THE SELFISH STORYTELLER
About two years ago I fell in love with telling true stories from my life. Not a big shock. I love talking about myself just as much if not more than the next guy.
Selfishly, I wanted a regular opportunity to get better at this thing that I had fallen in love with so I asked the Upright Citizens Brigade’s Artistic Director, Nate Dern, if he might be interested in an additional storytelling open mic to compliment John Flynn’s already uber popular Oh Hey Guys!
And one year ago, the first week of March 2013, Happy Hour Story Hour, a new weekly storytelling open mic began in the Hot Chicks Room, the bar space at UCB East hosted by me, Julia Wiedeman, a selfish, selfish woman.
Being selfish has been good for me this year: I have worked on a new story every week and seen hundreds of other people work on their stories, exposing me to a variety of different ways that people reveal their truths and providing me a deeper understanding of why we feel the need to tell stories at all.
I love telling my stories but I adore hearing your stories.
And when people come to the show, week after week, and honor me with exposing their process, I am emboldened. I get to witness people creating their art and sharing themselves and supporting other people doing the same and maybe I am being selfish, but I need that in my life; I need the weekly reminder that we do not do any of this alone.
I tell a new story every week whether or not the story is ready for public consumption because Happy Hour Story Hour is not for perfection but for perfecting. Maybe it is my improv training that accustomed me to not knowing exactly what will come next onstage or it is simply my refusal to let fear determine what I say out loud to friends or strangers, and either way I love working on stories in their infancy in front of the Happy Hour Story Hour audience so that they know this storytelling open mic is for fucking with and fucking up your work so that you can make it better. The only way we get better at anything is by doing it over and over and failing. If I start the show off with a undone story that is rough around the edges and maybe needs a bit more perspective, then each subsequent storyteller that dares to get behind the microphone and tell the crowd about a truth in their life that they learned something from knows that Happy Hour Story Hour is a place they can jump off the cliff, hit the rocks and not die.
No story is ever going to be “perfect”. Stories are living and breathing and change every time that we tell them. We can tell our stories better, illustrate the situation more clearly, find a more satisfying opening or ending, but there is no finished perfection. Most human beings are subject to moods depending on what they eat, how much money they have, regular or irregular sex, et al. How can we possibly tell the same story over again when the likelihood of being in exactly the same mood and place in our lives is impossible? My story about my friend Edward dying was about relationships ending until my friend Philip died recently and telling it became a study in grief. Time constantly passes so we are constantly gifted more perspective if we are willing to accept it.
Hosting Happy Hour Story Hour has given me perspective on the storyteller I once was. I still selfishly want to share my stories as often as possible, but I could not have dreamed that I would meet and get to know so many wonderful people. I have been allowed to share myself with an ever growing and ever supportive audience and they have shared right back. It is a wonderfully gross exchange of love and it has all happened in the bar of a comedy theatre! Of all places!
We have laughed and cried at stories, weathered lots of Monday storms, and raised our glasses in silence when we could not even process the tragedies at the Boston Marathon and Washington Navy Yard that happened just hours before show time. And when I could not be at the show I was lucky enough to book the best of the best to guest host and take the reigns for a night.
I have let storytellers go long (the older gay gentleman with the story of finding himself at a dark British sex club was too intriguing to stop). I have seen storytellers nervously jump off the mic just when their story seemed to be getting started (“…and thinking she was sitting on the toilet, my mother sat on top of my father!”) And experienced the wonderful happenstance of life on national holidays (the final person to be called to the stage on Martin Luther King Day had a heart wrenching story about racism in her family).
One of the most selfish things I have done during Happy Hour Story Hour is told stand-ups that they are not allowed to do stand-up at my storytelling open mic. Perhaps I am over protective of my show, but stand-ups have a multitude of open mics while storytellers have but 3 weekly opportunities (Happy Hour Story Hour, The Dump, and Split Personality). I would never dream of trying to tell a story at a stand-up open mic. And no matter how much you dress it up in a Birbiglia costume, I can tell you just got on my mic and tried out a bunch of jokes you have meticulously crafted. It is a fine line sometimes, but storytelling is about sharing an experience and not simply commenting on it. Obviously, be funny if you want to be funny, but tell me a story that changed you while you make me laugh. If you do stand-up at Happy Hour Story Hour I am going to let you have your 5 minutes like everyone else because your name got pulled from the bucket, but then I am going let you know you did not tell a story. Maybe you’ll feel embarrassed that I shamed you in front of the crowd so that everyone could learn from your mistake and if so, I honestly hope that you will come back and tell me that story.
Because the shit of it is, comedians are amazing storytellers when they decide to be and two of Happy Hour Story Hour’s most frequent storytellers are proof of that. Looking at you, Andrew and Lucas: funny and true and unafraid of the silence. Be vulnerable. It hurts so good.
I am proud that we average 11 storytellers a night in a one-hour show. I used to be proud that we got through all the names in the bucket, but as the show has gained popularity getting through all the names is impossible most weeks. But then, if your name is not called and you stay until the end, you are guaranteed to go first the next time you come. No other open mic gives you this opportunity. It’s like you have booked a show and you get to decide when it is!
I also love that because I make you write your name on a picture of my face instead of a slip of paper, each of you that have told a story have been forced to take a picture of me with you when you leave. Whether you throw it away or put it on your fridge or have it in the bottom of your purse for the next time you want to throw your name in the bucket, I am grateful for your humoring my ego and withstanding my old headshots.
If you are a returning or new to the show I hope you will join us in the second year of Happy Hour Story Hour. Thank you to every single one of the people who have shared their lives. I am filled with over dramatic love for you when you work out your work at a storytelling open mic I started one year ago for very selfish reasons.
EVERY MONDAY 6:30pm at UCB East, Hot Chicks Room
Pictured: Stephen Chupaska and Julia Wiedeman
Photo credit: Ben Whitehouse
Time zoomed by and it has been a whole year of your stories! Come celebrate tomorrow night at 6:30pm at UCB East! I am baking cookies for the show as I write this. I cannot wait to see you all!!!
Shows and shows and shows.
Working on the stories you don’t even know are inside your head! We will work together to get them out!
If you never got to see the show in it’s long run at UCB NYC or in LA that one time or when it was in the Women in Comedy Fest last year, you can see it now in the comfort of your own home!
It’s the full length NAKED PEOPLE.
Written and Performed by Julia Wiedeman
Directed by Angela Dee
Filmed by Alex Adan
Cameos from Ben Rameaka, Ann Carr, Tim Dunn, Corey Brown, Keisha Zollar, Nicole Byer, Seth Herzog, Shannon O’Neill, Shannon Taing, Shannon Coffey, Elise Link, Jack Perry, David Crabb, Marshall Stratton, Stephen Michael Rondel, Damon Cardasis, Susan Gardner, and DJ Jess!
My friend Lisa hosts a little radio show on the internet and there are so many wonderful interviews! Happy to have the opportunity to share my voice amongst the other brilliant stories!