My storytelling secret: I’m a small, frightened man onstage. Always.

I’m off to New York tonight to compete in another Moth StorySLAM. I have been exceptionally fortunate enough to win the last five StorySLAMs in which I have competed, including my last four in New York.


I am not attempting to be humble in any way when I describe this recent streak of consecutive victories as exceptionally fortunate. A great number of factors come into play when competing in these events. In addition to a storyteller’s actual performance, the order that the names are chosen from the hat plays an enormous role. You can tell the best story of the night, but if you are the first or even second storyteller of the evening, you have almost no chance of winning.

The judging is also very subjective. While the judges typically do an excellent job, the difference between the winning story and the second or third place story is often slim.

Sometimes nonexistent.

So a story that may have easily won in last week’s competition might not place second or third the following week, depending on who has been chosen to judge and the level of competition.

It’s also extremely helpful when the names of some of the best storytellers in the house remain in the hat, as was the case when I won last week. When three champion storytellers are unable to the the stage because of bad luck, your chances of winning increase considerably.

You need to tell a good story, but you need some luck on your side, too.

I’ve been telling stories for The Moth for two years now. I’ve told stories in 20 StorySLAM competitions so far and won 10 of them. I’ve done well and am admittedly proud of my success.

But here is the truth:

Last night a friend said to me, “It must be exciting winning all of these competitions in a row. You probably want to win tomorrow night and keep your streak alive. Huh?”

While it’s true that I would love to win tonight’s competition, the real truth is that as much as I always want to win, I’m much more worried about not making a fool of myself onstage. No matter how many times I take that stage and tell a story, and no matter how many times I win one of these competitions, the possibility that I will stand before that microphone and make an idiot of myself remains my primary concern.

It’s odd. I love storytelling, and I especially love storytelling for The Moth. I love the audiences and my fellow storytellers and the competitive aspect of the event. I love it all. I would take the stage every night and tell a story if I could, and yet it still scares the hell out of me. Perhaps a little less now than it did my first night two years ago, but when I am telling a story, I feel like I am walking on a high wire.

If I perform well, I have the chance to thrill an audience.

But there is also the ever-present possibility that I will fail, and if so, I will fail in front of an audience who were depending on my to entertain them for five minutes. Even worse, I will fail in the midst of sharing something meaningful or intimate about myself.

So if you see me on stage tonight or at any point in the future and think I look exceptionally poised and confident in the midst of my performance, please remember that there is also a small, frightened man on the stage as well, hoping like hell that the audience will like him and terrified that he will fail miserably.