One of my favorite NPR shows is The Moth Radio Hour, which airs inconveniently on WFPL Saturdays at 2. It showcases storytelling, recorded live in front of an audience, each story performed in five minutes with no notes. This fall the concept has come to Louisville’s Headliners Music Hall. Gabe Bullard, the WFPL News Director, is the local host and the most entertaining part of the production.
Last night’s program had a theme — Busted. The house was packed, and with 10 slots available, those who wanted to tell a story on stage put their names in a hat. There were 22 entries, so it was about a 50-50 chance you’d get chosen, Price-is-Right style, if you entered.
I’ve listened to plenty of stories on The Moth online, and in fact used them in my Public Speaking courses. It’s not a comedy act, though many of them are funny. When I presented them in class, students reacted with a wide range of emotions, because the topics often dealt with real-life issues involving addiction, prison, death and divorce. My favorite was called Yankee Batboy, about a guy who got that job, but not without being made a fool by the players on the team. And there was one called Pink Bicycle, about a tough guy dealing with the fact that his son liked pink.
So last night I was hopeful that the locals would be entertaining. And Bullard was. In setting up the show, he told a great story about being recognized in his small hometown, but denying his identity when he saw someone from high school who he didn’t want to talk to. Stories resonate best when you hear about something that you’ve done yourself, right? When he walked away from the conversation in which he’d said he wasn’t Gabe Bullard, the phone rang. And of course it was the person he’d just talked to.
I listened to the first five stories. I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings here, but none were impressive, though the three teams of judges, each with a “busted”-themed nickname, was kind in giving scores of 7s and 8s. Since my experience was hearing only the best ones from The Moth show, maybe my expectations were too high. I started thinking of stories (I’ve been busted a lot) that I could have told here.
I really didn’t get the point of the first guy’s story — it was about getting caught by his parents playing with his sister’s tampons. The second lady evoked bitterness in bashing her ex-husband for drinking, without ever telling what was so criminal except that she didn’t know it. Next there was a story about a pool table that went way beyond the five-minute limit, and didn’t need to.
The fourth contestant was best among the first five. He talked about being a dork in high school, and in his story I did hear a distinct beginning, middle and end. The last contestant I saw, a woman, told of busting a married guy for hitting on her at the gym.
I didn’t stick around for the second half, so maybe I missed some good ones. There’s another one at Headliners Dec. 27.