The Moth StorySLAM is becoming a hot ticket in town since it began locally in 2012. Held at Headliners the last Tuesday of each month, the open-mic storytelling competition has a dedicated and increasing following.
Nationally, The Moth, a nonprofit group based in New York City, has expanded to a weekly podcast and National Public Radio show titled “The Moth Radio Hour.” The idea behind the organization is to foster the art and craft of storytelling.
Each Moth has a theme, and those brave enough to take the stage put their names in a hat, and if they’re randomly selected, they’ve got five minutes to tell a compelling story. A panel of judges declares a winner. The participants can’t use notes, props — basically anything other than narrative.
And this brings us to the Moth GrandSLAM Championship, a culmination of winners from the past year who will take the stage Friday, Feb. 27, at the Kentucky Center’s Bomhard Theater. The theme for the event is “Blue Moon.”
Producer Tara Anderson believes The Moth has caught on in Louisville because of our DIY culture and attitude.
“We have so many opportunities here to see talented performers at the top of their game, but The Moth is about regular folks with extraordinary stories to tell,” she says. “There’s an element of surprise I think is very compelling — you never know what’s going to happen or when the next person on stage is going to knock your socks off.”
Anderson says the previous GrandSLAMs have sold out, so she’s expecting a large crowd Friday night.
Insider heard whispers of a husband-and-wife duo who are both contenders for the GrandSLAM title, and those whispers grew louder when it turned out to be one of our own — IL staff writer David Serchuk and his wife Randi Skaggs are active Moth mavens and both have won StorySLAMS throughout the year, so they will compete with one another and nine other contestants.
Skaggs is the defending GrandSLAM champion and recently was invited to the Moth’s annual fundraiser — The Moth Ball — that’ll take place in May in New York City (Louis C.K. is the headliner), so Serchuk certainly has his work cut out for him.
And he agrees.
“Randi is the master, and to even think about competing with her means I’ve already lost,” he says. “She has this magic ability to get the audience on her side, every single time, that I can only hope to learn from.”
Serchuk won’t say if he has what it takes to dethrone her, but he’d just like to get through his story without a mistake. “If I do my absolute best and prepare and do well, I will be satisfied, no matter what my score is, or whom I place above or below. But let me say this, I hope if I don’t win, she does!”
Skaggs, meanwhile, has winning in her sights, husband be damned.
“On the one hand, I know winning isn’t the point, and I’d do this even if there was no competition. On the other hand, I’m a competitive person, and I always really want to win,” she says. “If David wins and I have to hand over the crown to my own husband, I guess our sleeping arrangements will change a little bit. Just kidding! Dave is a wonderful storyteller, and although it will sting a bit, I’ll know he’s earned it and I’ll be 100 percent proud of him.”
Producer Anderson won’t pick a side but says both are talented storytellers. “As far as I can tell, Randi and Dave are each other’s biggest fans, and I believe they usually help each other prepare their stories,” she says. “They are both fantastic at writing and telling their stories — two skills that don’t always go together — and they both know how to get the audience on their side.”
Skaggs says her nerves sometimes get to her before her name is called, but once she’s on stage, all those butterflies flutter away.
“The minute I get up there in front of that microphone, I get so excited,” she says. “And when I hear the audience laugh or moan in sympathy with me, I’m just over the moon. It’s a feeling I can’t get enough of.”
Serchuk says his nerves come days before the competition, when he’s memorizing and perfecting his stories. He practices at least 10 to 20 times in the days prior, and points out he doesn’t have the fine-tuned photographic memory his wife does.
“Once I am on stage and feel the warm, expectant support of the audience, there’s no fear at all,” he explains. “The Moth wants you to succeed, and the audience wants you to give them something great, and they will laugh and pay attention if you make it worth their while.”
Both Serchuk and Skaggs appreciate The Moth and the art form of storytelling it perpetuates.
“The stories are all about things that specifically happened to you, and I’ve found that honesty, with a touch of humor, is really meaningful both to me and the audience,” says Serchuk. “It can be funny, it can be heartbreaking, and there are no real rules other than stick to the theme, be on time and make it about your actual experience. And when a story really connects with the audience, it’s an extremely gratifying experience.”
Skaggs believes hearing other’s stories is a key to understanding the world around you.
“The Moth introduces you, in five-minute spurts, to the diversity of stories that surround you at any given moment. As hyperbolic as this may sound, I believe listening to others’ stories makes you a better person,” she says. “When you listen to Moth stories, you begin to realize that everyone around you has their struggles. I felt so alone for so much of my life, but now when I share something that happened to me on stage and I hear those murmurs of sympathy from complete strangers, I know I am truly connected.”
The Moth GrandSLAM Championship III takes place Friday, Feb. 27, at Kentucky Center’s Bombard Theater. Tickets are $23, and showtime is 7 p.m.