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Comedy

Inside L.A.'s Storytelling Boom

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Wed, Oct 16, 2013 at 5:00 AM

shauna-mcgarry.jpg
Anthony D'Alessandro
All Shauna McGarry wants to do is go back and console her 23-year old self.
L.A. Story Works, a non-profit organization dedicated to upholding the art form of oral regaling, wrapped its L.A. Storytelling Festival this past Thursday. The raconteurs who grabbed the mike from Oct. 3-10 at various shows seemed to fit with the general trend in storytelling today, which is that storytelling doesn't mean "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" or "Rumpelstiltskin." Instead, just about every word coming out of any storyteller's mouth is true.

For example, at Eat Your Words, the fest's opening night show on Oct. 3 at the Standard Hotel on Sunset, Anger Management scribe Shauna McGarry told of failing to be de-virginized by a 33-year-old-guy when she was a homely 23 year-old. On Oct. 5 at RISK!, a show where storytellers fearlessly unmask their shame, Brian Finkelstein took the IO West mainstage to recount his panic attack in a Gelson's after learning that his wife suffered a miscarriage. Meanwhile across the hall on one of IO's smaller stages at Quote Unquote, Michelle Buteau charmingly recounted the time she had a three-way with two guys, one who looked like Leonardo DiCaprio and the other who looked like Adrien Brody.

Storytelling since the '90s has, in a way, merged alternative comedy with Chicken Soup for the Soul. As storytellers cleanse themselves through a three act monologue in 10 minutes, we are cleansed, falling with the performer and also pulling ourselves up by their bootstraps.

click to enlarge Brian Finkelstein exposes his soul at RISK! at the LA Storytelling Festival. - ANTHONY D'ALESSANDRO
  • Anthony D'Alessandro
  • Brian Finkelstein exposes his soul at RISK! at the LA Storytelling Festival.

During the fest, which brought the city's sprawling shows under one umbrella, it became clear that storytelling in the city is at its zenith.

Nikki Levy, whose series Don't Tell My Mother! ended the fest, and who was also one of the fest's planners, attributes the boom to one simple reason. "With all the social media and reality TV, I think people are sick of the bullshit," she says. "We feel disconnected and want to divulge and connect."

See also: 10 Best Stand-Up Comedy Shows in Los Angeles

The origins of the current storytelling millennial era in L.A. can be easily traced to Beth Lapides and Greg Miller's Un-Cabaret, a foremother to the alternative comedy scene of the early '90s, when stand-ups such as Janeane Garofalo, Bob Odenkirk and Andy Kindler threw out the rules on observational joke timing by just focusing on the ridiculousness of the story they were telling.

Though humor is a common ingredient woven throughout most of the storytelling in town, it's also often deep, dark, dirty, and, above all, completely honest.

What's ironic is that TV writers are the staple performers at most of the storytelling shows, though their tales wouldn't exactly work if translated into procedural cop shows, or even sitcoms.

Typically most of the stories heard are personal morality tales laced with laughs, however, whenever a storyteller goes completely balls-to-the-wall funny, it's a welcome oasis. For instance, at the fest's Saturday night P.E.Z. Show, Arsenio Hall Show head writer Chris McGuire had the crowd in stitches over his penchant for downloading morose Harry Chapin songs from iTunes when he's drunk ("These are the types of songs that The Walking Dead writing staff listens to when they're breaking story").

Up next: Stories about food, school, dumpsters, rectums...

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