Rejection. Awkwardness. Failure. These are her richest elements for comedy. “I have a story that ends with the line: ‘At a time I felt really dead in my life, thank you for making me feel alive.’ People laughed at that,” said Margot Leitman, a memoir performer. “I’m thinking, ‘You should be crying.’ No, nobody’s crying.”
Story slam participant Margot Leitman remembers her greatest performance: a phone dating profile she set up at 12-years old. (Peter Crimmins/For NewsWorks)
Rejection. Awkwardness. Failure. These are her richest elements for comedy.
“I have a story that ends with the line: ‘At a time I felt really dead in my life, thank you for making me feel alive.’ People laughed at that,” said MargotLeitman, a memoir performer. “I’m thinking, ‘You should be crying.’ No, nobody’s crying.”
Leitman joined eight other performers on the stage of the Perelman Theater at the Kimmel Center for an evening of stand-up memoir. Philadelphia’s First Person Arts imported them from across the country as part of the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts.
All of the performers cut their teeth on the competitive story-slam circuit, wherein autobiographical performers vie for audience approval. Humor tends to get an immediate reaction.
Few of the performers have played in Philadelphia before. Although the reputation of Philly’s notorious sports fans caused some apprehension, Leitman knew the audience would be people who “listen to NPR and read the New Yorker.”
“In my head, I always say–even when I go for a job interview–I always do the ‘Rocky’ theme in my head. That’s how I pump myself up,” said storyteller Adam Wade. “It’ll be nice to do the ‘Rocky’ theme in my head when I do a show in Philadelphia.”
If there are story-slam stars, Wade may be one of them. He has won the Grand Slam several times at The Moth, a New York storytelling venue. In Philadelphia, he told a tale about his young obsession with Roy Orbison’s song “Running Scared.”
“It developed into its own personal meaning when I fell in love for the first time, when I was in fourth grade, with Mary Ellen Winters. She was an older woman, a sixth-grader,” said Wade in the green room of the Perelman. “She had a boyfriend who was a popular sixth-grader. He looked like he was out of Teen Beat. I don’t look like I’m in Teen Beat.”
Wade discovered Mr. Orbison and Ms. Winters at the same time, and used the former to work up courage for the later. On stage, Wade uses his nervous energy, his rural New Hampshire drawl, and his geeky innocence to win over the audience to the emotional pratfalls of his childhood.
“I am what I am,” said Wade. “It took me years to figure out I’m trying to be something I’m not. I’m a nervous guy, so when I’m up there, I’m shaking a little, I’m cracking a little, but there’s a hidden confidence in that.”
Unlike the narrator in “Running Scared,” Wade didn’t get the girl. But on Wednesday night he had the audience in his pocket.
Adam Wade, originally from rural New Hampshire now living in New York City, recalls his first love in 4th grade, his 6th grade rival, and the song that gave him courage to pursue it: Roy Orbison’s “Runnin’ Scared.”