On Friday night, we stopped by Town Hall in New York City to hear a few stories. The Moth, a not-for-profit storytelling organization was opening its 17th season with stories from Simon Doonan, Eve Plumb, and others, and the house was packed. Adam Gopnik of The New Yorker hosted — he also wrote the preface to The Moth's just-published first print story collection, which guests were eagerly snapping up at the event. Aside from one awkward reference to the event's sponsor, Maker's Mark, the night's performances were just polished enough to be both believable and enjoyable.
Simon Doonan, creative ambassador at Barney's and talking head at VH1, got the crowd going with the tale of how once upon a time, he was asked to audition for the role of "gay fashionista" in The Devil Wears Prada. He confessed that when he first heard about the book, he felt he'd "rather have sex with a dead relative" than read it. But, of course, the promise of fame (and acting alongside Meryl Streep) convinced him that the book might not be so bad after all. His movie dreams didn't quite work out, but he has a great Anna Wintour impression all the same.
The real standout performance of the night, though, came from playwright Kemp Powers. He talked about raising a son who's not like him — his performance actually made us laugh and well up with tears at various points. Powers has a different, even more gripping story in the print collection, about the time he accidentally shot his best friend when he was 14.
The collection includes 49 other stories, like Malcolm Gladwell's tale of a wedding toast gone wrong, and poker champ Annie Duke's recollection of her two-million-dollar hand. Most of the stories don't come from big names, but that doesn't make them any less compelling.
As of Friday, over 10,000 stories had been performed through The Moth, which the poet and novelist George Dawes Green started in an attempt to recreate the Southern storytelling culture of his youth. The organization started on a porch in Georgia, moved to the East Village — and gradually achieved the cult status it enjoys today.
Gopnik writes in the preface to the collection, "of all the alchemies of human connection — sex and childbirth and marriage and friendship — the strangest is this: You can stand up and tell a story that is made entirely, embarrassingly, of 'I's,' and a listening audience somehow turns each 'I' into a 'me.'" He's right. The Moth invites you to listen (or read) as much as it invites you to think about or share your own experiences.
And at the very least, if you pick up the collection, you can learn why Darryl "DMC" McDaniels of Run-DMC thinks Sarah McLachlan's song "Angel" saved his life. That's in there, along with much more.