How the Stink of Competition Betrays the Spirit of The Moth

As a veteran five-year host of The Moth I saw hundreds of storytellers get up on that postage stamp stage at the Haymarket Pub and bare their souls.  The spirit of the thing is, as they tell all hosts to emphasize, "real people not professionals."  No notes, no preparation, just a spontaneous telling of stories in a slam format.

The idea is quite lovely.  Random people inspired by a theme, getting up in front of a microphone and spinning a tale off the top of their heads.  The slam concept is a way to keep things moving and to provide a sense of audience participation and stake.  Lifted from the Marc Smith Poetry Slam ideal, the competition is for show and the telling of stories from the uninitiated is the point.

Unfortunately, the bizarre nature of the competition and the nature of being seen as a winner (based upon the most subjective and ever-changing criteria of three teams of judges whose only qualification is that they've seen the show before) has begun to genuinely overtake the spirit of egalitarianism baked into the model.

Sometime around the closing end of my first year as host, I came to the other Moth at Martyrs' and there weren't enough tellers.  I signed up to round out the roster and won the slam.  At this point, an odd rule was explained.  In spite of the fact that I was a host, by winning at the other show, I was invited to compete in the next Grand Slam (a show in front of a far larger audience and with time to prepare the stories.)  It didn't seem quite fair but I decided to compete.  This happened a couple of times and by the time I'd competed in three Grand Slams, I decided it wasn't really fair or in keeping with the spirit of the event so I stopped competing altogether.

As time wound on, the competition became real for some folks.  Tellers like Lydia Lucio used the "Moth Slam Winner" and "Moth Grand Slam Winner" as badges of legitimacy and celebrity to support both their own non-Moth storytelling shows and for invites to perform all around town.  Soon, as the currency of winning became more tangible, more seasoned storytellers kept showing up and putting their names in the bag, slowly edging out the regular people telling for their first time.

As the franchise expanded, some of these performers were given opportunities to guest host.  This chance was seen by many as a move up the Moth food chain as hosts actually get paid $100 per show.  In Lydia's case, her sloppy, self aggrandizing style did not fit the show and when she was not hired on as a regular host, her competitive bitterness grew.  Eventually, after using the capital of being a winner and being featured on the national podcast to further her career with local theater companies and being hired to teach at an international institution, she went ballistic. She decided to brand the Moth organization was an instrument of white supremacy rather than accept her lack of focused hosting skills.

Today, we have storytellers who have won regular slams so many times, who have found the formula within which they craft their stories, that the Grand Slams have become a competition of the same faces telling stories that have started to sound more and more alike.

To be fair, I'm torn by this dilemma.  In the case of Nestor Gomez, because I genuinely like the man and enjoy his stories, the fact that he has won 12 regular slams and two Grand Slams doesn't seem to bother me (although eventually there will be a Grand Slam of Nestor telling ten different stories...)  On the other hand, James Gordon has won eight slams and because I personally find him to be a loudmouthed shitstain, I wish there was a rule about how many times one can win before being benched for a few months.

Ultimately, it isn't my problem to solve.  No longer a part of The Moth and with little desire to attend the show as a civilian, I can look at my time as host and know that my priority was always about new tellers taking that stage and discovering the power of telling a true, personal story for an audience hungry to hear it.

For that spirit of non-competitive love of the stories, I can go to any number of events throughout the city.  If I want to hear Bobo tell one of his four stories he tells and retells, I know exactly where to find him.