Wednesday, June 9, 2010

At the Bitter End.

I’m standing in the catacombs of the Bitter End, listening to girls pee.   We thought we arrived early enough; storytelling wasn’t set to begin for another 45 minutes. We were under the impression this was plenty of time to ensure us comfortable seats, feet from the stage.  We were wrong.

Amy and I were on the corner of Bleeker and Laguardia when we spotted the line of fans snaking down the block. I was certain this was not meant for us; I mean I know I like the idea of hearing amateurs telling awkward stories from their childhood on a Monday afternoon, but all these hip youngsters? Not a chance. 

But the line was for the Bitter End, indeed was for the Moth’s quarter-monthly storytelling show, the StorySlam.  Amy and I took our place at the end of the line, feeling what little Ralphie must have felt as he desperately waited at Macy’s for his chance to speak to Santa.   It looked as if we would never get inside, but we found our way in thanks to the Bitter End’s desire to ignore every conceivable fire code. 

The Bitter End was a long, thin bar, with a stage on the right wall and a bar to the left. The wall above the shelves of liquor was covered with a staple of the hipster bar: oil paintings of musicians just old and un-cool enough to be trendy, the type of wall I look at blankly before declaring Hey, Isn’t that Frank Sinatra?

I fought my way to the bar and ordered myself another staple of Manhattan haunts, the 9-dollar beer.  Equipped with our drinks, Amy and I began our fruitless search for seats. Inching around the bearded and bespectacled crowd, careful not to step on shoes or spill a splash on somebody’s lovely cardigan, it became clear we would have to stand.  Not just anywhere, but right in the only unclaimed territory in the Bitter End, the hallway to the ladies bathroom.  We stood nestled together, in an almost standing-spoon, borne not out of affection but out of sheer necessity.  Whatever romantic implications this position may have yielded were overshadowed by the sound of the toilet flushing.

The Moth StorySlam works like this:

Every week a different storytelling event is held in bars all over New York (or more realistically, all over downtown.)  Each event is open to amateurs, and each night has a theme. Usually one word, ambiguous themes like Earth, Scars, or Dues.  The theme last Monday at the Bitter End was “Fakes.”   Upon entering the event and forking over seven dollars, anyone who wishes to tell a story may enter their name in a hat, and ten names are drawn.  The ten flannel-clad storytellers each have 6 minutes to story tell and when they finish, they’re summarily judged by three pre-determined groups of “story experts,” as I call them.  (On the night of “Fakes,” one group of judges was deemed The Flying Hellfish, and that semi-obscure Simpsons reference was not lost on this guy.)   The storyteller with the highest aggregate score is declared winner and moves on to the GrandSlam, for a chance to be crowned champion of the world and enjoy a lifetime of lucrative endorsements and unsolicited blowjobs.

The StorySlam method sucks for the following reason:

.It does not guarantee you a spot ahead of time, which means a couple of terrible things. A. You spend your time writing a story for a specific theme, you feel great about it, you find a wonderfully funny, unique perspective to share and then you’re name isn’t called. Heartbreaking. And B. All the same stuff as A, but you also brought a ton of friends and family to watch you perform, and they are excited and proud and totally missing Glee, and then your name isn’t called. Sucks.  Look: I understand, the Moth is very popular. As such they probably have dozens of people every week who want to perform, but I don’t understand why they don’t have you sign up online and then email you a week in advance if you’re chosen.  Actually, I do understand why they don’t have that option. Because they want you and your wonderful story and your Glee-missing friends to show up and buy your tickets and beer before you realize you’re not going on stage. I’m sorry if I sound bitter. New York does that to a person. 

Some more thoughts from the Moth StorySlam, presented with helpful bullets.

  • Storytelling does not mean what I thought it meant.  I figured you wrote a short-story and read it aloud. Not really. It’s more recounting a personal anecdote in a wistful, nose-wrinkling funny kind of way, like an extended stand-up bit. It’s more of a one man show, like the type performed by Christopher Titus. On that note…
  • Why were they all funny anyway? All the storytellers went for funny, which just makes you wonder why they don’t just go for stand-up comedy.  Why couldn’t there be serious or sad or yearning? Surely there was someone who could have mined something from their past.  On that note…
  • Do they have to be true? Do they all have to be in the first person? The MC, a boisterously unfunny fat guy, stated at the onset that the stories were all true. But I couldn’t tell if he was serious or not. The theme was “Fakes.” Perhaps that was his point. On that note…
  • Why didn’t anyone expand on the night's theme “Fakes?” Amy pointed out after the show that everyone used the theme to recount a time when they pretended to be someone else or pretended to be good at something they weren’t. No one took it in a different direction; there are plenty of other ways to take the concept of “Fakes.” Amy’s first suggestion was faking an orgasm. Great.

I may sound a little under whelmed by the Moth, and I guess the truth is I was.  It was not as wonderful as my daydreams. But I still want in.   I’ll keep you posted.  

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