Everyone loves a good story, and on Aug. 3 an overflow audience of nearly 300 people came to be entertained, moved, and inspired by stories about food at the Good Food Moth Story Slam, held at Santa Monica club Zanzibar and sponsored by local radio station KCRW.
Moth Story Slams are open-mic storytelling competitions that are at the forefront of the growing popularity of live storytelling. This was the second story slam presented by KCRW and The Moth, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the art and craft of storytelling. The Moth was launched in 1997 by writer George Dawes Green, who held the first New York Moth event in his living room. The events have since spread to coffee shops and clubs in other cities, drawing big crowds and experienced and novice storytellers alike.
At a Moth Story Slam, anyone who wants to tell a story can come prepared with a true, personal story related to the night’s theme. If they put their name into a hat and their name is drawn, they’ll get five minutes onstage to tell their story, without relying on notes. Upon finishing their tale, they pull the next name out of the hat, and so on, until ten stories have been told. The stories are judged on a scale of one to 10 by three pairs of judges picked out of the audience, and the storyteller with the highest score will compete at a GrandSLAM Championship.
The night’s warmup story was told by Evan Kleiman, eminent food champion and host of KCRW’s weekly Good Food show. Kleiman, who has plenty of experience in front of a microphone, told the Mirror she was a little nervous about getting up on stage.
“I’m going to go up and tell a story and hopefully not screw it up,” she said. “It’s on a stage, with the lights on, in front of people, there’s the time factor, and no notes; it’s intimidating.”
Kleiman told a funny story about a romantic dinner in which she was saved from choking to death on a piece of tomato that – thanks to the Heimlich maneuver administered by her date – was ejected from her throat with all the force of a cork popping from a bottle of Dom Perignon champagne. Not surprisingly to her fans, her story included a recipe (for Greek salad).
Others didn’t seem nervous. Los Feliz resident and comedian Margot Leitman was busy getting a hot dog at the Let’s Be Frank food truck parked outside the club when her name was drawn from the hat; she made it to the stage just in time before another name was pulled.
Leitman said she had planned to tell a story about choking on a piece of steak, but decided at the last minute to switch to a different story after hearing Kleiman’s tale about choking. She told a story about holiday edition Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and won the night’s highest score from the judges.
“I was stressed out during the whole show because I had to switch my story, but when I heard that my name was called I didn’t have time to stew about it, which is probably why I won tonight,” she said.
“I like that the Moth is purely democratic. I spend a lot of time on this art form; it’s my favorite.” It was the fourth Moth Story Slam win for Leitman, who teaches storytelling at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in Hollywood.
Santa Monica resident Tim Lopez’s tale was about one night of gustatory excesses in New Orleans. It was his fifth time telling a story at a Moth Story Slam. “I like the crowds at The Moth; they’re more patient, they’re ready to hear a story, they give you time to build up,” he said. “With standup comedy, if you’re not funny in 15 seconds, it’s over.”
Selected Moth stories can be heard at TheMoth.org, and on The Moth Radio Hour, which will return this fall to KCRW, a National Public Radio affiliate based on the Santa Monica College campus.