Storytelling radio show and podcast, The Moth, has been bringing its live show to cities across the country and now has a monthly series at The Rickshaw Stop. They invited us to check out the first one, which we gladly did.
The theme of the night was SECRETS, which seemed a little broad and obvious for this kind of storytelling series, but the participants came up with some great things to share and host Dan Kennedy held it all together with playful banter in between. Everyone who came in had the option to put their name into a bag at the beginning, and then were selected at random to come up and tell their stories. So the night was a literal grab bag of performances. The range happened to work out really well. Some stories were just okay, worthy of a polite clap for being willing to get up there and do it, and some pretty much knocked me on my ass. The thing they all had in common for me was a real feel of sincerity, no matter how earnest or sarcastic the tone was, which made them relatable and hard to dismiss.
The stories are given number ratings by teams of audience judges which are then added up at the end to pronounce a winner. After ten of these live shows, called the SLAMS, the winner from each will compete in the GrandSLAM Championship. In my opinion, Cory Rosen told the overall best story that night, and the judges agreed with me.
I got to interview the Producer of The Moth, Jennifer Hixson, and the Host, Dan Kennedy (author of Rock On: An Office Power Ballad), backstage just following the show, which was really an adrenaline-fueled fun and fast paced candid conversation:
Mission Mission: I’m not a journalist, just a blogger, I have no ethics or scruples.
Jennifer Hixson (Moth Producer): Oh, even more frightening! (keeps riffing for a while)
MM: I wish I didn’t have questions, this is great!
Dan Kennedy (Moth Host): Now you know what I’ve been dealing with for ten years. I have the funniest stories . . .
JH: This Orangina’s getting to me!
MM: Okay, well, is there anything different for The Moth in San Francisco?
JH: Well, in some ways across the country the stories are the same: heartbreak, job loss, family stuff . . . But of course San Francisco’s gonna have an amazing different flavor, this is a wild city, this is a place where a lot of stuff meets.
DK: Well, the first story [tonight] was about a woman being led up to heaven by an angel after she was hit on her bicycle, and it wasn’t too long after that that we went into a story of a boy learning to masturbate. I think that’s a pretty awesome range, and we heard everything in between. I don’t think that happens in a lot of cities.
JH: The range of ages you had here, really young people to really old people . . .
MM: Why is it important that they’re telling the truth when they tell their stories?
JH: I know from working with storytellers, once somebody tells you that they’re making it up, it’s hard to even work with them. There’re many other places for fiction in the world, this is a place for truth. People really feel that they’ve shared and felt something, a connection with other people.
MM: Tonight it was like they were confessing something . . .
JH: I’m not always fond of the word ‘confession’, because a confession is sorta like ‘blah blah blah blah, here’s everything‘, like they’re just spitting everything out. Ideally, with a story you’re making sense of it. That’s why storytelling is powerful and helpful to people. Because your life is this big, long continuum of stuff that happens and when you tell a story you’re deciding, it starts here and it ends here. And here’s this little chunk and I’m gonna make sense of all this weird stuff that happened and I’m gonna come to a conclusion about it somehow and that’s useful, in life.
MM: Right, and the stakes are higher, if it’s true . . .
DK: That’s a good point . . .
JH: Yes, the stakes are definitely higher.
MM: Why is it important for you to have it be in front of a live audience?
JH: Well, this is a very kind audience . . . not all the stories were perfect, there were some very flawed stories, however the audience was with them the whole way! If you go to a comedy club the audience is like ‘Make me laugh, you’re not making me laugh!‘
DK: That’s exactly what’s kept me out of comedy clubs for 13 years . . . The thing about The Moth, is these nights we do are these amazing strange mix between therapy and drama and comedy and community . . . you get to see everyone be who they would be, hanging out, at the dinner table . . . those unguarded moments that you would only get in those years of friendship, you get to come to a club and see that happen and I feel like we’re so in that together. It sounds like a corny thing to say . . . but you know how usually you have to be friends with the person for like two years, or date for a year? It happens in five minutes at The Moth StorySLAM.
JH: People are like ‘I never told my sister this, and now I’m sharing it with this group!‘ And one of my favorite things . . . places like Louisville where there wasn’t storytelling [like in San Francisco] and launch this thing and then we come back for the Grand Slam a year later and there is a community built around it. I mean, people going to each other’s barbecues and hooking up and gonna be lifelong friends because they have shared these nuggets of their life with strangers.
DK: There’s a reason we added a Moth onesie to the merch table.
JH: Scene! That’s a great ending!
The next Moth StorySLAM is on May 13th at The Rickshaw Stop at 155 Fell Street. Tickets will sell out quickly.