You write speeches for a living. What does that have in common with storytelling?
It has a lot in common, and I would love to put stories in all the speeches and presentations that I write. But I always have to think about my client, the person that is going to read the speech, and some of them don’t feel comfortable with stories. In those cases I prefer not to use storytelling. My objective is always to make them look good, and I learned that for that to happen it has to feel natural. First I analyze them and try to improve on their natural talents. Then, with more experience, we include storytelling.Read More
Andy Christie’s writing has appeared in The New York Times and in the Thomas Beller anthology Lost and Found: Stories from New York. He is a Moth GrandSlam Champion and has been featured on the Peabody Award–winning Moth Radio Hour, WFUV’s CityScape and WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show. His humor collection, I Wasn’t Kidding, was published in the U.S. and the U.K. by Random House. Consequently his work can be found on remainder shelves spanning two continents. He is creator and host of The Liar Show. He appeared in Story League's first show at the Kennedy Center in 2014 and at our show at DC Improv in 2015.
Please tell us how The Liar Show got started, and what the secret to its longevity is.
I guess the secret behind the show hanging around for so long is the same as mine. It can’t take a hint. Actually, I’m amazed and so thrilled it’s lasted thanks to all the great storytellers onstage and a gratifying mix of loyal fans and total strangers in the audience at every show.
Our out-of-town performances—Edinburgh; New Orleans, LA—are a blast, but the real heart of the show beats downstairs at the landmark Village club, Cornelia Street Café. They’ve hosted us for nine years, after about a year at The People’s Improv Theater (PIT), where we started. I had done a couple of monologues at the PIT and they asked for another, which I didn’t have—who has three monologues? So I said “How about this?” That’s how Liar happened. Necessity begets invention.
I think people come because it’s just a very simple concept and people love to nail a liar. It’s like you're a parent and all the people in the show are your no-account kids trying to get away with murder. And the interrogation is just, well, really fun! Everyone, cast and audience, gets to be the funniest person in the room. We were also lucky enough to get some nice press early on and and Cornelia has its own following, which helps. When we started there, I was a little intimidated by the club’s landmark status. I felt like we were really lowering the cultural bar. Then I remembered their audiences were fans of jazz and poetry. And those people will listen to anything.
Have you done both stand-up and story before? If no, what made you cross over for this show? If yes, what is the most interesting similarity or difference between the two genres?
I’ve never done pure stand-up because I’m not crazy. But I’ve always loved funny stories—hearing them and telling them. Who doesn’t? But at many storytelling shows, where stories are as likely to be heartbreaking as hilarious, the audience is so supportive and so into the storytelling scene that I can’t help but wonder if they’re laughing because they’re having a great time or because they’re just nice people. “Aww, look at him up there talking like a Big Boy.”
After my first Moth story, host Andy Borowitz asked if I was a stand-up comic. He was just being polite, but I realized I was much happier to hear, “Are you a comedian?” than, “Are you in therapy?” I liked the sound of your Story League show because it sets the expectations at “Funny.”
What would you most like to see change about the stand-up or story scenes?
I’d like to see all the downtown and Brooklyn shows relocate into my lobby on the Upper West Side. Thank you.
OK, tell us more specifically about the NYC story scene—besides that there's a variety of kinds of shows and lots of them, we know that already. Give us some dirt.
I can’t give you dirt. I mean, there is dirt, I just can’t give it to you. But yes, there are an infinite number of story-themed shows on any given night in NY. The scene has gradually changed from the time I first became involved. (Not my fault.) It began as a rediscovery of the pre-digital, pre-texting, pre-Following and -Liking idea that people can talk to each other; that everyone has a story to tell, and given a few minutes of quiet attention, both the audience and the storyteller can sort of flash back to a time when talking and listening were entertaining and, I hate to say this, enriching. So it was mainly “civilians”—short order cooks, architects, cops—getting up to share what happened to them that one time in that place. I loved it. People did it so they could go to work the next morning and tell the receptionist how they came in third at this weird storytelling thing, The Moth at Nuyorican Café, or heard someone talk about her Cesarean section at Speakeasy in the West Village.
I still love the scene, but it has transformed itself from one about craft and tradition into one about performance, like folk guitar in the '60s, stand-up in the '80s or, I don’t know, nothing in the '90s. It seems to be less about the stories and more about the storytellers. And the expectation onstage has evolved from, “They're listening?!” to “ Make them listen." That’s totally fine, and it’s still an amazing community. It’s just different from what made me fall in love with it. Also, whatever happened to covered wagons and the Foxtrot?
Is it possible to teach someone to be funny, or is it just in-born (or not)?
Of course anyone can be funny. I once saw a guy on Broadway walk right into a lamppost while he was texting. He was funny.
What’s the best advice you ever received from a more experienced performer?
“If things don’t go well onstage, remember: For you this is a big deal. For the audience it’s just 10 minutes wasted. They’ll get over it.”
Who was it?
I think Ophira Eisenberg said that to talk me off a ledge after a particularly unfortunate performance The Bitter End.
If you could meet your personal comedy hero (tell us who it is!), what would you say to him/her?
I’d love to hang out with Billy Connolly, the Scottish comedian and actor. I guess if I met him I’d say, “Hey, I was born in Scotland!” Then again, I say that to everyone. I just think it sounds kind of cool. But I was. Born in Scotland, I mean.
Do you do any touristy stuff when you come down to DC (besides appearing at the Kennedy Center in our shows)?
I’ve done the usual touristy stuff. The monuments, the Smithsonian, flying my Gyro-copter, etc.
But my most vivid tourist memory is of a 4th grade trip to Congress, when I swiped a cigarette lighter from Sen. Jacob Javitz’s desk. I felt awful for years. Because I lost it.
This article originally appeared on Brightest Young Things
We asked Shrake, head of Story League, for some tips about being funny when telling a story. Rather than write the list himself, he solicited responses from eight previous Story League winners, aka people who have made money for telling a funny story. ~BYT
MISTAKE: Not being clear on WHY you want to tell this story publicly. FIX:Give it the “So What? Test” before you even pitch your idea, i.e., What would make anyone care about this beyond me (and possibly my closest friends)?
MISTAKE: Not telling enough fart stories. FIX: Eat at Ben’s Chili Bowl more often.
MISTAKE: Telling a story for the first time… on stage. You’ve never told this story to anyone in your life; now you’re telling it to a room full of people who paid to hear a good story. FIX: Tell your story first to friends, coworkers, family, etc., to see if it passes the test — and to make sure it all makes sense! Stories that kill at bars, parties, and other social settings will most likely kill on stage too.
MISTAKE: Your story isn’t a story, but rather a weird, rambling string of loosely related anecdotes. FIX: Pick the best option off your cluster of anecdotes and commit to it. Then, eliminate anything that does not contribute to the arc of the story.
MISTAKE: Memorizing your story, word for word. FIX: Know your story generally and practice different routes of getting to the next plot point or joke. Tell it out loud, either to yourself, or a friend — in person or by phone. (My dog knows all my stories.) By “knowing” your story instead of “reciting” as written (monologue style = boring), you give yourself flexibility in your performance and seem more natural to the crowd. Much better than quaking in fear that you will choke as your panicked brain tries to remember the exact word or phrase you wrote.
MISTAKE: Not making yourself vulnerable. You can tell a funny story about things that happened and your role in those events, but it won’t be memorable unless you put yourself out there. FIX: Reflect honestly on what you felt and how you may have appeared to others even if it makes you look “bad,” because those are the moments when the audience really connects with you and your story.
MISTAKE: Your story doesn’t have an ending. After the climax, you find yourself petering out with an awkward laugh and, “So, yeah….” FIX: Ask yourself how you changed during the story. Did it give you a new perspective? Did you learn something? Did it make you say “never again”? The audience wants to know who you were at the beginning and who you are now. Try to express that, but not literally with, “And so, the moral of the story is…”
MISTAKE: Standing too far from the microphone. FIX: You want your mouth to be about an inch from the mic. It feels too close, but it works. When you hold the mic an arm’s length away, like an “American Idol” contestant belting out the final note of some Usher song, you just can’t be heard — and if no one hears your story, no one can like your story.
MISTAKE: Stepping on laughter and/or waiting for the laughter you think should have come. FIX: Let yourself and the audience soak in the fact that something you said just made the WHOLE ROOM laugh, and don’t let that moment pass by speeding through your story. Also, just because you say something that you believe is funny doesn’t mean the audience will agree, so don’t stand there looking dumbfounded that your witty retort or reference didn’t get the laugh you wanted. Just relax, ’cause the crowd will tell you what is funny and what is whimsical and cute.