So I think I overdid it a little. I was unable to attend the local Moth Radio Hour last Tuesday, so I started listening to the Moth Radio podcast for the first time. Before I knew it, it was three hours later and I had barrelled through five episodes. Here are some of my favorite stories and what they taught me:
“A Sign, A Satire, and a Scandal” by R. Eric Thomas
A mix of humor, seriousness, and emotion, this was a great first-ever Moth story! The storyteller takes us along for the ride as he writes a satire piece about a Black History Month sign, only for him, an African-American college student, to be called a racist. His story heavily features his own internal monologue, so the audience empathizes with him from the beginning and always knows what to feel. Thomas has an easygoing rapport with the crowd and I could practically hear him feeding off of their energy as he spoke. This story taught me that the level of detail you choose to share with the audience drastically affects their perception of the tale and of you. It also taught me that the energy you bring to the stage can make or break your story.
“Mug Shot” by Steve Osborne
The host introduced the storyteller as a retired New York City police officer, adding “…and yes, that is his real voice.” As Osborne began to speak, I understood why: he had a “feg-ed-aboud-it!” New York accent you only hear on TV. He himself was a dynamic character, making his story just as dynamic. He told a story about a criminal he was about to nab, only to discover that he had died weeks ago. The perp’s mother, who was living in the apartment the cops investigated, asked to keep a copy of her son’s mugshot, a photo Osborne described as one “only a mother could love” earlier on in the story. That subtle foreshadowing brought everything together, making the ending all the more touching and cathartic. The storyteller also achieved the amazing feat of making the audience feel for the mother of a criminal while simultaneously rooting for the cop after him. This story taught me that half the story depends on the identity and attitude of the storyteller, and that foreshadowing can turn an interesting story into an astounding one.
“C’est La Vie” by Terrance Flynn
Hoo boy, this one was a doozy! Probably my favorite one so far. The storyteller takes care to set the scene of his nights at a gay bar called C’est La Vie, complete with all the sights, sounds, and smells. He describes an attractive man, a key figure, in intricate detail, from his windswept blond hair and dirty work boots to the way he always smelled like chocolate. Only much later in the story is it revealed that this man, who Flynn pined after for years but never obtained, was freakin’ Jeffrey Dahmer. HOLY PLOT TWIST, RIGHT? When this bomb was dropped, I (and, I assume, the rest of the audience) wondered how I didn’t see it before: blond, skinny, sketchy man at a gay bar in Milwaukee in the 1980s? Crazy. Not every story can have a jaw-dropping moment like this, but it certainly helps to keep people engaged. This story taught me that if you’ve got a plot twist, build up to it! It also taught me that tiny details can make a story surprising and special.
Would I write a story for the Moth Radio Hour? I’ve certainly listened to enough of ’em to have the practice. Seriously though, while I’ve never been a New York cop or been centured by my college’s Black Student Society or almost gone home with a cannibal, I might have some stories to tell. They don’t have to be super crazy: as long as I use vivid detail, empathetic narrative, and play off my audience, I think I might be able to pull it off.