StorySlam - 3/24/09 @ L'Etage - Philly, PA

On stage, in slot #5, from the rear (my best side). Photo by Anna Thomas.

Well, well. Technically my 3rd slam, but only my 2nd time actually getting picked out of the bucket to tell a story (I went to this year's first one but didn't get "the call"; check out my previous StorySlam experience if you're not familiar). They're run by First Person Arts, a fabulous organization dedicated to memoir and documentary arts. I've been documenting shit since I was 15, so I eat it up. After a lot of fumbling around for my train of thought the first time around, I came much more prepared for this one. I must have rehearsed my story 20 times after I fully typed it out (and edited it down, and down... and still went over time) so it was well-ingrained in my brain - and even still, I left out a couple small key things I wanted to say and inserted a few things I had never before uttered and had no intention of mentioning! I was still a bit nervous but much less than before, mostly due to my heavy preperation. And here's how it went down...


Hell yeah, I won that fucker! I got great scores - two 10s, 9.9, 9.75 and two 9s. I also had the good fortune of following a couple of people who kinda meandered and didn't really have their shit together. After the Strange Coincidence slam back in the fall, where I got pretty good scores, I had convinced myself I had a shot at actually winning one. (Ironically, I was initially really put off by the fact that you got "judged" and there was a "winner"... then I found myself really wanting to win. I know.) So I heavily prepared and came ready to rock.

(Side note #1 - one of the judges from the slam was at a concert at World Cafe Live that Steph and I attended the weekend after the slam, and she came up to me and said "this may sound like a weird question, but did you have a run-in with a mailbox when you were younger?" Then we both laughed as I recognized her and she said "I was one of your judges! Great story, by the way.")

Steph actually almost veto'd my mentioning she was pregnant so early on - at that point we hadn't really told any of our friends or my parents! (I would later find out that she HAD told a bunch of HER friends!) I was somehow able to convince her that our pal Anna Thomas could be trusted to keep the secret until we were ready to spill. (Anna came along [with her dad!] to check out the slam and help me document it by taking photos and video. She and her dad had a super swell time, and want to go back). I actually think the second thing I told her after she told me she was pregnant was "you know, you just won me the StorySlam". I was sort of kidding, but it sure seemed like the perfect poetic capper to my story. She'd even received her blood work results from the doctor the day of the slam, medically confirming that she was, in fact, preggars.

(Side note #2 - My man Matt from work was also supposed to be in attendance and was looking forward to the slam experience, but his eyeball malfunctioned whilst at work [I totally bailed him out and took over the gorilla routine, much to my dismay] and he was unable to attend. He severely regrets the error... in his eyeball.)

One new thing this year for the StorySlams is the audience vote. In addition to the judges' scores, which determine the winner, everyone in attendance gets to vote with their own scores and thereby chooses a collective "audience favorite" (the ballot also serves as a prize raffle entry - I just use mine to keep track of who's winning). The audience favorite then gets a chance to get invited to the GrandSlam, as well. And I am relieved and thrilled to say I was also the audience favorite! Here's what the First Person Arts blog had to say when they posted my video:

Once again, the audience voting matched the judges' at Tuesday night's "On My Street" StorySlam. Chris Oberlin's story unfolds in a cul-de-sac on Hiawatha Place in a subdivision called The Indian Village, so it stands to reason the story involves an ambush. But here the culprit is a mailbox. Chris earns an invitation to the GrandSlam at the 2009 First Person Festival of Memoir and Documentary Art. Here's his winning story. Watch to the end for a very special delivery.

They still Twitter during the slams, too, and here's what they had to say about me:
Another cul de sac in a native american themed subdivision. Mailbox meet balls! Crowd is loving this.
And our winner, with his resilient balls...chris! Thanks for coming everyone. See you April 18th (posted the Thursday after)
Tuesday night's StorySlam winner (AND audience favorite) Chris Oberlin:

AND I got to be interviewed by the CityPaper!! (they're a StorySlam sponser) It wasn't actually in the paper, but they posted it online in their staff blog, as part of the promotion for the next slam under the headline "First Person Artsí March 24 StorySlammer, on the unfortunate incident of the mailbox in the nut sack". Dig the interview! I'm an avid CP reader, so that was an unexpected tangential honor and thrill. I'm long winded though, and they did edit my responses just a bit - so if you're into full disclosure, you can read my entire answers right over here. There was a little write-up from the interviewer, Carolyn Huckabay, and she said this: "Haha, you hit your balls." That's the first thing Chris Oberlin remembers hearing after running waist-first into a mailbox as a child - he was racing his buddies back to his house, and encountered an obstacle that'd forever stay fresh in his memory. Chris' "On my Street" StorySlam win last month at L'Etage got roaring laughs from the audience, the male members of which likely cringing at his tale of what he calls "absolute pain" - and its colorful aftermath. "Have you ever shut your finger in a car door and you get a blood blister?" Chris asked. You know where that's going. Oof. Despite his adult fear that the mailbox incident would "affect the viability of his seed," Chris ended his story on a positive note. [I especially enjoyed the addition of the picture of a mailbox and the caption "ball-breaker". - CO]

I also found that a bunch of people who viewed my story on YouTube got there via a blogger named David Speers. He posted my video on his blog,, and said this: "Is Philly's own Story Slam the most genuine form of entertainment? . . . I think so :-) " - Thanks, Dave!

In an email from FPA's Andrew Schwalm (marketing & communications man), he said... "Thanks again for coming out and telling a story last week, and congratulations on your victory - both with the judges and in a landslide on the audience-voting sheets! Looking forward to seeing what you come up with for the GrandSlam in November. And congratulations on your impending fatherhood! I'm pretty sure that's the most dramatic pronouncement we've ever had on the StorySlam stage. It was a perfect coda to the story." Sweet! Very nice.

They occasionally invite previous winners to either be a guest storyteller or host future slams... and I was hoping they might, and they did! I admitted I had some story ideas for future slams, and said I would like to guest for the "Odd Jobs" slam in April, since I had some good zoo stuff to talk about. So I did indeed do the very last slot of the slam (2nd guest of the night) and I went way, way over time. heh. Check it out. I may even host a slam later this summer, too. And I will see you at the GrandSlam in November - where I will compete for the somewhat cheeky title of "Best Storyteller in Philadelphia"!


This was all well and good and exciting... until not even two weeks after the slam, Steph had a miscarriage. What a sucker punch (to the balls). Maybe I jinxed it. Kind of a major bummer, but we'll get her knocked up again real quick-like.