Storytelling Breakdown

From the Old Blog - requested repost

As the Storytelling Jam has expanded over the course of the last couple of years and as the host of the Big Kahuna in town, I hear a LOT of personal stories.  Given that I love hearing (and telling) stories, this is far from a hardship and much closer to a true gift that I receive.  With folks like Scott Whitehair and Lily Be out there teaching, encouraging and proliferating more and more people bold enough to get up on stages throughout Chicago, stand in front of a microphone and bare their souls, I don't see the trend fading any time soon.

At first, it was difficult to classify the types of storytellers.  There were so few of us, it was just easier to know what a standard Stephanie D. story was (white girl goes to Third World country, encounters bizarre cultural misunderstanding, hilarity ensues), a typical Dana N. story was (white girl encounters horrible blind date, hilarity ensues), or a Whitehair story was (white guy gets caught up in misunderstanding and sadness permeates his Charlie Brown life) than actually classify them.  Obviously, in the early days, there were mostly white people telling the stories - thankfully, things have become more colorful in the past couple of years.

Now, there are so many fucking storytellers, classification is the only way to keep track.  There is, however, a bit of a spectrum to consider which the storytellers who manage the sweet spot, dead center, find the most success.

The Therapy Seekers (Far Left of the Spectrum)

These are the storytellers who tell us stories about how hard it has been to be them.  In their stories, it is obvious that it is they who are the victims of heartbreak or discrimination or abuse or loneliness.  Often, the trauma claimed in the stories is still relatively fresh and you, as the audience, is less there to enjoy and more there to bear witness.  You are now the therapists these yarn-spinners need - essentially silent, ending with applause, captive and faceless.

The Narcissists (Far Right of the Spectrum)

These are the self described heroes of their own stories.  Their tales revolve around sticky situations wherein they and they alone are the solvers of the problems laid out.  You are the mirror in which they gaze as you applaud their wherewithal and moxie.  Some may even come out with a bit of humblebrag as to throw you off the scent but make no mistake - these raconteurs are the heroes of their narrative.

The Comedians (Right of Center)

These are the tellers whose agenda is to simply get you to laugh.  Sometimes their stories are along the lines of crass and sometimes they are a long set up for a quick punchline at the end but it is your amusement they seek and your laughter they crave.

The Teachers (Left of Center)

They made mistakes and learned lessons and they are here to share both of them with you.  At their best, they weave a narrative that allows you in to the rationale for making the mistake so that the lesson is obvious.  At their worst, they present strident lessons that feel a bit like they see you as students.

The sweet spot is generally a mixture of two or more of these stereotypes.  The Teacher who makes you laugh.  The Therapy Seeker who offers a lesson.  My personal taste dictates that the far ends of the spectrum are the least interesting but everybody has their own taste as subjectivity is the name of the game.

Ultimately, I encourage everyone to get up onstage and share their story.  My best advice is don't be either the victim or the hero, make us laugh and show us you learned something from the experience.