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The goal is to get everybody talking

The Moth is out to revive good old-fashioned storytelling.

October 12, 2006|Barbara Serrano | Times Staff Writer

IN an era when e-mail and instant messages seem to slice up our conversations into smaller and smaller sound bites, one New York group is coming to L.A. to revive the age-old art of storytelling.

A lineup that includes Margaret Cho, Cindy Chupack, Jonathan Ames, Andy Borowitz, hip-hop pioneer Darryl "DMC" McDaniels and retired New York policeman Steve Osborne will share personal tales of going "Out on a Limb," tonight at UCLA.

And this week the Tangier, a restaurant and nightclub in Los Feliz, began hosting a monthly Tuesday night competition in which members of the audience are selected (from names in a hat) to tell a five-minute story.

Both events are borne out of the Moth, a not-for-profit organization that's been hosting shows in Manhattan for nine years.

George Dawes Green, a poet and novelist, founded the group -- in his living room. He wanted to recapture the sense of community that he felt as a young man, when he and his friends swapped stories on his front porch in Georgia.

The storytelling shows have grown so successful -- migrating from Green's apartment to neighborhood pubs and cafes -- that organizers are marking L.A. as the first stop in a 10-city tour.

With underwriting support from TNT, the Moth also is pairing with MySpace to host an online competition in hopes of reaching young people, and at www.themoth.org, supporters can submit their favorite stories on audio and in written form.

The storytellers at Moth events have included the well-known as well as New Yorkers with unique perspectives -- a voodoo priestess, a hot dog-eating champion, a neurosurgeon and a woman who helped save Holocaust survivors -- and those who can offer a good yarn about life's common experiences.

"In every show we try to balance humor with heartbreak with poignancy," said Lea Thau, executive and creative director of the Moth. "We believe that everyone has at least one great story to tell but everybody's going to tell it in a different way."

Borowitz's personal stories are often infused with punch lines and laughter. But rather than talk about his successes, he shares the failures in life, like his experience as a writer on "The Facts of Life."

"Doing this kind of oral storytelling is so old-fashioned and basic that it's really helped my writing," said Borowitz, creator of the Borowitz Report, a faux-news website, and author of "The Republican Playbook." "It's pulling an audience along and making an audience care." Indeed, to hear storytellers talk about it, there's a cathartic aspect to the Moth; the most interesting -- and funniest -- stories can involve personal secrets and life-changing events.

Chupack, who sharpened her storytelling skills as a writer and producer for "Sex and the City," has one to share tonight. And it doesn't involve Carrie Bradshaw.

"Just to have an audience really laugh and relate to what you've gone through, it's very therapeutic because you realize what a universal experience love can be," Chupack said. "But hopefully, ideally, the idea of storytelling is just entertainment."

For Angelenos who want to give the art of storytelling a try, Tangier will host StorySLAMs every second Tuesday of the month. Next month's (Nov. 7) theme: "Busted."

barbara.serrano@latimes.com

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The Moth Story Tour

Where: UCLA's Royce Hall

When: 8 tonight

Price: $35, $30 and $25 ($15 for UCLA students). Available at www.uclalive.org or at the door.

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