Category Archives: storytelling

How do people get into storytelling comedy? Here is how one man did.

Akin Omobitan has been performing comedy for less than two years. He performed his first gig in April 2016. It is now January 2018. He has been a finalist in the Leicester Square Theatre New Comedian of the Year contest, a semi-finalist in the prestigious So You Think You’re Funny contest and been a Comedy Virgins’ Max Turner Prize winner. So I had a chat with him.


JOHN: Did your first gig go well in 2016?

AKIN: Pretty good. After that first gig, I knew it would not be my last.

JOHN: You got the taste for applause?

AKIN: Yes. It fuels me; it’s definitely quite the drug.

JOHN: How old are you?

AKIN: 33.

JOHN: Is it OK to mention that? Some people don’t like their age printed.

AKIN: I’m OK with that. I think my age allows my comedy to make more sense.

JOHN: More sense?

AKIN: As to why someone would hold so much resentment and anger… and not just be doing jokes about dating and partying.

JOHN: So you are a bitter and twisted man?

AKIN: Yeah.

JOHN: But you’ve had a relatively easy life.

AKIN: Well, I have. I feel that’s part of the problem. I feel like I’ve had a life good enough for me to have become a better person than I am. There’s a lot of self-resentment – I should have made more of a lot of opportunities that I had. So I’m not really angry at Society, not angry at other people. It’s more a case of being angry with me – with jobs that I stayed at too long, relationships I was in too long.

JOHN: When this is in cold print, it might come over as I don’t hate Society; I hate myself.

AKIN: Yeah… That’s fair. But I’m learning to love myself and I hope that doesn’t have a detrimental effect on my comedy.

JOHN: You seem an amiable, well-adjusted person. That is not good if you want to be a comedian. Comedians are all barking mad.

AKIN: There is stuff. There is stuff wrong. But, yeah, the self-loathing is… Having had so many opportunities and having so much available… I think about my dad and how much he has achieved. My parents came to the UK in the late-1980s in their early-twenties for a better life and got a much harder one. It took them quite a while to get established. But now my dad owns a house and a flat. He’s married. He’s got three kids. He’s been in his job for two decades or something and this is someone who came here from Nigeria with just a suitcase. Then I look at myself and think, realistically: I should have far exceeded him in so many different areas.

JOHN: Do you have a suitcase?

AKIN: I don’t even have a suitcase.

JOHN: It sounds to me less like self-loathing than a drive to succeed.

AKIN: Maybe it IS ambition. Maybe. I do want to do a lot of things.

JOHN: Do you have one big, central ambition? Or do you just want to be generally famous?

AKIN: Fame isn’t even the goal. No. What I would love to do is make a living out of something that I enjoy. That’s the main goal. To wake up with a purpose that excites me.

JOHN: A moral purpose? You want to make the world a better place?

AKIN: Not really. My comedy is very self-indulgent, very autobiographical. It’s about me. I’m not trying to convince people about anything. I’m not trying to change minds. I’m trying to show them the world through my lens. It’s not Get on board! It’s just This is what I think.

JOHN: So it’s autobiographical, observational storytelling.

AKIN: Not even observational, really. At university, I got interested in psychology and philosophy, I like to ‘guise’ a lot of that in my comedy where it is about bigger questions and how do you have a joke about bigger questions?

JOHN: What did you study at university?

AKIN: Media Studies at the University of East London – film, TV, radio… and then you could add other areas which I found I was more interested in, like psychology. What I’m massively interested in now is psychology, philosophy and literature. I never really knew, back then, what I wanted to do.

JOHN: At school you were some sort of arty bastard?

AKIN: I went to three different secondary schools – in Camden, Finchley and Dagenham – I never went to an arty school. Everything was very bog standard.

JOHN: Did you have an urge to be in school plays?

AKIN: My parents talked me out of performing. When I was in secondary school, they came to a parents’ evening and the drama teacher tried to persuade them to further nudge me in the direction of acting but they talked me out of it.

JOHN: So they didn’t encourage you to be creative but they could stomach you doing Media Studies?

AKIN: I think by then I was doing well enough in school for them to think I had a bit more figured out than I did. At the time, I was very interested in film analysis and the construction and deconstruction of media.

JOHN: So what were you doing between the ages of 22 and 32?

AKIN: Making lots of mistakes. I think I grew up thinking Life just happens as opposed to You make Life happen. I had a strong influence from my parents in terms of being responsible and going to university. But there was no encouragement for anything creative. It was more practical.

JOHN: After university, you just bummed around?

AKIN: I worked in media.

JOHN: For example?

AKIN: In the advertising production department of a company – Media 10. They do magazines and live events like Grand Designs and the Ideal Home Show. They do Icon magazine about architecture and interior design… and onOffice magazine, which is all about work space interior design. My job was to check copy. It wasn’t that interesting. I did chip-in writing some copy and helping the studio team, but that was more just for my own interest. It was quite low-paying and, after a couple of years…

JOHN: Anything more personally creative?

AKIN: I used to blog.

JOHN: The last refuge of a scoundrel. What was it called?

AKIN: A Darker Shade of Black. It was quite successful in terms of views and interactions. I had had an idea for a book and I was two chapters into writing it when I re-read it and realised: This is horrible! The writing is terrible! So I started a blog to exercise my writing and it turned into its own thing.

JOHN: You wrote for the sake of writing, so it would just become natural?

AKIN: Yeah. It varied from current affairs to autobiographical to creative stuff like poems, short stories, opinion pieces. Just unfiltered – what I felt like, as the urge struck me.

JOHN: Why did you stop?”

AKIN: I had a job.

JOHN: Another job?

AKIN: Yes. Back then, I could stomach 9-to-5. Now, a 9-to-5 would be the death of me. But the job I had was 9-to-6 and it just crushed me. That extra hour just seemed to stamp out my entire day. I was a Project Assistant. It was very vague. I reported to about three different people. There was no real job description.

JOHN: Did you have a ‘Road To Damascus’ moment when you decided to be a comedian?

AKIN: When I turned 29, I just started freaking out about Life. I didn’t like where any of it was going – relationships, my career.

JOHN: Why turn to comedy? Why not acting?

AKIN: I think, having wasted three years in Media Studies, I was really put off the idea of going back and studying anything. I guess in terms of Why?… When I was 31, I was working on a list of 32 things to do before I turned 32 and, in a conversation with a friend, I joked about trying stand-up and his reaction was: That’s actually a really good idea. You should do it!

JOHN: Did you do all 32 things on the list?

AKIN: It ended up being only 26 on the list and I did 19 of them.

JOHN: What were the 7 you didn’t do?

AKIN: One was to give a random person £100.

JOHN: I am happy to help you with that.

AKIN: It was going to be in cash and I don’t have that amount on me.

JOHN: I can wait… You have not yet done two years of stand-up comedy. Do you want to be like Ken Dodd: still performing for the applause when you are 133 years old? Or be a film director? Or a novelist?

AKIN: I’m very open. I am still interested in acting.

JOHN: You should write a sitcom for yourself.

AKIN: I have. Myself and a friend have written two episodes.

JOHN: And you would perform in it?

AKIN: Very much so.

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Cameryn Moore’s Smut Slam comes to the UK & I learn about ovipositor porn

So I got this email: from Cameryn Moore:


camerynmooreWe’ve met once before, the night that I told a story about one of my phone sex clients at Stand Up Tragedy, in the spring of 2015. Now I’m collaborating with Stand Up Tragedy‘s Dave Pickering to bring the UK something entirely new.

You could call me the Pied Piper of pervs; my Smut Slam storytelling open mic has drawn tawdry true-life tales out of people all across the U.S. and Canada. This January I’m leaving a network of eight Smut Slam branches around North America and coming to the UK to launch an entire circuit there. I’ll be hitting Bristol (Jan 10), London (Jan 11), and Brighton (Jan 12) in rapid succession, with Manchester rolling around later in the month (Jan 31)

Open mic hosts know that one unexpectedly “blue” anecdote can derail a show. What happens when the whole show is blue?


Cameryn Moore performs in New York City (Photo by Ed Barnas)

Cameryn performs in New York (Photograph by Ed Barnas)

Obviously, I had to talk to her.

“So it’s like a poetry slam?” I asked, “but with smut.”

“Yes,” said Cameryn, “Slam and dirty stories. Poetry slams are set up for championships and are very competitive. In this case, we only called it a ‘slam’ because people are competing for sex toys. It is an astounding motivator for most people.

“Every time I do a Smut Slam, I get a local sponsor so the Sh! Erotic Emporium in Hoxton is providing various sex toys for the London show. Stores in Brighton and Bristol are also providing sexy prizes.”

“It is like an open mic night?” I asked.

“The way I do it at the Brighton and Edinburgh Fringes is it’s like a cabaret. But the Smut Slams in London and Bristol and Brighton and Manchester are open mics. Every Smut Slam I have ever done since 2011 has had an amazing mix of stories.”

“How many have you staged since 2011?”

“Probably close to 50 or 60. It’s been on a monthly basis in Montreal since 2011. I’ve done them in between 15-17 cities around North America every year.”

“What sort of audience do you get turning up to hear smutty stories?”

Smut Slam poster

“What sort of audience do you get turning up to hear smut?”

“It depends, to a large part, on who I am collaborating with. In the UK, I have found co-producers for  every city. In London, it’s Dave Pickering from Stand-Up Tragedy so he is drawing on his storytelling audience. In Brighton, it’s Mathilda Gregory, who does storytelling and erotica. I do outreach to the kink communities and to comedy audiences because, while the point of Smut Slam is not comedy, most sex stories can get awkward and funny pretty quickly.”

“So,” I asked, “the attraction is ‘awkward and funny’?”

“I would say,” Cameryn laughed, “that ‘awkward and funny’ are definitely high points.”

“And you want to set up a circuit of Smut Slams in the UK?”

“My goal is to relocate to the UK, so I want to set up a circuit – like the old-time travelling preachers.”

“I am,” I told her, “sure preachers will be honoured for their sermons to be compared to your shows.”

“Well,” she replied, “I have had people say I am doing God’s work and, while I don’t believe in God, I do believe there is something important in gathering people together and having some open, honest, authentic discussions about sex. That is one thing lacking in our society today. There is sex-sex-sex everywhere. But it’s all about sales and marketing. There is nothing being sold at Smut Slams except this sharing opportunity that most of us don’t have.”

“But,” I asked, “are you not titillating the audience to get some cash?”

“Sure,” she replied. “I am hoping to make some living money, but I don’t think that’s any more of a problem than social workers who get money just for listening to people. I have a sense of mission about it, but I’m not an altruist. Obviously sex will titillate, but people will come to these things and find out it goes a lot deeper than that.”

“Into which depths does it go?” I asked.

“What Smut Slam offers is a safer place where people can share. That is cathartic; it is community-building. People can hear their own experiences reflected from on stage. Or share entirely new experiences they maybe haven’t known before. It’s almost educational. Those are the deeper things. It’s a learning experience.”

“So you’re a preacher and a teacher?” I asked.

Cameryn Moore with Pavement Pornography at the Manchester Fringe

Cameryn preached some Sidewalk Smut at Manchester Fringe

“I tell the opening story. I set the guidelines. I build the segues between the storytellers. But the great thing is it’s not me doing any educating or outreaching. It’s other people who are willing to be brave and stand up.”

“Isn’t this,” I asked, “the audio equivalent of voyeurism?”

“It is. Exhibitionists need voyeurs. There are going to be people who just rush the mic, desperate to tell their stories. But there will also people who are feeling a little intimidated by the microphone.

“We have something called the Fuck Bucket – a receptacle into which people put an anonymous question or confession. That is a raffle pot for the end of the evening but I also read the slips during the course of the night. And people feel they are contributing and sharing even if no-one knows it’s them.”

“Some people,” I suggested, “will surely make up fantasies?”

“I don’t have any way of verifying. But the guidelines are that all the stories need to be real life.”

“What is your background?” I asked.

“I identify first and foremost as a playwright and performer. I have done five solo shows since 2010 and I have done phone sex for the last 7½ years, which I have now quit.”

“Phone sex?” I asked.

“Engaging in other people’s fantasies over the phone: so 7½ years of working with other people’s stories. Everything dovetails.”

“Why do you want to relocate to the UK?”

“I have spent three summers touring the UK and feel there are markets for the Smut Slams and my own shows because ‘Fringe’ is such a strong culture in the UK but not in the US. I am a non-traditional performer – I started late – I’m 46, I’m what you would call unconventional looking. Also, I will be honest. I am following true love. It is a Brit I met when I was touring the UK in 2014.”

“Male? Female?” I asked. “Animal, vegetable, mineral?”

“He’s a dude.”

“Why settle in the UK not the US?”

“When we talked about where we could be together, there was the States or the UK and – after the major electoral events in 2016 – both are turning into these incredibly horrible pits of bigotry, right? – it came down to: Which place has more guns? Let us not go there.”

“You are,” I said, “a multi-award-winner for your shows.”

The award winning Phone Whore

Her stage show Phone Whore won multiple awards…

Phone Whore got a number of awards across Canada,” said Cameryn. “Slut Revolution got an award. My fifth show is Nerdfucker, which I’m bringing to the Brighton and Edinburgh Fringes this year.”

“You have,” I said, “written ‘pornography as street performance’… Is this legal??”

“In most places,” said Cameryn. “Unless the police tell me to hustle along.”

“What is it?” I asked.

“Well, she explained, “It is not strictly pornography; it is erotica, But the phrase ‘pavement pornography’ has nice alliteration. In North America, I call it Sidewalk Smut. I just set up my manual typewriter on the sidewalk and do custom erotica for people who come up and commission it. I will be doing more of that in the UK when the weather is good which is – what? – maybe two weeks in the year?”

“You are an optimist,” I told her.

“I managed to do it in Edinburgh,” she explained. “Underneath the arches in Cowgate.”

“So,” I asked, “if I came along and asked for a bit of stuff about having sex with a giraffe, you would write me a short story about it?”

“Only if I really felt you were erotically attracted to giraffes. I don’t do novelty pieces. I want people to have fun but also be serious. I have never done giraffe smut, but I have done ovipositor porn.”

“Eh?” I asked.

“Insects or aliens laying eggs inside you,” explained Cameryn. “That’s something people like.”

“Giraffes seem less exotic now,” I said.

Rule 34,” said Cameryn, “is very much alive and well, even with ovipositor porn.”

“Rule 34?” I asked.

“If it exists, there is porn about it,” explained Cameryn.

After we ended our conversation, I googled ‘giraffe porn’.

It does, indeed, exist.

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Mansplaining storyteller Dave Pickering

SennMicrophone_wikipedia

Comedy – the new rock ’n’ roll. Storytelling – the new comedy?

I’ve blogged before about the interesting rise of storytelling nights in London, one of which is Stand Up Tragedy. Their next event is this Saturday at the Hackney Attic in London.

I talked to Dave Pickering, who runs the events. He also runs a storytelling night called Spark London – next one is on Monday, also at the Hackney Attic.

When I pressed record on my iPhone, he said:

“I’m very used to being recorded. I record people all the time myself. Very few moments of my life aren’t audio form on the internet these days it seems to me.”

“Except sex,” I joked.

“There is stuff about my sex life that is online,” Dave replied. “I told a story about sex for the Risk! podcast, which Kevin Allison does in America.”

“What’s the difference between Stand Up Tragedy and Spark London?” I asked.

Dave Pickering comperes Stand Up Tragedy

Dave Pickering is compere of Stand Up Tragedy in London

Spark is true storytelling. Stand-up Tragedy is tragedy which can involve true storytelling but can also involve other disciplines.

“My podcast Getting Better Acquainted is about me trying to get to know people I know. I’ve had conversations with my stepdad, my mother, my dad, my friends about things I would never actually normally talk to them about.

“It’s been a fascinating four years of doing that show. It’s about people. For a lot of years, I didn’t really think of my day job as being very connected to outside of it. I was doing that job just to scrape by so I could do what I wanted: I was in bands; I write novels; I write plays; I do lots of different things. Which is why I call myself a storyteller: because that broadly covers all of them.”

“And your day job was…?” I asked.

“My background work-wise, day-job-wise was that I worked as a library assistant for quite a lot of years and then I slowly but surely moved into doing stories and songs for children in libraries – generally under-fives. Then that became my full-time job: I went into children’s centres on behalf of the library service, like an ambassador for the libraries. But then my job was not needed any more: it was part of the government cuts. And that’s how I ended up being a freelance storyteller – whatever that really means.

“I got involved in Spark London about five or six years ago through storytelling. I came along and told a story, got addicted to telling stories and then they decided to put me on stage getting other people to tell stories. Now I run the Hackney branch of Spark.

“We’ve go Spark Preston and Spark Bristol both starting up and we’ve got Spark Brixton and we’ve got a show in Exmouth market every month.”

“Storytelling,” I said, “is getting to be a big thing in America.”

“I think it started with The Moth,” said Dave. “A storytelling podcast. That’s the moment when storytelling hit people’s imagination. Then there are other storytelling shows in America like Risk!

Dave Pickering is a very busy storyteller

“When comedians come to perform at Stand-Up Tragedy, they find it a unsettling – laughs don’t work in the same way”

“I think it’s growing in this country too – people standing on the stage and talking – whether it’s comedy or storytelling – people want a live experience. Comedy has had storytelling moments before. It’s a pendulum, I guess. I think more comedians are moving out of the necessity to make people laugh all the time. When comedians come to perform at Stand-Up Tragedy, they find it a bit unsettling, though, because the laughs don’t work in the same way in a room where you’ve had sad things and then happy things.”

“I think,” I said, “that storytelling needs a better, sexier name to break through. Alternative Comedy took off because it had a sexy name, but Storytelling isn’t quite a strong enough name.”

“Though,” argued Dave, “once you get someone along to a storytelling show, they kinda go Wow! This is something I’ve not seen before and then they come back and, thorough that, I think it is growing. Doing Spark in three parts of London, we’re getting big audiences now.

“One of the things you get out of a storytelling show is you get to be voyeuristic about other people’s lives in a way you don’t feel guilty about and I think we all are interested in each other’s lives.”

“I have,” I said, “been involved in some autobiography books and I’ve told the people writing them: It’s not about facts; it’s about thoughts and emotions. People aren’t interested in a list of facts; they’re interested in people people people.

“With true storytelling,” said Dave, “people think it’s about narrative, but I think it’s about character. When people stand up on stage and reveal something of themselves, we forgive them if they’re clumsy with their words if they’re being genuine and authentic.”

“You are,” I checked, “doing your first solo show at the Edinburgh Fringe this year?”

“I guess so,” Dave replied. “It’s called What About the Men? Mansplaining Masculinity.”

Dave’s Edinburgh Fringe show

Dave’s Edinburgh Fringe show: all explained in the title

“It talks about things that have hurt me because I’m a man. Being bullied. The way my mum treated me when I was growing up. The way my stepdad treated me when I was growing up. Violence and stuff. Emotional abuse. It is going to be revealing bad things that have happened to me, but also bad things I’ve done.

“I do think there’s something important in sharing the worst of ourselves as well as the best. Not just bad things but awkwardness. On stage, I try to be an awkward presence. That gives audiences permission to think: Right. We’re all awkward.

“I’ve been doing a survey of men’s experience of being a man. How patriarchy has affected them and how they’ve hurt other people. Lots of men have got very angry about the word patriarchy, but that anger’s also part of the response to my survey of nearly 1,000 men.”

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