A while ago I did a piece for Off Ramp about the storytelling venues around town and the enthusiasm I felt about the burgeoning storytelling community. Since then my enthusiasm has been rewarded with a plethora of new storytelling programs on radio shows, podcasts, and a number of stages around town.
When I first put up my own show, "Dylan Brody’s Thinking Allowed" at The Improv seven years ago, it was a hard sell, convincing a comedy club that storytelling could work for audiences accustomed to the four-laughs-per-minute ratio demanded of stand-up comics for TV. But now there are also regular storytelling events at the Comedy Store, The Laugh Factory, IO West, and the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre — whose show Assssscat melds improvisational storytelling and structured, spontaneous sketch work.
(Note: Some of the language in the videos might be language you'd find in comedy clubs and storytelling venues.)
One of the most gratifying developments is the extent to which Hollywood has embraced an art form that still struggles to find its way into the profit-making mainstream. Small shows open up in coffee houses, theaters and bars. Some of them are curated. Some of them have the loose, bring-what-you’ve-got feel of the New York open mic comedy nights I remember from the early 80s. Some showcase successful writers from TV and film finding their footing as spoken-word performers. Others include poets and spoken-word performers trying out new material.
If you want polished readings of honed works, I suggest Wendy Hammers’ always-sold-out "Tasty Words Show" or the free "Sit-n-Spin" that’s been running for years at the Comedy Central Stage down at the Hudson Theater. Here’s Annie Girard at "Sit-n-Spin":
If you want to see a potluck of performers at all the stages of development, come to Muse on 8th on a Saturday night to see Alex Stein’s "Literary Salon." It’s a low-pressure zone where I beta test new stories, but I mostly go just to hear whatever new piece Alex has prepared for the evening.
Plus, "Literary Salon" has vegan chili that you can enjoy even if you usually mock vegans and the food they eat. Along the same spectrum, there’s Beverly Mickens’ "Story Salon" in an art gallery — where an aloof cat may rub against your legs as you watch the show and attack you if you try to pet him — and the "Pez Show" at the Actors Comedy Studio, where I saw Alyssa Vaughan do this bit.
When I started in comedy at the start of the boom, I saw hundreds of comics just finding their voices as they moved toward stardom. The storytelling scene has that feel now.
This is a golden age. The rules aren’t set yet. Yes, storytelling has started to reach public radio with "Unfictional," "The Moth", and "Snap Judgment." But it hasn’t been ruined yet by money. There are no executives dictating the structure, the length or the content of the stories.
Come out into the night. See what happens as performers reach into the gaping wounds of their memories and draw out glistening gems to hold up in the light. Sometimes it’s magical, but it’s always visceral and human.
- Sit n Spin
- The Moth (LA)
- Tasty Words
- Literary Salon at Muse on 8th
- Story Salon at the Art Parlor
- PEZ The Personal Essay Show at Actors Comedy Studio
- Don’t Tell My Mother embarrassing stories at Fais Dodo
- Asssscat at UCB Theater
- I Love a Good Story (show and podcast)
Dylan Brody is a commenter for Off-Ramp. Are there any shows he missed? Let us know in the comments!