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Storytelling Validated in the Times: A Guide to Shows and Open Mics in New York City

April 4th, 2012 by Jeff Simmermon

Street View from 768 Delancey

The New York Times gave me a tiny shout-out this evening in a piece about the storytelling scene in New York City. I am referred to as “imposing,” which is confusing, but I’ll take it as a compliment. I strongly encourage that you run right out and read the whole thing. Cyndi Freeman gets a mention in there, too, as well as a bunch of other folks that I am honored to consider peers. The mighty Adam Wade gets some serious ink, too.

Here’s an excerpt that I think is the core of the piece, referring to my friend Ophira Eisenberg:

She explores the taboo, but without the persistent relief provided by consistent punch lines. In doing that, she shows how a story can use humor but not be shackled to it, how it can be emotional without pandering, and how difficult ideas can be articulated entertainingly.
What she demonstrates is that storytelling can give a certain kind of comedy a chance to grow.

Storytelling has grown a lot beyond regular Moth slams. The Moth was the Big Bang that coalesced into the sun for this whole thing, but now a bunch of other planets are cooling and growing their own life forms. The following is a list of storytelling shows that I’d recommend checking out in the city. I’ve been in most of these, and am friends with folks that run all of them.

A lot of these shows don’t have a lot in the way of a Web presence. I hate linking to Facebook pages, but that’s the world we live in — crafting stories and running shows takes a lot of energy, and so does running a website. At this point in my life I’d rather have “writer/performer” etched on my tombstone than “blogger”. Anyway, here they go:

Liar Show
Real Characters
Told!
BTK Band
Nights of Our Lives
The Story Collider
Ask Me
How I Learned
The Soundtrack Series
Adam Wade has a BUNCH:

I can also see how Moth story slams would be intimidating to people that are new to this. They’re huge, with lines around the block and they sell out pretty much every time. There’s also no guarantee that you’ll even get picked. And if you do get picked, you’re pretty much screwed out of a decent score unless you get picked fifth through tenth. By the fifth storyteller the booze kicks in, scores start to loosen up and judges figure out what the hell they’re even doing.

Frankly, these things should be a little intimidating to first-time performers. Anyone who just thinks “what the hell, I’ll just jump on stage for the first time in front of 400 people and be awesome like I always am, every day of my life” is missing a critical component to their personality and is likely going to embarrass everyone in the room except themselves. I’ve seen this happen. A lot.

You should get on stage and do it anyway, but a little fear is a good thing. It means you’re taking it seriously.

None of the following open mics were around when I started going to the Moth. If they had been, I’d have definitely tried my stories out at these first. I’m not saying that there’s a right or wrong way to do any of this stuff. Any door you find is one you can walk through.

But if you happen to want to workshop a story yourself or test it out in a lower-stakes environment — hell, sometimes the crowd is barely even paying attention — you could do a lot worse than to check these out. In order to win a fight you’ve got to spend a lot of time doing pushups and hitting the bag to get ready for five intense minutes. It’s the same principle here.

The following places are where I go to practice:

Phoning it In – Lukas Kaiser runs this open mic Monday-Thursday in somebody else’s apartment in Tribeca. It’s a warm room, supportive, and sometimes a woman walks straight through with a baby in a stroller and disappears in the back.

Kambri Crews’ “What’s Your Story” held monthly at Luca Lounge. You pretty much have to find this on Facebook or go to Luca Lounge and check it out first.

I Like You, Maude

Oh, Hey Guys at UCB East

Like anything else, there’s an etiquette. If you’re brand new to any of this, I’d recommend showing up and checking a show out first, then introducing yourself afterwards. Get to know folks, connect online. Pretty soon the whole thing will blossom and you’ll be tired of all the emails, updates, and Facebook events. And eventually, your brain will hurt from all of it and you’ll have nightmares abut your own show.

Congratulations: you’ve arrived.

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