The art of storytelling is one of humanity’s oldest traditions. Whether gathering round the fire, or the pedestal of a Grecian bard, we have an innate desire to listen to spoken narrative. And to find the great storytellers among us, we look to Brooklyn—where everyone is a weirdo with a story to tell.
Do you, dear Brooklyn weirdo, have an aching desire to bare the true stories of your life? Or would you rather hear someone else confess their own? Either way, the city provides ample opportunity to participate thanks to the storytelling show boom of the last few years. And we’ve got the list to prove it. Below is our roundup of Brooklyn (and Queens) live, true storytelling events. Some are curated, open-mic, or both; all are engaging.
One of the more popular shows on the list, Risk!, hosted by Kevin Allison, asks comedians to get out of their comfort zone and tell stories that expose their realist, funniest and darkest moments. Past guests have included Janeane Garofalo, Lisa Lampanelli, Kevin Nealon, Margaret Cho, Marc Maron, Sarah Silverman, Lili Taylor, Rachel Dratch, Andy Borowitz and more. Wary about whether the show will live up to your standards? You can download the podcast and judge for yourself.
The creators of Wax believe in the power of songs to tell stories — the way John Cusack does in High Fidelity. If you’ve got a song on a record that stirs you, then you’ve got a story to tell, and Wax wants to hear it. What song did you listen to when your first love fled? Was it Billy Corgan’s rendition of “Landslide” on your walkman? How about your first kiss? The Proclaimers, “I’m Gonna Be (500 miles)”? (We hope not.)
Whatever your song is, all you need to do is bring the record, play it, and then you have nine minutes to tell a story about it. The event happens sporadically, so check the Facebook page to find out when the next show is.
Regular Moth StorySLAMs are open mic-style (get there early to put your name in) and around $10 a show
Possibly the name that started a lot of names on the list, the Moth is an immensely renowned storytelling series, featuring the likes of Jonathan Ames, Ethan Hawke, Margaret Cho and thousands of other storytellers. The Moth has curated events, but more popular in New York are the storySLAM open-mic storytelling competitions, which are open to the public.
The GrandSLAM Championship is the final showdown in which the winners of the 10 previous NYC storySLAMs throw down for the title. The ticket is pricey, but the night of dueling stories will be epic. To participate in a future storySLAM, check the guidelines here.
You can catch regular storySLAMs on the first day of each month at the Bell House in Brooklyn (next event: Aug. 1). The Housing Works Bookstore Cafe in Soho hosts regular slams (next show: July 12), or you can schlep to the Flushing Town Hall in Queens (next show: July 25). This is an open-mic event, but space is limited and the shows always sell out. You can buy your tickets at 3pm the week before the show starts. If that doesn’t satiate your storytelling desires, you can also catch up on the Moth’s podcast or radio hour, which features their most “beloved tales and the stories behind the stories.”
The Shed is a storytelling event that’s also homey: Attendees partake in a potluck. They sit back, listen to stories, drink and eat. The only rule is that the stories must adhere to that evening’s theme—past examples include “Lost at Sea” or “Would You Rather?”
Originally begun four years ago in a backyard in Red Hook (home of the eponymous shed), the series now skips around to different Brooklyn locations . The shows are sporadic, so it’s important to get on the mailing list to be alerted to the next one. In the meantime, you can hear some of their stories here.
Tell It: Brooklyn has grown to such popularity, it’s moved to more than one location. On the first Wednesday of every month at the Fifth Estate, you can expect an entire evening of open mic performances. If you show up and put your name in a hat, you’ll have a chance to get up and tell a story focused around that night’s theme.
The show at Threes Brewing, every third Thursday of the month, is curated, although at the end of the show they open it up for audience participation. If you’d like to guarantee a spot on stage, you can apply to be a featured performer: simply check the upcoming theme on the website and send a synopsis of your story to [email protected]
The creators of the Story Collider know there is a science behind good storytelling. This curated show (and weekly podcast) brings “true, personal stories about science to life.”
It isn’t just amateur Ted Talks on hydrophysics, it’s anyone’s connection to science — even if they haven’t been formally exposed to it since high school. You’ll hear stories about lab experiments gone well, and more about when they didn’t. As they say, “some are heartbreaking; some are hilarious.”
The July 19 event features Science Friday‘s Ira Flatow, Amy Oestreicher, a PTSD peer-to-peer specialist, Chiara Mariottini, an Italian neurophysiologist, and several more.
Head over to the the Experiment’s new home on Grand Street on Sunday nights at 6pm to check out Sean and Nick’s Sunday Best at the Experimental Comedy Theater, “a comedic collective” formed in October of 2013.
Not only is the show free, but hosts Sean O’Brien and Nick Padilla go the extra mile providing free beer to accompany the live stories. The show combines a rotating cast of comedians with an open-mic portion.
Are you a total newbie, but brimming with stories? Practice is a “low-risk, low-key safe space to try out new material.” You’ll also get around eight minutes to polish what you’re practicing. Professionals and seasoned amateurs are welcome, but newcomers are especially encouraged. Consider this your baby step into the world of storytelling.
Mortified is a popular show which takes place in cities around the world — but it still has strong ties to Brooklyn. This curated event (and accompanying podcast) showcases adults recounting their most embarrassing moments from childhood.
Well, yeah, so does every other event on this list. What’s the difference? Storytellers must bring an artifact from their story when they read: journals, letters, poems, lyrics, plays, home movies and much more.
Want to participate? You can request to tell your story here.
And the Queens contenders…
Jake Hart (featured on The Moth, Nights of Our Lives, Local Stories) has a burning desire to hear your stories. Your weirdest, most cringeworthy, most heartbreaking stories. This two-hour long open mic has no themes, no judges, and gives you a whopping eight minutes to share your most personal memories with people you’ve never met.
If storytelling is your therapeutic outlet, then look to Talk Therapy. This half-show-half-open-mic is for anyone with serious emotional trauma to share. No matter who you are — a writer, artist, comic, actor or business professional — Talk Therapy gives you a chance to tell true stories about mental health. This is not group therapy, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be therapeutic and compelling.
Each show is focused around a theme: The July 14 show’s is “memory,” and in good Pavlovian fashion, every storyteller gets a cookie. Interested in becoming a featured reader? You can find out more info about their submissions here.
Flynn’s Mic is an open mic designed for whomever wishes to bare their soul to a group of strangers. Whether you want to vent or practice your true life story, Flynn’s provides a great opportunity to do so. Everyone gets five minutes. No more, no less. Speakers can sign up at 5:30pm the day of—show starts at 6.
Did we miss your favorite storytelling series? Tell us in the comments!
Follow Andy for more tweets told live without notes: @abeaudoin2013.