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Taking The Stage And Talking To The Masterminds Behind Toronto's Funniest Storytelling Night, The Dime Store Novels

By Monica Heisey

Onstage in the dimly-lit and incense-scented back room of The Ossington, comedian Bob Kerr is reading an e-mail from his mom off his BlackBerry. “In the recording of the show we’ll have to edit this part out,” he says. “My mom would be so, so mad if she knew I was doing this.”

Sorry to be writing about it (and potentially blowing your cover) Bob, but it was super adorable—full of Mom-isms and always-enjoyable Mom-does-technology moments—the e-mail kicked off a night of story-telling spanning such topics as “that time my social-worker mom took me and a meth-head out for a fancy dinner,” “my adopted family in Africa,” and “just me and dad at the Hell’s Angel’s strip club.”

The theme of this month’s Dime Store Novels , a new storytelling show based on popular podcast The Moth, to was “Family Foibles and Follies.” Each month the show presents a revolving cast of real people telling true stories about their lives based on a topic; past topics have included ‘relationships gone bad’ and ‘cringe stories.’ Storytellers must share real, personal accounts—without notes—in under six minutes. The night is hosted by Kerr and Kayla Lorette, both Toronto-based comedians, who drink $3.50 beers and banter between storytellers, adding jokes and nostalgic stories from their own lives. The calm-but-wry humour of the two seemed to set the tone for the evening; although storytellers can say anything they’d like as long as it is true and personal to them, the stories tended to towards the humourous, taking the audience from full blown belly laughs to lighter “I know what you mean” chuckles and even the occasional nervous giggle.

Although I went with only one friend and neither of us knew anyone else in the room, it felt like sitting in a friend’s living room—the show’s recent move from Comedy Bar to the smaller, cozier Ossington amplified this—and with no cover and people moving in and out between stories and the bar, Dime Store Novels provides a laidback Monday night that you feel like you participated in just by showing up. After a few last-minute cancellations, I actually did end up participating, getting up to tell a story about childhood fights over birthday parties with my twin sister that resulted in a cake depicting Princess Jasmine walking one of the 101 Dalmations. I’ll definitely be going back.

After the show I talked with Kayla Lorette and Bob Kerr about the show’s origins, their goals for the project, and how storytelling taps into something in all of us.

You based the show on the podcast the Moth—how much does the show differ from the podcast? Does the live audience change things?
Kayla: I think the tradition of live storytelling is everywhere, and when you can be there for that event there’s a definite vibe that comes across. There’s a sharing of a feeling and a tone to the room. It’s more of a shared experience than the podcast I think.
Bob: Our show is a little bit more raw. We don’t have as many rules as The Moth. I saw on the website and they are running storytelling classes, and I can guarantee you that none of our storytellers are professional storytellers, which I like a lot. I think that means they can get more open and honest—you can see them sometimes fighting with themselves, wondering if they should go there or not.

What’s the selection process like for the show?
Kayla: We’ve done three shows so far and we get maybe ten or so submissions and we go through and find the ones we feel fit the criteria the best. We go for a balance of kinds of stories, looking for differences in tones—the same way you’d want to book a comedy show. We try to find stories that are hard-hitting to start off maybe, then something slower to pace the show. It’s really simple, we just have our tellers submit their stories to a g-mail account.
Bob: We’ve deemed them ‘tellers’… that’s a very technical term.

Where do you find your storytellers? Who is telling the stories and who’s listening to them?
Bob: We’re still just starting up, it’s a relatively new show, so we’re building steam and wanting to get an audience that is outside our typical audience—since we’re both comics, almost everyone else we know are comics, it’s kind of hard to try to do a show that is ‘real people’ telling stories to an audience of other regular people. In the early stages it’s kind of been a lot of comedians kind of struggling to not tell jokes, but it’s getting bigger and we’re building an audience and getting more submissions.

What do you think attracts people to the show, as audience members or as storytellers?
Kayla: I don’t know how you can turn away storytelling. Although the stories are individual, they’re also often quite timeless. The story being told is personal to the teller of it, but the audience knows the feeling of a relationship gone bad and can relate to that. What I like most about the show is how everyone reacts the same way… people will laugh or groan together at certain parts in a story.
Bob: There’s a lot of relating and a lot of humanity squeezed into that hour and a half.
Kayla: If you were to do this format incorrectly, it could be very self serving, but everyone’s been great, and people seem to leave with a nice feeling of having shared something.

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