Tonight This Columbia Life is hosting a storytelling open mic event, but what is this storytelling business? From the oral tradition of Native American tribes to the art of the blog post, storytelling is a big part of being human. The ancient art has undergone a recent revival in the form of story slams, podcasts, and specials, and Spectrum is here to guide you through the best of this new, old art form.
The Moth is the premier storytelling organization. They host Story Slams—storytelling open mics—across the world, and curate the best stories for their podcast and radio hour. There is something beautiful and empowering about the fact that anybody could put their name in the bucket and participate. The stories range from monumental to mundane, and there's something about hearing peoples' personal stories that makes you feel connected.
Here is a powerful story about a woman's experience as a home healthcare worker:
In this story, an NYPD rookie naps on the job and gets stuck in a compromising position:
A true story told by "Sex and the City" and "Modern Family" writer Cindy Chupack: "Til Death or Homosexuality Do Us Part"
A funny, #ThrowbackThursday-worthy story from The Moth is the tale of Steve from Blue's Clues. Steve talks about the days in which he was "fame-ish" for talking to salt shakers, which apparently was a hit with the ladies:
Storytelling is different from stand-up because the endgame is to be honest rather than funny. However, the best humor often comes from truth, so sometimes the lines between the two forms are blurred. Comedian Mike Birbiglia is known as the best standup-storyteller hybrid (standuporyteller?). His standup specials are like long, extended monologues with punchlines either evolving organically or thrown in, always based on his True Life™. Here's him telling a story on This American Life (True Life™: I Sleepwalk).
Here are some Dos and Don'ts of storytelling, inspired by The Moth:
Tell a story with stakes. In this situation, what did you have to lose? What did you have to gain?
Start in the action. Instead of being like, “I went home for Thanksgiving. I took the subway to Penn station, then an NJ transit train to Newark Airport, and then an airplane to Cleveland,” start with, “I was home for Thanksgiving.”
Know your story well so you can relax and have fun on stage! Rehearse and memorize the main points, so you can be free to improvise and engage with the audience.
Do standup. That’s what standup open mics are for.
Be a judgmental douchebag in the audience. Don’t be a judgmental douchebag in general, but especially not while people are sharing personal stories.
Any story that is of importance to you is worth telling and worth sharing, either onstage or on paper (a good example of written personal storytelling is The Eye's View From Here column). And, to make your subway ride more interesting, subscribe to the awesome storytelling podcasts The Moth, Risk!, and Snap Judgement on iTunes.