Next Time He Can Tell The Story Of Telling The Story

April 18, 2013


Last weekend I was in a show that ran 3 nights. (that was the plan – it didn’t whimper out after 3 nights…)  It was a bunch of performers telling stories from their lives; I wrote a little about it before, and my wanting to be liked by the cool kid.  People had been pretty scattered during the rehearsal/brainstorming get-together, so as of opening night, I still had never seen 3 of the 8 stories.

The story I was telling was an expanded version of one I’ve written about here, of my first time doing stand-up on the road, only this time with more gestures and less stick-figures.

"...and another thing: 'conundrum' doesn't mean what you think it means.  And also...?"

“…and another thing: ‘conundrum’ doesn’t mean what you think it means. And also…?”

Opening night was good – theater wound up only about half-full, but the audience was really into it from word one.  One story that I hadn’t seen, though, I wasn’t crazy about for several little, nitpicky reasons – that I’d hate for someone to go after my story over – including excessively flowery language (“We invited them to drink of our wine.  They were grateful; and drank thirstily…”), some plots elements, and some words he didn’t know the meaning of.

But the real sticking point was a racial issue.  The story focused overtly on a racial element when it didn’t need to, and it so flagrantly didn’t need the race stuff, that it made it uncomfortable.

I thought about saying something the next day, but didn’t want to sabotage him right before the Saturday show, so when he mentioned that some people had taken him to task over it on Facebook, I simply said that it seemed like the story would work without that element, probably better.  Part of me wished I’d just gone after it instead of being so ridiculously diplomatic, but I guess I was being (too?) polite.

And then one of the other performers got there.

He’s an area hip-hop artist.  Tremendously gifted performer whose piece was more of performance art than a straight narrative.  He is black, and he did not feel the story was benign.  He walked into the green room, pointed and said in a tone that I think was supposed to sound conversational, but had been fermenting all day, “Okay, so, listen.  You need to decide what the fuck is going on with your story.”

Newton.  He was kind of intense.

Newton. He was kind of intense.

And it kind of went down from there…

He never apologized for, as he put it, “going all Huey P. Newton” on the guy, but did say he understood why he might feel trapped by the conversation.

So the energy was a little more, let’s say, intense, Saturday night.  Full house, though.  And I did my best job and that was the night we taped, so, you know… hurray for me. (I’ll be posting the video when I get a copy).  The guy in question was understandably shaken (to be clear: he wasn’t racist, just naive, I think).

The guy removed the racial element, and the story was much better once he got his footing back on Sunday.  Sunday’s show was good, peace was restored, and we all went out and drank of some wine.  And we were grateful.

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About The Byronic Man

Recently voted "The Best Humor Site in America That I, Personally, Write," The Byronic Man is sometimes fiction, but sometimes autobiography. And sometimes cultural criticism. Oh, and occasionally reviews. Okay, it's all those different things, but always humorous. Except on the occasions that it's not. Ah, geez. Look, it's a lot of things, okay? You might like it, is the point.

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39 Comments on “Next Time He Can Tell The Story Of Telling The Story”

  1. Go Jules Go Says:

    I hope we don’t have to wait long for the video! This post made me long to drink of wine thirstily, and yet, it’s 7am and I have none. Worse still, now I’m not sure if this qualifies as a conundrum.


  2. Lisha @ The Lucky Mom Says:

    Did you drink thirstily?


  3. mistyslaws Says:

    That’s a tough situation. It’s kind of a “what would you do?” type of thing. Like, should you say something, or just mind your own business. I guess something needed to be said, but obviously the guy who took him to task felt it deeper than anyone else that spoke to him. At least it all ended in the thirsty drinking of alcohol. That’s usually a good sign.


    • The Byronic Man Says:

      True. I think the flaw in the “talking to” was that it lapsed from “you need to hear this” to “I need to say this” which are very different things, and it compromised its effectiveness. Still, job done.


  4. jubilare Says:

    “to be clear: he wasn’t racist, just naive, I think”
    We all are naively racist until we learn better. Recognizing unconscious racism and facing it is the only real way to move forward, both as an individual and a society. 😉


    • Renee B-W Says:

      Do you mean that if we are racist, we are all naively racist to begin with? Because otherwise I’ll have to respectfully disagree. My four-year-old is certainly not any kind of racist, naive or otherwise and no child develops any racist tendencies unti they are of an age when they start to pick up on their parents’ prejudices, if they have any. I was also talking to my daughter about marriage equality (same sex marriage was just legalised in New Zealand, where we live) and her only question was “But if two boys get married, who gets to wear the pretty dress?”

      I’m glad the situation went down the way it did BM, and that the performer was open to the suggestion that he change his piece. If only all racism, intentional or otherwise, could be resolved this easily!


      • jubilare Says:

        It depends on what you mean by “racist” I suppose. No one is born a rabid racist, or sexist, or any-thing-else-ist. Bigotry has to be taught.
        However, we all start out ignorant of anything we are not exposed to, and we have a natural wariness of the unknown. If your kid is exposed to a wide variety of people at an early age, she won’t be ignorant about them, and won’t be prejudiced (unless you or someone else passes on prejudice to her) against them, but there will always be people she has not been exposed to, and getting over misconceptions about them takes 1. realizing that she has misconceptions 2. deciding to rectify the situation.
        My point is that naive racism, or any other kind of unintentional prejudice, is a result of ignorance, and everyone, no matter where they grow up and how good a job their parents do, is going to be ignorant about some group of people. In my experience, most people are not honest enough with themselves about the prejudices they hold. No one wants to think they are ignorant about anything, much less that they are prejudices, but the reality is that nobody, or practically nobody, manages to grow up without some kind of prejudice.
        I’m sorry if I didn’t choose my words well before.


      • jubilare Says:

        Forgive me, I claim cobwebs on the brain due to staring at lists of numbers for two days straight. All that gibberish, incomplete and messy as it is, can be summed up much more simply:
        Nobody, or practically nobody, makes it to adulthood without some kind of prejudice. It’s important to recognize this because when we do, we can look for the areas where we are prejudiced and work to change them.

        That’s my view, anyway.


    • The Byronic Man Says:

      I initially had a more in-depth explanation of that point, but trimmed it down to avoid (hopefully avoid…) boring people. I hear what you’re saying, I think, and to me the key difference was that his attempt was to make people closer, but his naivete wound up putting as “boxing” people in to categories, as opposed to a more malignant intent, or a fueled ignorance.


      • jubilare Says:

        Yeah, and that is why I am glad someone talked to him. Unintentional stereotyping can usually be diffused by talking. I get why you were hesitant, though. One never knows how someone might react to criticism.


  5. thesinglecell Says:

    Just out of curiosity, were these other guys in the show Brad Paisley and LL Cool J?

    See, this is an awkward situation. Do you respect the guy for what HE thinks is important to HIS story, HIS art, HIS way, and agree to just not care for it? I feel like that’s what I would do.


    • The Byronic Man Says:

      That was the fundamental divider: the organizer of the show fell on the side of “don’t audit the story-teller” which is reasonable, but the story was not only less potentially offensive, it worked better. So… everyone’s right?


  6. silkpurseproductions Says:

    I look forward to the video. To be watched, perhaps, with some popcorn and any non-wine thing I have around that I can drink thirstily.


  7. skippingstones Says:

    I’m like you, I would have erred more on the polite side, but giving my opinion. I do think you can be honest with people in a gentle way. And he was bothered enough by it to bring it up. He was looking for an answer to whether the Facebook comments were valid.

    In the end, it was better to get that in the green room than from an audience member while he was on stage.


    • The Byronic Man Says:

      That’s true. And everyone in the show went out the night before except the guy in question, which would have provided an even better venue, with more time for him to contemplate and revise.


  8. Lorna's Voice Says:

    File that one under Awkward Racial/Artistic Differences. Live theater…you just never know. I guess that’s what makes it so…well, live. 😉


  9. twindaddy Says:

    Is there any other way to drink than thirstily?


  10. Elyse Says:

    I would have taken the polite road, too. And then regretted it. Good thing you don’t have to because it was done without you having to. A win for everybody.


    • The Byronic Man Says:

      Sometimes my mediative instincts are just the thing, but I frequently wish I’d gone the belligerent route later, even though I know the end result would have been worse. Nothing in my thought process makes sense in those situations…


  11. Every Record Tells A Story Says:

    I read this, readingly. And enjoyed it enjoyingly… I’ll look forward to watching the youtube clip watchingly.


  12. Sandy Sue Says:

    Sometimes nice isn’t helpful. Sounds like there was no director for this show, which is too bad. That left the quality up to the performers, who are sometimes a little blind to their own precious words (ahem). And no rehearsal? That would have given everyone a chance to critique the whole show. Hmm. Ideas for next time.


    • The Byronic Man Says:

      There was a director, but given the nature of the show she acted as more of a coordinator. With something like this, it’s a fine line between “Steering” and “interfering.” She was, in some ways, in a no-win.

      And there were weekly rehearsals, but a couple people were coming in form out of town (including the guy in question), so he wasn’t there for them, which is definitely too bad, since that stuff could have gotten worked out there.


  13. pegoleg Says:

    I think YOU took the right road; don’t think you wimped out. I’ve kind of had it up to here (imagine hand over head) with our freedom of speech ending at the point of somebody else’s being offended, especially when it’s clear that being offensive is NOT the aim of the speaker. What is this, Canada? Going off to drink thirstily.


    • The Byronic Man Says:

      Well, but see I thought the story needed to change, too. It wasn’t offensive in a PC-police way, it was just jarring, because it had this enormous “white people are like this, black people are like this” component when it had no real relevance to the story. So it wasn’t a story of, say, going to a movie with a black friend who talks loudly through the movie and trying to adapt to that, and deal with someone whose behavior fits a stereotype, it just sort of… was there…


  14. Laura Says:

    It’s really hard to decide on the right amount and timing of advice in a situation like this.

    Getting this guy to change his story helps both him (because he gets a better story and doesn’t embarrass himself) and the audience (because they don’t have to sit there and listen to something offensive). I suspect that one reason you and the other performer took different approaches is that you may have been thinking more about helping the storyteller tell a better story, and the other performer may have been thinking more about helping the audience avoid an unpleasant situation.


  15. susielindau Says:

    The last comedy night I went to was very uncomfortable for me. A young black kid’s whole routine was about every racial stereotype out there. I think it is more appropriate to make fun of yourself, but a comic can still cross a line very easily.


    • ajgiorgi Says:

      As a standup comedian, I love jokes that flirt with the idea of taboos, but they have to be just right. You have to go with an all (poke fun at everyone, yourself included) or nothing approach to make everyone feel comfortable. Any time somebody uses the same old stereotypes in a joke, it is physically painful for me. Comedy is subjective though, just like art. There is a market for everything. I don’t buy bad art or bad comedy.



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