The Moth Raises the Roof

1. Moth Production Interns Arianne Wack and Liz McKibbon holding down the fort. 2. Jonathan and Arum entertain themselves in the lobby.

This Wednesday, The Moth held a fitting tribute to Spalding Gray at the ever-ethereal Town Hall, a painful and hilarious series of stories by some of the Moth’s greatest participants. Gray was posthumously awarded The Moth Award, given each year to a storyteller who has again and again kept the craft alive. Previous winners include Salman Rushdie (2008), Anna Deveare Smith (2009), Calvin Trillin (2010), and this years host Garrison Keillor (2007), a man whose vocal timbre could rock everyone into a blissful, welcoming sleep.

1. Syrie Moskowitz and journalist Melik Kaylan, keeping it classy. 2. Photographer Liesl Henrichsen enjoys her wine, pensively.

While the nights theme was “Raise the Roof,” each participant was asked a simple question — what was the last thing you saw that made you say “Wow”? — and the answers were presented with rambling perfection. After a stellar, lilting performance by solo artist and violinist Mazz Swift, comedian Mike Birbiglia opened the evenings tales with his story of performing at a charity golf tournament he had no right attending. For those unfamiliar with Birbiglia’s name, his spot-on cadence and frank admittance of his own flaws is responsible for the funniest segment ever aired on This American Life (you can listen to it here).

Followed by a delicate childhood tale performed by Southern belle Tina McElroy Ansa,and a powerful, hard-to-believe account by Dr. Alan Rabinowtiz of his travels through the Himalayas searching for the last members of a rumored pygmy tribe, the Moth delivered — within an hour and a half — one of the most eclectic events conceivable. All this before intermission.

It may seem already to have been a scattershot affair, but one of the Moth’s great strengths is the variety of performers, both professional and otherwise, who are then exposed to a wider audience. The Moth was created by a group of friends whose porch-sharing moments have now escalated to the grand stage, and while this isn’t exactly radical today in our post-privacy age, it is by sharing these small, true moments, in renderings of the humiliation, sorrow, and personal growth that define our own private universes, that people can find common ground.

1. My personal storytelling hero, Edgar Oliver, mingling before the show.

Hence the next act, the young-but-masterful storyteller Elna Baker, who told of her attempts to reveal to her strict Mormon parents that she had lost her virginity before marriage while taking a break from her faith. Her sharp-witted tale was the kind of unexpected coming-of-age story fit for repetition.

Gray was in a sense eulogized by the erratic and flighty Jonathan Ames, who closed out the evening with what was supposed to be an account of his life’s many run-ins with the great monologist himself. Ames stated nervously that he hadn’t rehearsed, and what resulted was a ramshackle account of his journey through AA, his obsessions with Bill Clinton and Spalding Gray, his awkward encounter with Monica Lewinsky and a kielbasa, and his own suicidal thoughts.

As Ames mentioned somewhere in his highly enjoyable spiel, Gray had seemed to him a remainder of the beat mentality. This Moth event proved this was still alive, and could even be found on a Wednesday night in Times Square.


–Sarah Lerner is a freelance event coordinator for the L Magazine. She contributes art and film reviews to Time Out New York.

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