Thursday, November 20, 2014

Storytelling & Stand-Up Nerds Unite!

Question: What happens when a bunch of nerds join forces?

Answer: Awesomeness.

Real Genius. Awesome. Ghostbusters. Awesome. Goonies. Awesome. Sure, on the surface it seems that when nerds collaborate their alliances tend to lean towards chaos, destruction and explosions. (See also MythBusters) United nerds may accidentally (or on purpose) blow some shit up, but in doing so they also shift the consciousness of those around them, alter the landscape of their environment and often become more talented nerds in the process.

I am not condoning nerd carnage. I am suggesting a Chicago nerd collaboration. More of a metaphorical, creative combustion and less of a literally exploded marshmallow man dripping over our city’s streets. Cool?

What if the jokers from stand-up and the wordsmiths from Live Lit* started deliberately working together with the objective to alter the performance landscape of Chicago? Would it be, to quote Ghostbusters’s Dr. Peter Venkman (number 12 most awesome nerd of all time), "dogs and cats living together…mass hysteria!”? I think not. I believe a Chicago stand-up and storyteller mash up would create a laser focus on personal performance as a whole; which would in turn generate a larger awareness of both art forms, and directly increase audience attendance across the city.

Nerds, we’re scattered and separated and winter is coming. We are stronger united.

Steps To Unite Storytelling & Stand-Up

Go To Shows Outside of Your Art Form:
If you’ve never seen a Live Lit show, check one out. The Moth isn’t the only show out there. Come on. Get with it! Here’s a list. If you haven’t seen a stand-up show since the early 90’s. Shit has changed, yo’. Here’s a list. Check one out. Also, stick around after the show and talk to the performers and the producers. We are all looking for more stage time and ways to expand our fan base and craft. If you find someone you enjoy watching, work with them.

Identify Your Art Form’s Strengths and Weakness. What Can You Learn From the “Other”:
Each show and each performer is different. Everyone needs to make their own specific pro/con list and do their own “how to improve” research. Generally speaking Live Lit shows are filled with strong writers and stand-up shows are filled with strong performers. What can we learn from each other?

Stand-ups: The goal is the quick laugh, sure. But that doesn’t mean you have to gloss over the scary or vulnerable elements of a joke. You don’t have as much time as Live Lit-ers but that doesn’t mean you have to compromise the emotional spine of your work.

Live Lit-ers: I love you dudes, but man if you don’t look up from your paper and realize there’s an audience I may loose my shit. Remember the “Live” in Live Lit and create a stage presence for your “Live” audience. If you do we will all be more engaged.

Artists: Book a Show that Terrifies You:  


Stand-ups: If you are struggling with finding a deeper venerability to your jokes or are having difficulty with slower pacing, book a Live Lit show and stretch your new storytelling muscles.

Live Lit-ers: If you need to edit, and you do, go to an open mic or phone a funny friend and get a short guest spot on their showcase. Practice the slash and burn and include that in your second draft.

Specific goals can be reached with specific shows.  For example, if you are a stand-up looking to add more current events into your sets, check out The Paper Machete. If you are a storyteller looking for an nontraditional venue, check out Performance Anxiety.

Producers: Book Performers Outside of Your Art Form:

If you feel your room is getting stale or simply want to ensure that your line up is sprinkled with variety book someone talented but new to the art form. Who knows, they may even bring a fresh audience to your show.

Cross Promote Like Crazy:
Once you find a show you love don’t shut up about it.

Some performers are already crossing over into both these worlds but if stand-up and Live Lit worked together on a larger scale it would make one hell of an impact. Folks would begin to realize that Chicago is not second. Nor is it simply a city that trains writers and performers who eventually leave for a coast. Chicago is a place where passionate geeks create amazing live performance, every night of the week. Chicago is the the land of Yes And, of Studs Turkel, of Hannibal Buress. Chicago is home to a bunch of creative and frustrated nerds who are jonesin’ to blow audiences out of the icy, polluted waters of Lake Michigan. Nerds, imagine what we can accomplish if we suited up, together. To quote Mickey from Goonies (number 456 most awesome nerd of all time). “Down here, it's our time. It's our time down here.” Why not take a chance and work together. What have we got to lose?

*Live Lit: A term coined by Ian Belknap, creator of Write Club. Live Lit is an intimate nonfiction/personal essay storytelling genre.    “…Live Lit is a hybrid form. More stripped-down than spoken word, more intimate than a reading, less frantic than stand-up, less showy than theater, it's essentially a reader and a mike and a room full of people. Live lit is verbal seduction, polemic, rhythm and lyric, bedtime story, bombast, and lament all at once.” -  Marya Hornbacher, Chicago Reader


Staff Writer - Kelsie Huff
Kelsie is a producer, writer, storyteller and stand up comedian based in Chicago. You can catch her performing at top clubs and showcases all over town (Zanies, Laugh Factory, UP Comedy Club)  as well as at her own showcase - the kates a bi-monthly show in Lincoln square.