Story Slam - 10/28/08 @ L'Etage - Philly, PA

I saw an ad for one of these "story slams" earlier in the year and thought it sounded like something I might want to do. I love stories and I love telling them, and while some who will remain nameless often roll their eyes at me when I begin to tell a 20-minute tangential marathon, many people have told me I'm good at it. It took awhile for me to remember to look up some info about the event, and when I finally did I found out a couple things: 1) they occur monthly and are "themed", and 2) they are actually competitions. The competition part kinda threw me for a loop - I don't like being judged much, but on the other hand, I would love to win the damn thing. It's a dilemma. I was a little bummed about the theme part, too - until I saw that the last one of the season was "Strange Coincidence". The favorite thing that has happened to me that I enjoy telling people about is the fact that I dated two girls in high school/college who ended up finding out they were half-sisters after I had dated them. Their father also happened to catch me in bed with one of them and let me live. The details about those events that have to do with my weird, obsessive personality make it even funnier. So I thought that would be perfect, and Steph and I made plans to attend.

I'd never been to a slam before, but had read about it a little bit online (they're put on by First Person Arts) and sorta knew what to kinda expect. I'd never been to the venue before, either, and here's a picture of the stage. It was super dark and this picture sucks, but it's the only shot we got of the night. The camera was giving Steph trouble when I went on and all of hers were black. Luckily, a fantastic website called videotapes all of the slams and puts all of the stories online, for free. I videotaped it myself, too, of course, but their's was much better. I grabbed a boatload of video-captures of it so I could have "pictures", and that's where the rest of these come from...

You can link to it either here (viddler) or here (youtube).

They put all the storytellers' names in a bucket and randomly draw the order, and of course it's my first time ever being at one and I get picked first. Great.

The host changes each month and this month's guy was hilarious - very funny and disarming. But he made sure to give the judges strict instructions to deduct points for going over in time (my downfall, for sure) and to be tough on the first storyteller because you don't want to give great scores to the first one and then have nowhere to go if there's another one that is better than the first. You need room to adjust future scores. Makes sense, right?

In addition to the time rule, and the rule of truth, you also cannot use notes. I brought a calendar with me as a prop and was sure to mention before I started my story that I only had it for use as a visual aid. I also mentioned about 30 seconds in that it was my first time there and I was nervous and sweating bullets. A lady up front said "hey, it's ok!"

So I kinda stammered a bit trying to remember what came next in my story, because I didn't really "rehearse" much. I didn't want it to sound too rehearsed, but I also was pretty sure I wasn't going to have enough time to get all the stuff in that I wanted to say.

I left out some very good bits, like the fact that the time we got caught having sex, I put a "II.5" (meaning 2 and 1/2) on that date in my calendar, in counting the times we'd done the deed - and it was only 1/2 since we didn't finish. I also left out that Tina also worked at Ponderosa while we dated, where Stan (the unnamed friend who set me up on the blind date) had also worked before, with Missy and I.

I thought that I had appeared much more nervous and rambly than I actually did (after I saw the tape), and was mostly relieved when it was over. I really rushed through the end to get it done, and didn't expect great scores. They were fairly nice to me and I got a couple of good marks. The 3rd judge (who had come WITH two of the other storytellers!) was a little more harsh. I think I got a couple 9's and a couple 7's (you get two scores per judge for content and presentation). They were good enough for the lead halfway through!

There was an intermission and then the rest of the stories (they only do a max of 10 per show). They were actually short a couple storytellers and had to solicit for more from the audience. One lady volunteered and didn't even really tell a story - she just reenacted something that happened to her at a party or something, where you play a game to find someone who shares your birthday - and the first person she asked for who had a January birthday ended up sharing it with another guy in the audience (a live coincidence!) and she stopped there. I thought it was kinda bogus but she got great scores (better than mine).

They weren't good enough to beat the eventual winner, a guy curiously named "Tree", and his story was concise and pretty funny and under the time limit (and so noted by the host) and he got a spot at the end-of-the-year Grand Slam, where the previous 10 monthly winners compete for the "Greatest Storyteller In Philadelphia" title.

There was another guy who told a decent story about buying thrift store shirts with monograms and running into the guy whose initials were on the shirt (while he was wearing it!), which I didn't think was better than mine but he was probably a little more composed, and I believe he scored better than me. I'm pretty sure I got knocked down to 4th overall.

There was a cute girl named Rose who had a great story about finding a dead body because someone robbed her and threw her stuff in the dead guy's yard down the street; they caught the guy and he was showing her where he threw her stuff, with the cops - and they discovered her neighbor had died because he had no next of kin and his mail had piled up in the door, which they opened when they tried to get ahold of him. She was fun. Somehow she ended up with lower scores than me.

It was weird - I wasn't all that into getting judged but I found myself really wishing I would win the stupid thing. Unfortunately, it takes a little of the fun out of it - you could tell people were really disappointed when they got bad scores (some of them even left early, knowing they weren't going to win).

I unconsciously touch myself (rub, scratch, etc.) a lot apparently when I'm nervous and telling a story. See below for more.

There's the 1992 calendar - I literally found it in a box at my mom's house about 6 months before the slam. I was having a blast remembering all that stupid shit that I wrote in it. It's those little things that make that story, I think. Gives it some authenticity.

I had no idea if people in the audience could see what I was pointing to on the calendar, but God bless the cameraman who zoomed in on it for the video - you could see it plain as day!

Someone at First Person Arts even blogs about the story slams, live, as they're happening... at, which is apparently some kind of social network/live blogging site of some kind. I had never heard of it until very recently. Anyhoo... here's what they said about me: "Chris, our first storyteller: he's working at Ponderosa. He has the 1992 calendar with his deflowering circled with notation ML for "made love" - 05:03 PM October 28, 2008 from txt" - though the time is obviously wrong (original post in its contextual entirety is here).

They pick a whole new theme for the Grand Slam, and if I had actually won I would have had to tell a story about "Chumps and Champs". I thought for sure they would have the winners tell their winning stories - that makes sense, right? Nope. It's more about your abilities as a teller, not necessarily the story - you have to be able to pull another one out if you want to win the title. I don't know if I could have done that.

But I have a few more doozies I could probably make into something good, so I'll keep an eye out on next year's themes and see if we can't make another appearance. It was a good time, the people at First Person Arts are really nice folks, and I would love to support them at future events. Check 'em out.