it would be great that in the fictional world that we’ve created to have Drew play Stan’s estranged fictional wife. We wanted to paint Stan as this ladies man from the mid ‘70s.”
Finally, when asked about the future of the show and the “Fake Stan Lee,” Rudnick had this to say: “I’m definitely going to do Stan Lee again. We’ve talked about doing something online with the character. But the ‘This is Your Life’ format is a reusable format so we’re actually working on another show for July that would use that format but be with a different famous person.”