Best comedy 2013: The story of New York storytelling

Consider the landmarks of New York’s best comedy storytelling over the past 20 years, as the Moth and its ilk have reinvigorated the personal yarn



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In the early ’90s, even the best comedy suffered from a caricature of the comedian as a hack with a microphone and a filing cabinet of zingers. But under the influence of early adopters such as Mike Birbiglia and Tom Shillue, many comics began steering toward embarrassing or taboo tales, while still locating plenty of laughs. Though storytelling has been a part of stand-up since the days of Lenny Bruce, the art has reemerged over the past two decades; these events illustrate how it’s gone mainstream.

RECOMMENDED: Best comedy in NYC

  • Click the right arrow on the image above to see some of New York's storytellers.

  • Photograph: Anne Fishbein

    David Sedaris

  • Photograph: Nick Cardillicchio

    George Dawes Green

  • Photograph: Stan Barouh

    Mike Daisey

  • Photograph: Evan Sung

    Mike Birbiglia

  • Photograph: Mindy Tucker

    Tom Shillue

Click the right arrow on the image above to see some of New York's storytellers.

The Atlantic Theater Company adapts David Sedaris’s career-launching personal essay about his time as a Macy’s elf, “SantaLand Diaries,” for the stage. It was originally read on NPR in 1992.

George Dawes Green inaugurates his storytelling show, the Moth, at Dixon Place. By 2013, the Moth will have events in 15 cities.

Moonwork, named by TONY as best comedy show of the year, encourages comics like Lewis Black, Jim Gaffigan and Janeane Garofalo to mine their personal lives for stories rather than concentrating on a quick succession of set-ups and jokes.

Funny, autobiographical one-person shows, such as Marc Maron’s The Jerusalem Syndrome: My Life as a Reluctant Messiah and Mike Daisey’s 21 Dog Years: Doing Time, favor pure storytelling over stand-up.

The Nights of Our Lives, the second logest running NYC storytelling show, premieres at the UCB Theatre. Host David Martin bills it as a "low-brow Moth."

NPR's beloved radio show This American Life relocates its recording studio from Chicago to New York, where producers find material at the Moth.

Longtimer Mike Birbiglia’s solo show Sleepwalk with Me premieres Off Broadway at the Bleecker Street Theatre; book and film deals follow.

Daredevil show RISK!, hosted by Kevin Allison, premieres at Arlene’s Grocery. The RISK! podcast will rack up more than 5 million downloads over the following four years.

More storytelling nights, such as the Liar Show, the Story Collider and Sideshow Goshko, develop their own formats and followings.

Horse Trade Theater Group packages a number of local shows into the first Gotham Storytelling Festival.

Tom Shillue, one of the first to use storytelling in stand-up venues, completes a yearlong project to produce 12 new albums in 12 months.

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