The Moth: She Held My Hand

In August of 2015 I told the story of my first date with my wife at a Moth StorySLAM at The Bitter End. The theme of the night was Guts. 

I won the slam that night, but being the hyper-critical person that I am, I hear a lot of room for improvement in the story. It's not my best.

Frankly, I get annoyed at myself during the story for some of the choices I make. 

Still, it's about Elysha and me and our beginning, and, so here it is, in all its imperfection.

The Moth: The Great Stargazing Betrayal

On December 29, 2014, I took the stage at The Moth StorySLAM at The Bitter End in Manhattan to tell a story. The theme of the night was Rewards. I told a story about an evening of stargazing with my students that went terrible wrong. 

I finished in first place. 

Here a recording of the story I told that night.

You can find all of my stories on my YouTube channel. 

Upcoming appearances

On Saturday, May 31, I’ll be speaking at the Barnes & Noble at the Buckland Hills Mall in Manchester, CT at 2:00 PM. My agent will be with me, so if you have any questions for her, I’m sure that we could pester her with a few.


That same evening, Speak Up will be at Sedgwick Middle School in West Hartford, CT for a charity storytelling show. I’ll be telling a story about my high school days along with seven other brilliant storytellers.

Proceeds from the event help to send four middle school students to London this summer to compete in an international literature competition. Three are my former students, so I am thrilled to be able to help them

Tickers can be purchased here.


On Saturday, June 7, I’ll be teaching a workshop on publishing at the Mark Twain House. I’ll be discussing the path that a book travels from the first words written on the page to its first appearance in a bookshop. Including in the workshop will be the sale of the book, the author-editor relationship, the complexities of publicity and marketing, the finances of publishing and much more. Perfect for the curious reader or the fledgling writer.

Call: (860) 280-3130 for more information & ticketing or click here for tickets.

On Monday, June 30, I’ll be attending a Moth StorySLAM at The Bitter End in New York hoping to tell a story if the tote bag is kind. The theme of the night is Money.

On Saturday, July 5, I’ll be performing in The Liar Show at the Cornelia Street Café in New York.

At each show, four performers tell short personal stories, but  one of the storytellers is making it all up. The audience then interrogates the cast and exposes the liar to win a fabulous prize.

Information on the show and ticketing can be found here.


On Saturday, July 19, Speak Up returns to Real Art Ways. The theme of the show is Who’s the Boss? Tickets are not yet available, but mark your calendars. It is sure to be an excellent show!________________________________

On Monday, July 21, I’ll be competing in a Moth GrandSLAM at The Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn.

Tickets not yet available.

Lessons from another evening at The Moth: Storytellers’ reactions to a loss can differ greatly. Occasionally they suck.

On Monday some friends and I attended a Moth StorySLAM at the Bitter End in New York. After winning six StorySLAMs in a row, my luck finally ran out. I was chosen to tell my story first and finished in third place. 


Still, I told a good story about the time I moved my childhood bedroom from the second floor of our home to the basement without my parents knowledge, and anytime I am able to take the stage and tell a story, I am pleased.

An odd thing happened when telling my story:

At the end of my story, when my initially amusing story was supposed to take a sad turn, the audience continued to laugh. As I described how my parents took three days to realize that I had moved to the basement, and what this meant to me in terms of the amount of parental attention that I was receiving, the audience continued to laugh out loud.

It was strange. 

This may have been the result of going first. Maybe the audience, which was comprised of many first time Moth attendees (it was a holiday week), didn’t know what to expect.

Or perhaps my story was so sad that it was funny.

Or maybe my delivery was simply off.

Audience members later told me how touching my story was, and a couple admitted to getting misty-eyed near the end, but the great majority thought the whole thing was hilarious. 

Whatever the reason, it’s more than a little weird getting a little choked up on stage while the audience continues to laugh at you.

Going first always stinks.

I suggested later on to a friend that I might be willing to give up my right pinkie finger to avoid ever going first at another StorySLAM. While this might be a little crazy, it’s only a little crazy. 

A few thoughts about storytelling that I took away from the night:


One of the best things about becoming a storyteller has been the number of friends who have subsequently taken a stage to tell a story as well. I invited Bill and Cheryl to their first Moth StorySLAM last spring, and in the fall, Bill took the stage at one of our Speak Up shows to tell a story. On Monday night, he took the stage and told his first story for The Moth.

He did great.

Since I started storytelling in July of 2011, I’ve had many of my friends take the stage at Speak Up and tell their stories, and a handful of them have taken the plunge and told stories for The Moth as well. It’s been incredibly rewarding to be able to introduce something new to my circle of friends and then watch them find the courage to try it as well.

I assume they must be thinking something like:

“If that idiot can do it, maybe I can, too.”

I’m so glad to have opened up this world to so many people.

Along similar lines, my wife and I produce our own storytelling show here in Hartford called Speak Up. In addition to the joy of entertaining audiences, it’s been incredibly rewarding to give fledgling storytellers, who may not be  ready to tell a story at a place like The Moth, the opportunity to tell a story and hone their craft. Watching someone take the stage for the first time in their lives and bare their soul is an amazing thing to watch. I feel fortunate to have brought this opportunity to so many people already.



Storytellers have a variety of reactions to the competitive element of The Moth. Most experienced storytellers thrive on the competition, and at least a few (like me) would much prefer to tell stories in a competitive format.

Eliminate the pressure of competition and it simply isn’t the same.

But because this is storytelling, the judging is fairly subjective, and the judges are audience members who receive a few minutes of instruction before the competition begins. As a result, you can’t get too invested in the scoring, even though I do.

Despite these subjective factors, the scoring is almost always well done. I have always believed that if one of the top three stories of the night wins, the judges have done their well, and that has happened at every StorySLAM that I have ever attended.

But when a storyteller doesn’t win, reactions vary.

While I am often disappointed, I have always been an analytical, reflective, self-critical person. As soon as I step off the stage, I begin a mental analysis of my performance, and as the scores are announced, I compare these numbers to my personal assessment. I will spend hours after the StorySLAM evaluating my performance, and when I arrive home, I will record the results of my performance in a spreadsheet along my notes from the evening. 

It’s a serious spreadsheet.

I also seek feedback from friends and fellow storytellers who have attended the performance, poking and prodding them for as much honesty as possible.

Though I am disappointed when I don’t win, I don’t think I should always win, and I always use the results to improve.

I don’t get angry. I get better.

In fact, the only time when this analytical reaction is muddied for me is when I have to tell my story first. Winning from the first position is almost impossible, as judges often assign lower scores to the first storyteller in order to give themselves some flexibility for upcoming storytellers. And “score creep” is a real thing. As the competition proceeds, it’s easy for judges to forget the first story in light of a great story told in eighth or ninth position.

It’s just a natural human reaction. 

As a result, analyzing my scores from the first position is difficult. I’ve had to tell my story from the first position three times in my life, and I have finished those competitions in second, third and third place.

Could I have won any of those StorySLAMs had I not gone first?

Maybe? I really can’t tell.

Other than the incongruous first position results, my reaction to a loss has always been an obsessive desire to improve based upon the feedback provided.

Most storytellers are just happy to have the chance to take the stage and tell their story. Many are relieved that they didn’t embarrass themselves by falling apart in front of 300 strangers. Most consider the opportunity to tell a story reward enough. They care nothing about the scoring.

I don’t understand this sentiment, but I respect it.

There are storytellers, however, who become angry, despondent or belligerent when they lose or when their scores don’t reflect what they believe they deserved.

There aren’t many of these people, but there are enough. They are not enjoyable people to spend time with after a performance.

In the past, storytellers have told me that they can’t stand the subjectivity of the scoring and never want to take the stage again.

Storytellers have told me that they become depressed when they don’t score well and require a great deal of time to overcome a loss.

The most common negative reaction to a performance is to blame the judges and accuse them of incompetence. Storytellers will accuse the judges of favoritism based upon sex or race. They will complain that the judges favor one particular type of story over another. They will claim that judges lend greater credence to crowd favorites who take the stage often and who they have seen before. They will argue that judges don’t understand the rules of the competition or have misinterpreted the rules. They will assert that you need to be funny rather than simply a good storyteller in order to win a StorySLAM.

None of this is true, but I understand that in the heat of competition, it’s difficult to remain unemotional.

Still, I find this reaction distasteful at best. Blaming the judges may be an effective way of avoiding the reality of losing, but it only serves to make the storyteller look petty and insecure. It will never help a storyteller to improve.

In my experience, it is also a decidedly male reaction. 

There is also a thankfully tiny number of storytellers who, upon losing, will accuse the winning storyteller of telling an untrue story. They may hint at this belief by questioning the details of the story or come right out and accuse the storyteller of fabrication.

While I am sure that there have been storytellers who invent stories for the stage, I have never heard a story that sounded untrue, and the thought that a storyteller had done such a thing has never crossed my mind.

I find this particular reaction especially repugnant.

It is also a decidedly male reaction.

Marital advice courtesy of a Moth StorySLAM victory

A friend and I attended The Moth’s StorySLAM at the Bitter End last night. He’s about 15 years younger than me, and while we waited in line outside the club, we talked about his recent experiences with dating in New York. I advised him that above all else, he should avoid getting married before the age of 30.

“It’s the best advice I can give you when it comes to getting married,” I said. “If I look at the people who I know who got married before 30 and the people who got married after 30, the after-30 crowd tends to be much happier in their relationships.”


Later on in the night, I was fortunate enough to have my name was drawn from the tote bag. I took the stage and I told my story, and I was fortunate enough to win.

It’s my fifth StorySLAM victory in a row, which is an incredibly lucky streak. While my performances have all been solid, many other factors come into play when competing in a Moth StorySLAM, including the order that your name is chosen from the bag, the storytellers whose names are not drawn that night and the demographics of the judging teams.

I’m not attempting to be humble in any way by saying that winning five in a row requires an enormous amount of good fortune.

Still, my performances had to be good, too.

After leaving The Bitter End, I texted the good news to my wife, and she texted three words back to me:

You are unbeatable.

I turned to my friend. “Forget my over-30 advice. It still applies, but I have something better. Find a girl who you want to spend the rest of your life trying to impress.”

I turned the phone to him so he could see my wife’s text.

“Find a girl who can say something like this to you and make you forget everything that anyone else has ever said to you. Find someone whose words mean more to you than anyone else. When the happens, you’ll know you’ve found the right girl.”

Winning five StorySLAMs in a row has been a wild ride that will surely never be repeated, but those three words that my wife texted to me last night means more than all my victories.

Ten years after we started dating and seven years into our marriage, and I’m still trying like hell every day of my life to impress the girl who became my wife.

That is the key to a successful marriage.

Lessons from my third Moth victory

On Thursday night I was fortunate enough to win my third Moth StorySLAM of my storytelling career at The Bitter End in New York City. The theme of the night was AFTERMATH. I told a story the decisions that my parents made when I was a child and how the birth of my own children has cast those decisions in a new and unfortunate light for me. Following every StorySLAM, and especially every victory, I like to try to analyze my performance in order to glean any lessons or insight that might help me in future competitions.

It was an unusual StorySLAM in a couple ways. First, though The Bitter End was jammed with people, it wasn’t the usual raucous Moth crowd that I have come to expect at these events, perhaps because it was the week following Christmas and the audience was made up of many non-New Yorkers who were in town for the holidays. I suspect that there were a lot of people taking in The Moth for the first time and were not accustomed to the level of enthusiasm exhibited by typical Moth audiences.

It wasn’t a bad crowd. Just a quieter crowd. A little harder to make laugh.

Whatever the reason, the story I had prepared for the evening was not supposed to be funny, so it was probably the perfect kind of story for this particular audience.

It was also the first (and hopefully the last) time that I have heard storytellers call out other storytellers while onstage. It made for a couple of odd and slightly uncomfortable moments, to say the least. The first storyteller attempted to be funny by opening his story with a jab at previous storyteller’s story. The subsequent storyteller then attacked the first storyteller, calling him a douchebag for his criticism. Both remarks quieted the crowd and elicited groans from the people around me.

Another storyteller took the stage and opened by thanking us for braving the cold and the long line, attempting a Kumbaya-like moment with the audience.

I don’t think any of these things helped the storytellers in terms of their scores, nor did they serve to endear them to their audience.

I have always been a fan of getting on the stage, telling the story and getting off. Save the commentary for the host of the evening. That’s their job. Not ours.

That’s exactly what I did when I took the stage, but in truth, luck played a large role in my victory on Thursday night.

First, I was the final person to be called to the stage, which is an enormous benefit to any storyteller. The first storyteller of the night was someone I know well, and her story was outstanding. Humorous and revealing and full of suspense. It should have at least been contending with mine for the win, but because she went first, her chances for victory were exceptionally small.

I’m not sure if anyone has ever won a StorySLAM going first.

I also changed my story dramatically while onstage. On the drive to the city, I practiced my story in the car for my friend, but the story that I had prepared at home and told in the car was vastly different from the one told two hours later in front of the audience. I was fortunate. In the midst of telling the story, I found a couple of surprise transitions that helped propel it forward at a more rapid clip, and I stumbled upon two funny lines that worked very well.

Like I said, I got lucky.

As a storyteller, I feel that there is a delicate balance between being prepared and being over prepared. I’ve taken the stage at The Moth with a story that I have memorized almost word for word and done well, but more often, it seems as if I perform better if I have a general idea of my story, a few moments of planned transition and an opening line ready. By not memorizing the story entirely or even planning every moment of the story, I have more flexibility onstage and a greater opportunity to gauge the audience’s reaction, adjust if necessary and find those surprise moments that often work so well.

Of course, this can be dangerous, too. If I have not prepared enough, I might find myself lost in the story at moments, unable to finish it succinctly.

Like I said, it’s a delicate balance.

Also, for the first time ever, I took note of the location of the judges in the room. The three teams of judges happened to be located in the same general area, in front and to the left of the stage. Knowing that there were no judges to my right, I didn’t turn in that direction and establish eye contact with those audience members as often as I normally would have. Instead, I focused most of my attention straight ahead and to the left, where I knew that judges were seated. I’m not sure if this made a difference, but I can’t imagine that it hurt.

I’m still walking on air following my Moth victory on Thursday night. It broke a frustrating string of four second place finishes and will give me another chance at winning a GrandSLAM.

I love taking the stage and telling stories at The Moth. I feel exceptionally fortunate when my name emerges from that tote bag, allowing me the opportunity to tell my story to a willing audience. If it was not a competition but simply an evening of storytelling, I would still be dropping my name in that bag, hoping for it to be drawn.

But I won’t lie. The competitive aspect of The Moth adds an additional layer that I like very much. Win or lose, I love knowing exactly how I did on any given night. Having spent much of my childhood playing video games, I like to know my score. I like to know where I placed. I like to know if and how I should improve.

The Moth offers that as well.

And when you actually manage to win, you get to walk on air for a few days. Not a bad reward.