The Moth Ball: Lili Taylor, Salman Rushdie and John Turturro love stories
Wed Nov 19 2008
Salman Rushdie, sans wife
Downtown storytelling program The Moth proved how big its potatoes have grown at last night’s star-studded, second annual Moth Ball, cohosted by John Turturro and Garrison Keillor.
Among the night’s entertainment were a characteristically self-deprecating and vibrant tale from Keillor, a scholarship awarded to tenth-grader Tavar McKenzie by Lili Taylor, and a live competition between the GrandSLAM winners from New York and L.A. (although the winner, Josh Matthew Cereghino, was quite good, local boy Jim O’Grady was clearly robbed).
In honor of the art form on display, we asked Ira Glass, A.J. Jacobs, Simon Doonan, Salman Rushdie, Taylor, Turturro and Keillor to explain what live or oral storytelling can achieve that print cannot. Their answers beyond the jump.
But first, the quote of the night:
Before Keillor bestowed the Moth Raconteur Award on Rushdie, he introduced the novelist by saying, "He’s been married as many times as I have and perhaps for the same reasons: When you want to tell your best story over and over, and she gets that glazed look, and this other woman is so tickled to hear it…who can blame a man? Well, some people could."
"There’s a directness to hearing somebody’s voice; the voice carries feeling. The stories at the Moth are not just great yarns; there’s also a performance part that’s all about pleasure. Even if it’s a sad story. And certainly, a sad story is easier to play out loud: In print you have to be a really good writer and know how to bluff, whereas you could be a middling writer but really mean it in your heart and it can come across out loud—which is basically my entire career in a nutshell."
"I love reading. But you sit by yourself to read. [The oral tradition] is a way of making stories and literature into a collective act, a community act. And it lends itself more to the first person; it’s difficult to tell a third-person story onstage. So live storytelling is also personal and intimate. And there’s an edge of danger in it because there’s a chance of really dying. The teller is more vulnerable—and that is makes it really exciting."
"Live storytelling achieves an intimacy and an immediacy—a visceralness, if that’s a word—and a human connection. That’s why live theater will never die: beause we need to be near each other and to experience something together."
"The terror is more immediate for the storyteller. With print, the fear is delayed because you have a few months before the book comes out. I find it terrifying when I’m doing the serious parts of my presentation and people are just… I can’t tell! I need one of those meters that CNN had during the election that says, 'This is good. This is boring. This is good.' But for the audience, it’s more exciting because [the performers] might mess up. You’re in it for the thrill. At hockey games, you look for the fights; at storytelling shows, you look for the stutter."
"It takes both the performer and the audience to achieve it."
Wondering why Turturro was so brief? He spent the rest of the time we chatted railing against Time Out…before changing his mind. Click for transcript.
"You give courage to other people: courage to also tell stories and courage in social situations to open their mouths and to say their peace. Which is something people from my part of the country need more of. We’re very soft-spoken and self-effacing and every so often instead of self-effacing, you have to put your face out there. "
"I told a story once about doing aerobics in the ’80s: Hearing all that applause directly is like a drug! But at the last Moth I hosted, a lot of the stories were serious. Some people can make you cry. You know what Joni Mitchell said: Sorrow is very easy to express, but hard to tell. Meaning it’s easy to express sadness in tunes and music, but it’s hard to actually describe. So I think it’s easier to be funny. It would be very hard for me to tell a sad story."