The Magic Of The Moth, The Storytelling Experienced Loved By Carrie Brownstein And Hannah Horvath

by Jacy Topps

I actually wasn’t familiar with The Moth until Hannah Horvath, Lena Dunham’s character on the hit television series Girls, decided to take up writing again. The season 5 finale had Hannah performing at The Moth’s StorySLAM, where real people tell their true stories live without notes. These StorySLAMS are themed shows, and the theme of the evening was jealousy; Hannah chose to speak about her thoughts on Jessa and Adam’s relationship. It turns out that The Moth and its StorySLAMS are a real thing, and nothing short of amazing.

Founded by George Dawes Green, a poet and novelist who wanted to recreate the feeling of sitting on summer porches on sultry nights in his native South regaling stories to friends, The Moth is not a place, but an experience. The Moth’s mission is to promote the art and craft of storytelling and to honor and celebrate the diversity and commonality of human experience. Since its launch in 1997, stories have been told in over 25 cities around the world and produces more than 500 live shows. Additionally, The Moth runs storytelling workshops for high school students and adults in underserved communities through their Education and Community Programs. That’s not all. The Moth podcast is downloaded over 30 million times a year, and each week the Peabody Award-winning Moth Radio Hour is heard on over 400 radio stations worldwide. Oh yeah, I can’t forget about their New York Times bestselling book, The Moth: 50 True Stories.

Grand SLAM winner tells her story on stage at The 2016 Moth Ball Photo by Brad Barket Getty Images for The MothGrand SLAM winner tells her story on stage at The 2016 Moth Ball (Photo by Brad Barket for The Moth)

A nonprofit organization, The Moth hosts a themed annual fundraising gala each year. Hailed as “the hippest literary gala of the year,” each year the Moth chooses a new theme, invites new storytellers and celebrates new honorees. Remembering David Bowie, this year celebrated all things glam rock. A newbie to organization, I was lucky enough to attend.

The night seemed to be filled with the best of the literary world. The evening’s honoree, Carrie Brownstein, accepted the Jonathan Adler-designed The Moth Award, recognizing the art of the raconteur, which was presented by Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer — my favorite inappropriate feminist comedians of Broad City . Celebrity guests included Salman Rushdie, Jenna Lyons and Molly Ringwald. Yes, their fundraising galas carry some heavy hitters, and this year was no different. But the event also featured one-minute stories by 2016 GrandSLAM champions and students from The Moth Education Program.

Jenna Lyons and Carrie BrownsteinJenna Lyons and Carrie Brownstein, courtesy The Moth


My favorite story of the night was Moth storyteller Suzy Ronson; she shared her hilarious experience as Bowie’s hairstylist. There were moments where she seemed to forget her story. The audience applauded her through the glitches, but that reminded me just how hard it is for someone to stand on a stage and share their life experiences.

Watching what the amazing Moth storytellers do onstage seems so simple, but it is so unbelievably complex. As a writer, sometimes you share your most intimate experiences and opinions. You put yourself out there and are sometimes fearful of critique and criticism. But those fears seem to pale in comparison to performing in front of a live audience without any notes. The stakes are greater, and from what I’m told, the reward is orgasmic. There’s this special connectivity between the storyteller and the audience, the excitement of anticipation and spontaneity. Even though you’re in a room full of people, there is an intimate feeling between you and the storyteller.

The Broad City Girls Present the Award to Carrie Brownstein at The 2016 Moth BallThe Broad City Girls Present the Award to Carrie Brownstein at The 2016 Moth Ball, courtesy The Moth  

What’s so enchanting about The Moth is the idea that we can both share and hear stories of our common experiences. Storytellers share stories of abuse, unemployment, sibling rivalry, relationship troubles, thoughts on feminism and homophobia — I can go on for days. Nothing is off limits, and storytellers are from all walks of life. As I’m writing this piece, I’m listening to a storyteller’s traumatic experience about getting her first pair of contacts. I’m in complete awe of a person that can make me laugh for five minutes straight about contacts. While I may never get the nerve to conquer The Moth stage, I will forever be grateful for being introduced to the magic.

Top image: Girls Season 5 finale

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Founded in 1993, BUST is the inclusive feminist lifestyle trailblazer offering a unique mix of humor, female-focused entertainment, uncensored personal stories, and candid reporting that tells the truth about women’s lives.

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