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Mansplaining storyteller Dave Pickering

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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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Filed under Comedy, Podcasts, Psychology, storytelling