Slammed at the Moth Story Slam

If you’ve never heard of the Moth Story Slam here’s what it is:

Awesome.

Every month Cliff Bell’s in downtown Detroit hosts this fantastic little competition MC’d by the hilarious Alex Trajano of WDET. The idea is people from the audience throw their name in a hat and ten people are chosen to tell a story. The story must relate to the theme of that night, have a beginning, middle and end, and be told in five minutes. Teams of judges are chosen from the audience and the storyteller awarded the most points wins. This goes on monthly for a year and Slam winners then compete in the GrandSlam.

A wonderful, generous friend of mine donated to WDET, which sponsors the Slam, and was given VIP seats for a year. VIP seats are important when Cliff Bell’s gets filled to fire-safety-regulated capacity every Slam night. My friend invited me to go to this month’s March Slam and I took her up on it with enthusiasm. If you don’t hold VIP seats you best get down to CB’s early if you don’t want to stand the whole night. The Slam starts at seven-thirty, we were there by five, and it was already crowded to standing room only.

The theme for March was animals. I love animals. I like talking about animals. I have a few stories about them. My friend finds these stories amusing and encouraged me to put my name in the hat. So I did.

I used to do theater in high school. I very much enjoy karaoke. I’m not scared of crowds. There’s always a bit of an adrenaline rush, but other than that I can get up, do my thing and feel pretty okay with it, performance quality aside.

I didn’t think it would happen, but crazily, my name got picked out of the hat. My friend was excited for me, and I was suddenly struck with a mild panic.

You see, the stories aren’t supposed to be rehearsed, but they announce the theme a month in advance. People have plenty of time to come up with a story and/or decide if they want to spend an evening listening to stories on that theme. I had a funny story in my mind organized into a beginning, middle and end that I practiced a couple times just to figure out the timing. They blow a whistle every minute you go over the allotted time and I wanted to be sure I could practice proper etiquette.

So my name got picked. I got up. I was blinded by spotlights and immediately went into my story. It was about monkeys being too violent and sexy for children at the zoo. The thing was, in my mild panic I inadvertently abandoned my plan. My mouth went on automatic and it told the animal stories I meant to tell, but without a beginning, middle and end. I can’t remember hearing laughter or not.

Another important thing about the Story Slam: It’s for stories, not stand-up. They don’t want you going up there and telling a bunch of jokes. There are comedy clubs for that. However, it would seem my default setting for public storytelling is to tell it a bit like stand-up routine, only not quite as funny as real comic.

When I was done I went back to my seat, not entirely satisfied with the way I told my story, but happy I had the experience.

Then it was time for the judges to sound off. I had, somehow, completely forgotten about the scoring part of the slam. I was the third person to go up and received the lowest score up to that point. I was there to have fun and hear hysterical stories, but I will admit there was a part of me that hoped someone else would get a lower score by the end of the Slam. No such luck. I stayed at the bottom the rest of the night.

There were a lot of people in that place, and I like to think there were at least a few people who found my tales of the murderous mandrill, sexy bonobos and a masturbating chimpanzee mildly entertaining. In fact, a lady came up to me during intermission to tell me she thought I was robbed, that she really liked my story. The thing was, thinking back over how I ended up telling it, I wasn’t that happy with it. I had a better way of telling that story. I suddenly thought of other stories I could have told better. My tale didn’t have a beginning, middle and end, and it had the air of stand-up about it, which is probably why it scored so low. Another possible disadvantage is that, being one of the first few people up there, the judges weren’t as drunk as they could/might have been/probably were by the second half, but thems the breaks.

It was still an amazingly fun time. The other nine stories were all entertaining and the experience was one I will always remember. Still, I’d like to have just one more crack at it.

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