Heterocera, or The Moth

Having failed miserably to keep up with my poetry project after only ten days (cf. previous posts), I would like to take on another—less laborious but, to my mind, more rewarding—project. Just read on…

Everything is possible in New York City, even such an amazing undertaking as The Moth. The Moth is a platform for storytelling in front of a live audience. It is somewhat like stand-up comedy, only different. People do get up on a stage but they do not necessarily talk about funny things, though often they do. (That sentence didn’t make a whole lot of sense just now…) It is always only one person on stage who tells a story for about fifteen minutes. In fact, quite a number of these stories can be considered jokes, only with very elaborate setups. Many storytellers are of the more or less famous kind.

I came across The Moth about six weeks ago through Malcolm Gladwell’s blog, and fell in love with it immediately. Gladwell told a story there once about the early stages of his career at the Washington Post. NPR’s show “This American Life” picked it up recently and he reacted to people’s reactions to that story (part of this reminded me of Orson Welles’s “War of the Worlds” stunt from 1938). His rather short and scarce remarks naturally attracted my attention and I ended up listening to it.

Let me tell you, it was one of the better decisions of my life. Gladwell, who is a staff writer for The New Yorker magazine, is a genius on the page. I grant him that. But he is even more of a genius when it comes to the stage. His voice, his intonation, the subject matter were perfect; not to mention his timing for the numerous punch lines. I can really picture this crazy-looking man (“crazy” in a good way) (see photo) on stage, wildly gesticulating, all the while drawing his audience more and more into his obnoxious story. He did quite a number on me, and I only listened him. I do not want to think about my reactions had I actually been there.

So I was hooked to this Moth thing right away and was rather pleased when I found out that they also offer a podcast with one new and unabridged story per week (subscribe to podcast via iTunes or via alternative feed readers).

What is most intriguing about each story is that one never knows for sure whether it is a tall tale or the rendition of actual events which the storyteller has encountered. Well, most of the time it is not clear. Sometimes it is painfully obvious, actually. And at other times, one dearly hopes that it never really happened. Additionally and to my delight, many of these stories are quite explicit in their use of language, but very effectively so.

So from now on, I want to post about these amazing little stories and also offer audio streams of them, so you can listen to them right here without necessarily having to download the MP3s. As is my compulsion, I will do this chronologically and offer one or two stories every (other) day until we are caught up, and then talk about the most recent story each week.

Elna Baker will hit it off and the Malcolm Gladwell story will follow right away. After having just talked about it, I feel I cannot leave you hanging like this until tomorrow.

Elna Baker, “Yes Means Yes?”

Elna Baker is a twenty-something mormon living in 21st-century New York City, which has got to be the one place you do not want to live in when you are a mormon, except for Las Vegas maybe. She tells the story of how she met a really great guy with whom she wanted to have sex but could not. How he reacted to that. How they both coped with her being mormon. (She starts to say “Yes” to literally everything.) And so on. During the first few minutes, she seems to be somewhat annoying, especially with the religiousness looming above. But she gets the hang of it, wins over the audience, and delivers a very solid and diverse story in the end.

Is this a true story or a tall tale? What do you think?

Malcolm Gladwell, “Perverse and Often Baffling”

As I have said before, this one is about Gladwell’s adventures as a freshman reporter at the Washington Post. First and foremost it is about a contest he established with one of his colleagues. They competed about who could put certain phrases into the paper most often (“perverse and often baffling” was one of them). This is ridiculously funny, worth every second of it, and to date the best story I have heard coming from The Moth’s stage.

According to Gladwell himself, this is “just” a tall tale (none of the articles that he claims to have published in the Post have ever appeared in there). But I would still like to consider the idea that it is true and how fact and fiction might change the way you look at this story (and of course all the others), and vice versa.

Discuss away in the comments.

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3 thoughts on “Heterocera, or The Moth

  1. “I took off my vagina and put it in the broom closet. Which is like [inaudible] every time you go to church, I guess.”

    Classic. Thanks for the link.

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