7 Questions With … Moth finalist Randi Skaggs

Randi Skaggs has won the Moth GrandSlam once before. | Courtesy

The Moth storytelling event takes place once a month at Headliners Music Hall and crowns a winner each time. But once a year, the winners from the previous 10 months are rounded up and battle head to head — or story to story — on the big stage.

The Moth GrandSlam Championship, as it’s called, takes place Saturday, Jan. 12, at the Kentucky Center’s Bomhard Theater. Ten top contestants will each share a story on the theme of “crash course” in five minutes or less. And then a panel of judges, made up of audience members, decides the ultimate winner.

Insider wanted to pick the brain of one of these finalists, so we got in touch with storyteller extraordinaire Randi Skaggs, who will be competing on Saturday. In fact, this will be her sixth time in the GrandSlam, and one year she even took home the trophy.

It’s not surprising Skaggs works as a seventh-grade language arts teacher for the J. Graham Brown School, which provides her an attentive audience all day long. She enjoys storytelling so much, she even started her own bimonthly showcase with her husband called Double-Edged Stories.

Skaggs tells us she first tried out The Moth because she was searching for a creative outlet after moving to Louisville eight years ago from New York City.

“I found such joy in sharing all different stories from my life — from light to tragic — and having people tell me they identified with me,” she says. “I felt quite isolated growing up, and I love how connected storytelling makes me feel. No matter how outrageous a situation is, someone else has gone through it.”

Skaggs finds a thrill in storytelling. | Courtesy

She also loves to hear others’ stories, which never fail to surprise her.

“My favorite thing is when someone gets up there and says, ‘This is my first time,’ and then crush it with an incredible story,” she says.

The Upton, Ky., native participates in The Moth as often as she can attend and as often as her name is selected at random.

But if the night’s theme doesn’t speak to her, she’ll pass on participating.

These next few days leading up to the big night, Skaggs will recite her story out loud to herself while driving in the car to work, running errands or picking up her kids.

“I pay attention to which parts of the story are tedious for me to tell, and I either cut them or adapt them,” she says. “My story is currently too long, which it always is at first, so I’m focusing as much as I can on tightening it up.”

Skaggs believes the secret to a great story is honesty and humility.

“People don’t want to hear a glorified version of you; there’s enough narcissism in the world. People want to hear about your failures, your fears, your weaknesses. Then they want to hear how you overcame those in a flawed, imperfect way so they can cheer you on.”

You’ll get a chance to cheer on Skaggs this Saturday, Jan. 12, at the Kentucky Center at 8 p.m. Tickets (which often sell out) are $27.50.

But first, Insider wanted to try out a brand new batch of “7 Questions” with her, and here they are …

What was your first concert?

First KISS at 4? | Courtesy of KISS

My first concert was KISS when I was 4. I went because my brothers were enormous fans, and I insisted on joining them. All I remember is that the pyrotechnics were terrifying.

What could you give a 40-minute presentation on with absolutely no preparation?

Storytelling, which may be cheating, as I give presentations on it quite a bit already. If need be, I could also talk about how to make an excellent red velvet cake.

What job would you be terrible at?

Computer programming. I’m not necessarily that hopeless with computers, but I get frustrated with them easily, and I need to talk to other people pretty much incessantly. Which is why teaching is a great gig for me.

What is your favorite restaurant or bar?

This is so difficult, as Louisville is just bursting with great ones, but I keep coming back to Jack Fry’s. I love the atmosphere, and they make a damn fine steak and damn fine bourbon cocktails, and that’s very important to me.

Inside Jack Fry’s | Photo by Kevin Gibson

What is something you think everyone should do at least once?

Not surprisingly, I think everyone should try live storytelling at least once. Some of my favorite stories were told by people who were terrified and thought they’d never do something like that.

We all have stories inside of us, and sharing that experience with others is thrilling. Storytelling has the power to build empathy like nothing else; it feels so good to be a part of that.

Where would you direct a newcomer of Louisville to get a feel for the city?

Rather than direct them to one specific neighborhood, I think I would plan a perfect day for them: visiting the Speed Art Museum, touring the lovely homes of Old Louisville, walking along Bardstown Road and Frankfort Avenue to shop and eat, and then catching a live storytelling show (of course).

What keeps you here?

I grew up in rural Kentucky, then I lived in NYC for 12 years. Louisville is the perfect balance between the friendliness and the ease of life in the country and the cosmopolitan and artsy vibe of New York.