Saturday, January 7, 2012

MOTH Story Slam - Creative Competitive Narcissism

After we bounced off the three-blocks-down queue waiting for the last Moth Slam in New York City in December, we smartened up and reserved tickets in advance for the first one in January. I only had two weeks to spend in New York, and I was not going to miss the Moth twice. We have heard and talked so much about it in class, I owed my inner storyteller to go when I had the chance.

The first MOTH Slam of 2012 was titled "Rebound" - my friend Kata and I braced ourselves for a healthy dosage of breakup stories. And the cold. Having tickets suddenly felt like an extremely good idea the moment we spotted the long line of people waiting to get in - and the much shorter line for smart (paranoid?) people like us.
The venue was a nice bar called Southpaw in Brooklyn; by the time everyone filed in, it turned out to be able to house about 300 people, and some of them even had a place to sit. The best part? The whole audience seemed to be the exact age group that is almost impossible to lure into a storytelling event under normal circumstances: young people between 18 and 35(ish). Everyone was loud, cheerful, excited and very, very hip (in fact, the whole setting looked like a hipster bomb had just exploded in it, which is probably not all that surprising in Brooklyn). Everyone got drinks, settled down, and many even dropped their names into the bag, including yours truly, who did not buy a ticket to the event to not get a chance to tell.
Finally, the host of the evening showed up on stage; veteran MOTH-fans probably know him by his name, which we did not manage to catch, so we cheerfully nicknamed him Hagrid, and decided after 5 minutes flat that he was the best part of the show. Loud, sarcastic, wicked, and a lot of fun, he carried the whole thing successfully through the evening, being a jerk equally to everyone when he needed to be and being nice when we were not looking.
The slam works pretty much how slams usually work: you put your name in the hat (bag), ten names are drawn, and you have five mintues to dazzle the audience with a 5-minute true(ish) personal story connected to the theme. Three goups of judges were hiding in plain sight in the audience with big scoring tablets to reward you points for the experience. They had funny names.
It soon turned out that we were right about the theme: it did bring in an awful lot of breakup anecdotes, as well as a few stories abour dodgeball, go figure. It was abundantly clear after the first two tellers that we were dealing with professional slammers here: the stories were well told, hilariously funny, unique in their own way. The audience cheered and applauded whenever there was a pause (and not just because Hagrid bellowed instructions to them to go "batshit crazy", please). Also there was no filter on whatever one wanted to talk about; we were all grown-ups there, and far, far away from the delicacy of the fairy tale world (insert air bunnies there).
When the third slip of paper was drawn from the bag and Hagrid's face grew long with alarm and confusion, I was already half out of my seat. When it comes to reading names out loud, "What the f***" usually translates to "Csenge Zalka"
And I was right.

Slamming stories is a lot of fun. Especially to an audience like that. 300 people well into their first drink, instructed to go batshit crazy; a reflector in my face (I could do without that, but oh well) and no clue what I want to talk about. Yup. Personal stories have never been my forte, since I have only started telling them a few months ago, and I have performed a total of 3. Rebound was not an easy topic either; I did not want to talk about breakups (nothing funny there), and had very little else to talk about. But I was on stage, and it was already fun before I opened my mouth.
I ended up talking about how you sometimes need to spend time away from home if you really want to appreciate your own culture. It was kind of a rebound for me: when I get fed up with stupid things and stupid people that are probably the same everywhere in the world, I go abroad, and from there I only see what's cool about Hungary. So I told people a few little anecdotes about how people react when I say I am Hungarian; and then ended up talking about how the kids I tell stories to showed me they are cool and exotic from their point of view. It was over before I relaized what was happening, and I was ushered off the stage, with more clapping and cheering.
I got the lowest scores of the evening (6.8, 8.0, 7.6), but it didn't really matter; the point was standing on stage and being part of the MOTH experience, and mainly having the guts to do it. Now the only thing that was left was to sit back and enjoy the rest of the evening.

Hagrid labeled story slams with the award-winning expression "creative competitive narcissism". Truer words have never been spoken. All the stories were fun, and the overall atmosphere of the event made us forget about time, and the cold outside. We enjoyed tales about boyfriends, breakups and booty calls; traumas from elementary school (who doesn't have those) and kickball. Our favorite (as far as Kata and I are concerned) was a guy called Bernie, who told us an adorable story about trying to sound smarter than his ex-girlfriends new guy. He almost won the slam, and we cheered our throats raw at the end. He was the best of the evening. The worst (apart from me with my scores, heh) was a woman who told us about her time as a teacher in Europe; somehow it just sounded... wrong. Her story came down to "European people are weird and they do things all wrong... everything is about Christmas with them, can you believe it?! And at Christmas, they sing songs about Jesus. How depressing. And they said bad things about Russians, which upset me, because I am Russian, my great-great-grandparents came from the Ukraine. I am proud that I am an American." Maybe she was doing it for purpose, but no one was entirely sure about it. Or maybe Europeans are just too sensitive about that stuff. Still, we had a great time quoting her as we walked home.

All in all, the whole Slam was an absolute success; at least now we know why people talk about the MOTH all the time. And why they stand in lines in the bitter New-York-in-January weather, and catch a cold and go back to Tennessee with a head full of snot. (Oh, maybe that's just me)
This was the very first event of the 13th MOTH year. Here is to hoping there will be many, many more, and that we will get to go to a whole bunch of them!

Happy New Year, everyone! :)

1 comment:

  1. Bravo! I'm so happy to be able to read about your experience with the MOTH slam! Wish I could have been a fly on the wall (how's that for an old expression!?)