A couple nights ago, Ben and I went to The Moth’s Story Slam at Housing Works in SoHo. The Moth hosts bimonthly storytelling competitions in the city (and they’re also found all over the US, including LA, San Francisco, Boston, Ann Arbor, & even Louisville, KY). Each competition has a theme, which is published ahead of time. The idea is that storytellers have 5 mins to tell a prepared true story from their life. In NYC, there are always several people who wish to tell their story, so ten people are randomly drawn. There are three teams of judges who judge the story on a 10-pt scale. Every few months, there’s a Grand Slam, where the winners of the previous slams since the last Grand Slam compete to be the ultimate winner.
Housing Works is a wonderful non-profit organization that does a lot of work, including advocacy and support for people living with HIV. Everything is donated and the people volunteer their time. The SoHo Housing Works is one of my favorite bookstores in the city. The interior space is interesting because there’s a loft-like second floor, spiral staircase, and cozy nooks for readings. Plus it has a cafe (with free WiFi), and they always have a ton of incredible events. It’s a wonderful cultural center.
I had gone to other Story Slams before and had a great time. If you’re lucky, one (or more) of the storytellers will be a regular. Some of those regulars are professional storytellers, like Adam Wade, an 18-time winner of The Moth Story Slam. He told a story at the very first story slam I attended. His schtick is the loveable loser. If you love an underdog with a good heart and hopeful outlook on life, you’ll love his stories. The best stories are ones where there’s been some sort of transformation or revelation, rather than simply being a funny anecdote or worse yet, a maudlin overwrought sobfest. My favorite story that I heard so far is one of a guy telling about his father’s vulnerable moment that had been taped. He had a strained relationship with his father, who was a trucker and often away from home. His father one night, perhaps because of all the lonely nights traveling for work, had taped himself singing and dancing like a rodeo cowboy. The story was sweet, funny, and above all heartfelt and touching. He had us feeling for his tough dad who unwittingly revealed a secret side to him and it ended with how he wished he could have gotten to know that person as his dad. In general, the story slams are amazing. Most of the stories are at least good, and some are fantastic. I’ve tried a couple of times to go up, but my name wasn’t pulled.
Oct 9th’s theme was Finish Line, which I thought would be fun. I was thinking perhaps we would get a couple fun race stories. I think the Finish Line must have been a difficult theme because the stories were not of the same quality that I was used to. Ben found the event interesting and wanted to come back again. I really want to go to a Grand Slam. It’s very difficult to get tickets because they sell out within seconds of when the tickets are made available.
I really recommend that you go to The Moth Story Slam. In NYC, tickets are $8 at the door. Seating is limited because of the cozy nature of the place. Although the doors open at 7 pm for the event, I always try to line up by 5:30 (when the weather’s nicer, I recommend getting there by 5 pm) to ensure that I’ll get a seat. I’ve been there as late as 6:30 and there’s still a good chance of getting in, but it’ll be standing room only. There’s a pre-sale where tickets go for $16, but in exchange you have guaranteed seats. Those pre-sale tickets also go really fast. If you don’t buy the pre-sale tickets as soon as they send out the email, you have to play the waiting game if you want seats.
Here’s a YouTube clip of a previous winner, Ted Passon (theme Caught), from a while ago, so you’ll get a flavor of what the Story Slam is like.