Farewell to The Moth

I had heard of it but never attended. Brian Babylon had been hosting the Chicago story slam for about a year at the time at Matyrs’. Tyler Greene had been working at the radio station as a receptionist for a while and he grabbed me as I was heading to lunch. He told me they were opening a second slam at the Haymarket Pub & Brewery that night and I should come tell a story. He was the co-producer of the show and offered to comp me. The theme was “Firsts.” I halfheartedly said I might make it and went to eat.

As I thought about it, I decided I had a great “Firsts” story and why the hell not? I worked up the beats of the story and headed over. Babylon was hosting the first night and I told my story. It was fun. Exhilarating. Since leaving much of the theater world, it was the same rush of performance that I had missed. What set it apart were the stories. Raw. Unfiltered. Personal. Funny. Moving.

The next day, Tyler asked if I’d be interested in hosting. A week later, I received an email from The Moth in New York. I was the new host of the new slam.

In the nearly five years I’ve hosted The Moth (58 regular slams, 8 Grand slams and nearly 700 stories in that time) I’ve had a real ball. It’s always been fun working with Tyler and listening to all those stories. A few standout moments include:

• A cat who decided to Andy Kaufman the show by telling a completely outrageous story in a broken accent and refuse to stop talking after time had been called. I got him off the stage but caught him later, after the show, laughing with his friends sans accent.

• The night Steve Nelson came up and told a story about his father. Steve was an underwriter at the station and much later was stricken with cancer and passed away. His wife showed the video of his Moth performance at his memorial. His story and his delivery of it was the perfect way to remember Steve.

• My first Grand Slam at the Park West. The big question on everyone’s mind was whether or not the show needed a celebrity (both Peter Sagal and Brian had hosted them prior) to make it work. I was no celebrity and it was, according to a participant of several of them, the best Chicago Grand Slam in his recollection.

• Getting to be a participant in one of the Grand Slams and getting to tell a crowd of 800 people about getting engaged on the third date and the ring my mother had held onto for 35 years was destined to rest on my new fiancee’s finger. Later, some random construction worker running up to me while I was parking and yelling “Is that the ring? The one with the latin inscribed?” because he had been there that night and was moved by the story.

• Calling Nestor Gomez’s name over and over and watching him grow as a storyteller and become one of the show’s most celebrated tellers.

• Spending the last half of the doors open period convincing people to sign up and tell a story, seeing them get up onstage and shine as they realize how powerful a drug speaking to a rapt audience can be.

And the hundreds of stories. Stories that made me laugh so hard, Tyler would glare at me onstage. Stories so moving, it was hard to provide a solid segue into the next storyteller. Lots and lots of amazing stories.

After nearly five years hosting the best storytelling show anywhere at anytime, it’s time to move on. The Moth organization has decided, based on my public response to a recent melee of online harassment, that I am no longer an appropriate representative of the mission of the organization.

The bottom line comes down to this: during six weeks of being pilloried online and via text and email, I simply couldn’t sit still and just let it go. I certainly wish I heard this story much sooner but such is life. It’s a hard-earned lesson, that when attacked, in order to keep the peace the best practice is to lie down and take it. I wish I could say that it is a lesson I embrace but it is not. It is a lesson that tastes sour and bitter in my mouth and will likely remain so. A world that rewards taking abuse with grace is not a world I’m interested in participating in. That said, I hold no bitterness toward those within The Moth organization nor the storytellers nor the fans.

In addition to being released as host, I am no longer interested in participating in the storytelling “community” and I will miss seeing many of you and hearing your stories.

My deepest gratitude to Jenifer Hixson, Ellen LaCoste, Laureen Leeber, Kyle Hamman, Mikel Pickett, Joel Hoover, and the entire crew at Haymarket. Thanks to Brian Babylon, Amy Dickinson and Jill Hopkins, Nestor Gomez, Dianne Kastiel, Lawrence Wood, Paul Teodo, Annalise Raziq, Jim Padar, and the hundreds of other storytellers I’ve had the pleasure to share the stage with.

Mostly, a huge debt goes to Tyler Greene without whom I would not have had the privilege.

I started every single slam with the admonition that while we are each snowflakes, unique in every way with our individual crystalline natures, we are all just made of fucking snow. With the onslaught of identity politics and partisan bickering, I hope that is something people remember.

I closed every single slam with a quote: “If you want to change the world, have a meal with someone who doesn’t look like you.” — Chef Coco Winbush.

I hope you all go tell stories and listen to stories with someone who doesn’t look like you.

Let the victory dances commence.


Originally published at www.literateape.com.

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