So, what do you get when you cross a poetry slam and an open mic night at a comedy club? Probably something terrible that will bring shame to all involved. Thankfully, though, this is not what happens during a recent Moth StorySLAM. Yes, the increasingly popular public radio program has come to Detroit. And the Wonder Twins were on hand for the first ever Detroit Moth StorySLAM!
Laura: I knew this Moth thing was going to be popular, but when we got to Cliff Bell's and saw the line wrapped around the building, I thought maybe there was going to be a Terry Gross striptease to a live set by Feist or something.
D'Anne: Yes, theMoth StorySLAM is more popular than I ever would have guessed. I've been to poetry slams before, and there sure as hell weren't people lined up to get in.
Laura: Of course before we could even get in the long line, we had to park the car.
D'Anne: And you, of course, totally scammed the parking lot attendant.
Laura: I don't think "scammed" is the right term — he's the one charging $10 for a parking spot. It's not my fault he didn't have change for a twenty. He's lucky we were able to scrounge together $9.80!
D'Anne: I liked the part where he begrudgingly took your money and then grumbled, "Lock up your car." It sounded like a warning.
Laura: Oh, it was. The doors were supposed to open at 7 but we were still waiting in line at 7:30.
D'Anne: Cliff Bell's was at capacity. We were some of the last people let in. A lot of people had to be turned away.
Laura: Good thing public radio listeners aren't prone to rioting.
D'Anne: They probably went home and wrote angry letters.
Laura: Once we got inside, there was no place to sit. There was hardly any place to stand, either.
D'Anne: We grabbed a spot in the back in front of the sound guy. And you hastily explained to me how the StorySLAM was going to work.
Laura: Right. Each StorySLAM has a theme, which is announced beforehand. This night's theme was "Firsts." People who want to tell their stories put their name in a hat. The host randomly picks the first name and things get started. Each storyteller has five minutes to tell their story, which is then judged by three teams of judges. There are 10 readers in all.
D'Anne: I have to admit, I was prepared to see folks bomb.
Laura: Well, I have more faith in the people of my city than you then because I was ready for some great stories.
D'Anne: I've been to more open mic poetry and comedy nights than you have. I have seen and heard terrible things. Terrible things that haunt me.
Laura: The host of the first ever Detroit StorySLAM was Dan Kennedy, who hosts the New York City StorySLAMs. He introduced the three judging teams, who, when naming their teams, obviously adhered to the SLAM's theme of "firsts."
D'Anne: They did?
Laura: Yes. The team names were the First Amendments, the Adam and Eves, and the Virgins.
D'Anne: That was totally lost on me. I was wondering why all of the names were so dumb. Speaking of virgins, I totally thought that since the theme was "Firsts," we were going to hear the after stories about "my first time."
Laura: You mean stories about menstruation?
D'Anne: Um, yes. That's exactly what I mean. I'm glad we were spared. What we did hear were stories about a first kiss, a first time asking a boy out, a first time almost shooting a childhood friend through a bathroom door…
Laura: That was a good story, but I hope it wasn't really a first, like, "The next time I tried to shoot a friend through the bathroom door, I succeeded!"
D'Anne: Well, success is relative. Who are you to judge?
Laura: We also heard about a first spanking.
D'Anne: Wait, spankings? I don't remember that.
Laura: Remember, the guy who smashed all the Coke bottles when he was a kid with his brother?
D'Anne: Oh, yeah. Of course. I'm sorry, but when you said "spankings," my mind went somewhere else.
Laura: Shame on you.
D'Anne: The crowd was so into it, though. A bar full of people is the last place where you'd expect to find an attentive audience for storytelling. Usually at shows, you can't get people to shut the fuck up.
Laura: Considering this was the first ever SLAM in Detroit, I wasn't really sure how the judging would work. I thought for the most part, they'd be like, "10! Everyone gets a 10!" But I would say the judges were encouraging and fair.
D'Anne: Except for the Virgins. When they gave that lady a 3.5, everybody booed.
Laura: I thought that score was harsh. The other teams gave her an 8.5 and a 9. Maybe the Virgins have a personal vendetta against her.
D'Anne: She had a good story too. There were parts that were laugh-out-loud funny, even. I noticed that the Virgins gave much higher scores near the end. I think by then the booze made them more generous.
Laura: After the first five stories, there was an intermission. And that's when you wrote a note to the woman at the table in front of us and asked her to order you a glass or water.
D'Anne: I was desperately thirsty and there was no getting near the bar. And the waitstaff didn't at all attempt to serve those who were standing. But she was really nice about it and it got me my glass of water!
Laura: You should thank her.
D'Anne: I did thank her.
Laura: No, right here. Publicly. In the Metro Times. Propose marriage.
D'Anne: I don't want to marry her! Also I am already married.
Laura: I noticed she talked to her friend about Lost for the entire intermission.
D'Anne: I have never seen Lost. See? Things would never work out with her.
Laura: The second half started off with a sad story.
D'Anne: Yeah. Up until then, people seemed to be aiming for funny. Not that sad is a bad thing.
Laura: That's part of the appeal of StorySLAM. The aim is to tell a great story, not just make people laugh.
D'Anne: Her story was about losing her sister and it was really moving. I have an idea. How about you never hang yourself so that I don't have to ever tell a story about seeing your body in the morgue? I'd much rather tell people about the time you got a Freshmint Tic Tac stuck in your nasal passage.
Laura: And I'd rather tell the story about the time you shaved off your eyebrow.
D'Anne: It was only part of my eyebrow. And it grew back.
Laura: Still! The story that ultimately won the StorySLAM, though, was about purple ink, onion skin paper and White Shoulders perfume.
D'Anne: It was also about love, writing poems and how the storyteller wrote his first book.
Laura: It was so good even the Virgins gave it a 10.
D'Anne: I give the Virgins a 3.5.
Laura: Anyway, I can see why the Moth has gotten so popular. Where else can you hear stories about waterskiing, busted-up Pintos, nuns in jail, prison fashion shows, taking your parents with you on your first date, and rhyming "orange juice" with "syringe use" outside of, say, a group therapy session?
D'Anne: Maybe at a Greyhound bus station.
Laura: True. Well, I'm really looking forward to this series, although I don't know what they'll do if the turnout continues to be as strong as it was this time around. Hopefully, they'll at least rearrange the room to better accommodate the crowd.
D'Anne: And if the topic should ever be "embarrassing things about your sister," you can bet I'll be putting my name in the hat!
Laura: Oh, and you can bet I'll do the same.
The Moth Detroit StorySLAM is on the first Thursday of each month at Cliff Bell's, 2030 Park St. Detroit; 313-961-2543. The next topic is "Blunders."