It’s been over a week since the Monti GrandSLAM on April 18. The delay in publishing my thoughts has been a combination of processing and procrastination. In case you aren’t familiar with the Monti it is true stories told by the people who experienced them relating to a theme and within a certain amount of time. If you listen to public radio you may have heard the Moth, which is the same idea. The main difference besides locale is that the host of the Monti, Jeff Polish, doesn’t talk like he couldn’t be bothered to lift his head off his pillow. And you can see him, and he looks and sounds like Ray Romano. I don’t only say that because he says it, it was the first thing I thought on my first visit to the Monti.
Anyway, the Monti, the big Monti (I just visited the website and see now that they call this the Signature Series) that happens on a regular basis at the Carolina Theatre in Durham is what I have been to in the past. The stories are curated, meaning they are selected from submissions to fit a theme, and are written, read and rehearsed. The time limit on these stories is 12 minutes and if they go beyond 12 minutes the teller is interrupted by the sound of a hippo as a signal to wrap it up. I have been to the Monti tens of times and I have never heard the hippo.
The Monti StorySLAM happens at various places including the Motorco Music Hall in Durham. This is kind of an open-mic situation. A theme is announced prior to the show, then all with a story to tell on that theme put their name in a hat to be chosen at random. These stories are also interrupted with a hippo voice for exceeding the time limit, which for the StorySLAM is 5 minutes. The StorySLAM is competitive with judges in the audience and there is a winner declared at the end. I have never been to a StorySLAM.
The GrandSLAM I attended last Thursday at The Carolina Theatre in Durham was the culmination of 9 months of StorySLAMs and would find the winner among winners. We got seats on the row behind those reserved for storytellers and their family and friends. Shortly after getting situated a woman came up and introduced herself as one of the producers of the Monti. I could tell she was getting around to asking us to do something, and I was preparing to get my things and relocate, assuming she meant to ask us to give up the row for additional family members. Alas, she asked if we would mind judging! Would I mind judging. Just try and stop me.
The first thing we had to do was to give ourselves a team name. I had recently decided that I would one day have a dog named Monte MacDougal, after our favorite restaurant in NYC on MacDougal St. in the West Village, so we went with that. It didn’t occur to me that it was also the name of the show until we had to shout it out for all to hear. We didn’t name ourselves after the show.
It was hard! Judging meant agreeing on a score, writing it on a board, and shouting it out. “9.5!” “7.0!” Some people are better storytellers than others, but all of them stand in front of a room full of strangers and tell true stories, baring their souls. Some of the stories related more closely to the theme, Lost, than others; some just threw in the phrase, “I was lost” as a metaphor at some point during the allotted 5 minutes. Make that 7 minutes. Apparently, it’s hard to tell a story in 5 minutes, because we heard the hippo during every storyteller. Sometimes 2 or 3 times, and every hippo sound results in a point reduction. Still, how do you reduce a person’s true experience to a number? But we did it.
And we picked a winner! The last storyteller had the audience in an uproar of laughter with her story about neglecting to notice where she parked at a big event that she was at by mistake to begin with, and how that resulted in her telling the police that her car (that was basically held together with duct tape) had been stolen (it hadn’t). All three sets of judges agreed she told the best story. I wish I could tell you her name, but I was distracted by my judging. I did get a picture of her with the Hippo award, however.
I love the Monti. You’ll laugh, you’ll probably cry, you’ll relate to humans and leave feeling more sympathetic and empathetic, with an understanding of how the experience of others is similar to your own and how it’s also sometimes very different. You should definitely go.