Everyone has a story to tell. You don’t have to have the right “look,” you don’t have to have the right connections, you don’t have to be anything other than yourself to tell it, even in Los Angeles, where a community has grown of brave, honest, hilarious, tragic and inspiring autobiographical storytellers. They share their lives to entertain and enrich others. They let us know we are not alone. Their stories can make us laugh until we cry or cry until we laugh.
One person making a great contribution to the West Hollywood storytelling scene is Christopher Brune-Horan. Three years ago, he began producing and hosting a night of storytelling called Bada Bing Bada Boom: True Stories Told for Cash.
“Stories that excite me are the ones that if someone had whispered in your ear that someday you’d be standing in front of a microphone telling it, you’d be like, ‘I’m never, ever going to tell this story.’ And then you do,” Brune-Horan told me recently when we met at his home with his husband, Jesse, and their two sons. “You know, the type where your mom would put her face in her hands if she knew you were telling it.”
While the esteemed Moth storytelling slams are among the best-known true-story shows in L.A., there are offshoots across the city, like Bada Bing, that offer performers and audiences alike the chance to experience the joys of telling and hearing a true first-person tale.
At Bada Bing, four storytellers are booked for each show, and three names are drawn from a hat to keep it open to new voices. Stories must be about five minutes long, true and about you. But the event sets itself apart from other shows as the audience doesn’t just vote on its favorite story of the night, which is common at slams. At Bada Bing, the winner comes home with $100. The remainder of ticket sales benefit Inspire, a local open-hearted, LGBTQIA spiritual community; Brune-Horan’s husband, Jesse, who co-hosts a women-centric podcast with Alison Deyette called Alternative Styles on Westwood One and iTunes, also serves as a reverend at Inspire.
Bada Bing also features musical guests, who perform two songs at each show. Recent guests have included Joseph Eid, a Hollywood singer-songwriter and host of Live Music Monday at Bar Mattachine in downtown Los Angeles, and Rena Strober, who started her career on Broadway in Les Miserables and has been singing on stages around the world. She voices hundreds of characters for animation and video games and has appeared on shows like Veep, Shameless and Liv and Maddie.
“To me singing is storytelling set to music. So performing at Bada Bing feels like the perfect match,” Strober said. “Every single time I’m there I leave feeling grateful for the storytelling platform. Stories can teach, inspire and change the way we see the world.”
Erica Gerard, a Moth StorySLAM winner and host of the podcast This Is Home, has performed at Bada Bing and attests that it’s a “storyteller's dream show.”
“It's a room like no other in Los Angeles, maybe anywhere. I know I can always bring my most personal material, the stuff I feel too vulnerable to share elsewhere, and feel completely supported by this incredible community,” Gerard said.
Indeed, Brune-Horan’s goal is for Bada Bing to be a diverse and supportive place for storytellers to share their truth, humor, frivolities, passions, joys, upsets, struggles and tales of survival.
“I wanted to create opportunity and a really supportive environment where someone can get up there and tell their story for the first time and know the audience is on their side,” he explained.
In turn, the L.A. storytelling community has been there for the Brune-Horans, when their 7-month-old son Kaidon, whom they had been fostering to adopt since he was 2 days old, suddenly died of cardiac arrest from Kawasaki’s disease, after several misdiagnoses.
Despite their devastating loss, Brune-Horan was committed to his mission of providing a safe, nurturing and encouraging space for writers and an exciting and meaningful night for spectators at Bada Bing. He forged ahead and kept the show running. He and Jesse could feel the support.
“The storytelling community surrounded us. People came out of the woodwork, and that was when I fully realized there really has been a community that has been created,” he said. “People who had gone to Bada once, and barely knew us, were sending flowers, food, cards … and the memorial service was in a huge room in Plummer Park. It was overflowing”.
In January, Brune-Horan won the Moth StorySLAM after sharing his heartbreaking journey of losing Kaidon and the deep sorrow that he and Jesse are experiencing, while offering hope and strength to the grateful audience. In his story at the Moth, he shared:
“I played him Mozart, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, all the important classics. I showed him flower after flower, saying slowly ‘FLOWER,’ even though he was nowhere near ready to talk. He smiled at birds, at trees. I told him be nice to the crows as he got older because they have facial recognition. … I know that Kaidon was amazing while I had him. Not in retrospect but every single moment he was here.”
Brune-Horan's vulnerability and honesty were met with welcome appreciation and a sense of connection.
“The power of this community changed the way I looked at storytelling, because when I told the story out loud about him, I didn’t want to exploit him. I wanted to share Kaidon and how I was changed by being his father. It helped me get through it, as did hearing people telling their own stories about loss and grief.”
While still mourning Kaidon, the Brune-Horans are now fostering to adopt two brothers, an infant and a 2-year-old. The couple made the decision to adopt both children as they couldn’t imagine separating the siblings. Brune-Horan also is continuing to move forward with new work; he soon will be featured at the Moth GrandSLAM, and in early May he will begin teaching the art of storytelling to inmates at Los Angeles County's Men's Central Jail.
And he is continuing to make Bada Bing Bada Boom a night of entertaining and inspiring stories.
“Bada Bing makes me like L.A. — for a week,” said Lauren Weedman, who recently appeared on the new Will & Grace. “I have to go back and get re-inspired. It’s such an incredible night of stories, hosted by an incredible storyteller.”
Bada Bing Bada Boom: True Stories Told for Cash is held at 8 p.m., every first Thursday of the month, at the Actors Space Theater in West Hollywood. The next show is May 3. Tickets are $12; proceeds benefit Inspire.