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Dispatches from the Moth · Posted On: Nov 28, 2011

Celebrating The Moth's 200th Podcast Episode with Chicago's First GrandSLAM!

by Jenifer Hixson, Senior Producer

Chi Peter

Peter Sagal hosting the first ever Chicago GrandSLAM in January 2011 in front of a sold-out crowd at Park West. All photos by Mike Martens.

Thank you so much for supporting us on the way to our 200th episode of The Moth podcast!

As a way to say thanks, we wanted to give our listeners the best approximation of a full-length Moth GrandSLAM by podcasting the first Chicago GrandSLAM, recorded live in January 2011 and presented in its entirety. You’ll hear the whole thing, from start to finish, over the course of two podcast episodes.

Moth GrandSLAMS have been happening in New York and  California for many years but for this maiden GrandsSLAM podcast, we thought we’d let the middle of the country represent (but would like to note that all of our GrandSLAMs are wild romps and podcast-worthy!)

Chicago storytellers really impressed us on their first time out AND, the event was hosted by the incomparable Peter Sagal, the host of Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me. Peter Sagal is dearly beloved by Moth staff, indeed the news that he was hosting was received with a great many high-fives, fist pumps and victory dances. Thank you Peter!

At our monthly StorySLAMs, storytellers can expect an audience of 175 to 250 people. But this GrandSLAM was held at Park West, which holds 750 people. Every single seat was taken. Please picture that as you listen!

Bios of the ten storytellers, in the order they appeared, are below. After the bios, we thought we’d give the storytellers a little space to reflect on the experience.
All of these stories have backstories and post stories and addenda and codas. And it is this way with all stories, Moth stories and otherwise. They spin off and ricochet, inspire and multiply. “Hey, that reminds me, this one time…”

Here’s hoping you bring one of your stories to a StorySLAM or to our pitchline soon.

We’re proud to present the evening’s storytellers (in the order in which they were called to the stage) plus our host and musician. (Spoiler alert- a few  key story elements are revealed here. You may want to listen first to preserve the true Moth GrandSLAM experience!)

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Peter Sagal

Peter Sagal is the host of Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me, the NPR news quiz, heard by more than three million listeners on more than 500 public radio stations every week. He’s also been a stage actor, director, travel writer, extra in a Michael Jackson music video, and the author of The Book of Vice — all of which he did just to get material for anecdotes.

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Tomeka Reid, Musician

Cellist and composer Tomeka Reid is a sought after freelance musician in the Chicago metropolitan area who consistently strives to expand her music palette to include other musical styles and performance techniques.  Originally from the Washington, D.C. area, she moved to Chicago to continue her studies at DePaul University and the University of Illinois. Ms. Reid currently performs with Hear in Now, the AACM’s Great Black Music Ensemble, Nicole Mitchell’s Black Earth Ensemble/Strings and Mike Reed’s Loose Assembly.  Ms. Reid is also on faculty at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools.

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Matt Miller

Matt Miller is a stage director, storyteller, and long suffering Cleveland Indians fan. Although he is only 36, he is reading on 39 year-old level. Matt says:

Due to the time limit at the GrandSLAM, I couldn’t share this little nugget about Brad. On our first actual drive together, Brad and I ventured into a neighborhood with old, rusty cars on blocks, chain link fences protecting yards overgrown with weeds, and broken bottles lining the curbs. When we approached a bend in the road with a small white ranch house perched on the corner, Brad sat up. “Now you should accelerate past this house. There’s a dog what lives there and he hates this car.” “What?” I said. There was no dog around. And I was pretty sure this was simply a ruse to get me to break the speed limit and lose some points on my lesson or something. But Brad persisted. “Seriously, there’s a dog what lives there and he will attack this car.”

Still unconvinced, I kept the car under twenty-five as we rounded the corner. And then, in my rear-view mirror, I watched as a frigging massive black dog vaulted over the chain link fence and began to chase the car. “He will attack the car.” Brad said casually. “He hates this car.” What Brad and his red Toyota had done to earn this mutt’s rancor I hadn’t a clue. But they had done something. And they had done it well.

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Shaun Sperling

Shaun Sperling is a litigation attorney who aspires to be the next Judge Judy.  He is President of the Jr. Board of the AIDS Foundation of Chicago. Shaun says:

The Moth GrandSlam was a mind- blowing, overwhelming experience.  The energy from the audience was awesome … they hung on each storyteller’s every word.  I qualified for the GrandSLAM by winning the StorySLAM with the theme: BACKFIRED.  The story I told was in my back pocket,  I’d told it to friends dozens of times at parties, it was ready to tell at any moment.  With the GrandSlam, the theme “Into The Wild” scared me.  The story didn’t come to me right away.  I had to dig deep to find something that fit.  The process brought out a lot of energy and creativity.   I learned from re-exploring my own experience…Eventually I found the message I wanted to share with the audience.  I confess, now I love being naked all the time!  Being in the Moth GrandSlam was truly an honor.

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Kristin Daly

Kristin Daly was born and raised in Boston, but now lives in St. Louis, Missouri, where she is an oncology nurse, wife, and mother of two. Kristin says:

Nurses know that everyone has a story if you just take the time to listen. I’d been a fan of the Moth for years when I learned that there were monthly StorySLAMs in Chicago. I started to feel a story bubbling up but just kept trying to ignore it. When I  saw that the theme for the June 2010 StorySLAM was Scars, I knew I had to throw my name in the hat. I booked a cheap ticket on the Megabus, got a hotel room online, and set off by myself.

It is a bit of a blur, but I met a lot of great people and was picked fifth to tell my “Fish Story.” I was shocked when I won. Even more so when I discovered that the win qualified me for the GrandSLAM. How would I explain to my boss that I needed time off during the week? I upgraded to the train for the GrandSLAM trip and several friends and fellow nurses joined me. A few moments stand out for me that night: when a fellow contestant (Lisa Nigro) recognized me from my original story and wished me luck, when the waitress brought me a much-needed beer after my turn on stage and said, “your story was very moving,” and the moment when, as I made my way back to my seat after finishing on stage, I saw something on the table by my chair.  It was a rubber monster finger puppet. The fact that someone had one with them (!) and thought to leave it for me as a memento was very touching. I keep it as a treasured reminder of a magical night. Stories define us, change us, and connect us, even if only for a brief moment together in the dark. (PS: I’m a public radio nerd, and I also treasure the photo I took with Peter Sagal!)

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Beth Stelling

Beth Stelling is an award-winning comic who recently moved to Los Angeles. Beth says:

I’m a stand-up but I love storytelling, so I incorporate it in my stand-up a lot already. I won the StorySlam at Martyr’s with the theme of “Firsts” when I talked about how I lost my virginity to a water slide in Orlando Florida called the Der Stuka (it’s German for “steep hill”, in case you were wondering). Makes little sense. What’s the German word for “death trap”? I loved being a part of the Grand Slam and I was honored. The story about my father collecting more and more raccoons to the point of infestation is a true one. I was nervous that night because stand-ups aren’t really encouraged to get up and tell jokes at a StorySLAM, but I told the story to the best of my ability in the time frame and I tried to keep it about the story instead of the laugh lines…but…I am a stand-up and I do crave attention so I hope you enjoy.

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Kevin Gladish

Kevin Gladish spends much of his time acting in plays and only recently fell in love with the rich storytelling scene in Chicago, performing at such venues as Story Club, Story Lab, and This Much Is True. Originally from Cleveland, OH, he remains a hopeless Browns fan. Kevin says:

In case you’re wondering, my father saw the performance and enjoyed it. But he felt it was a bit skewed. Out of fairness, here is Norm’s version:

“Let me clear this up. One July, I took my wife, son and daughter to Safari Wildlife Park, where you feed animals from your car window. It’s true that the park posted signs saying DO NOT FEED THE CAGED ANIMALS. And as Kevin said, as a US Marine I was taught to follow orders and I always obeyed policies like these. This time, however, Kevin begged to feed the little lemurs. I was adamantly against this, but my wife and daughter were also pleading to let him, and being outnumbered, I allowed him to go to the cage. I thought, what the hell. I followed orders my whole life. Kevin should enjoy this chance. And he did. I remember a lot of spirited hooting and yelling as Kevin played with them through the bars, and I wanted to capture it on film. This must have embarrassed him, because he eventually taped over it. So there’s no evidence.  But come on…  Who gets his ass kicked by a little animal like that?”

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Lawrence Kerns

Lawrence Kerns, M.D. is a child psychiatrist, father, writer, amateur cabin builder, and fan of Thoreau. Lawrence says:

It was such an honor to be included in the company of all those talented storytellers – and The Moth events are always so much fun!

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Louie Mingione

Louie Mingione works at a medical device company as an R&D engineer in their laparoscopic instrument division. He’s an avid Badger fan and a newlywed. Louie says:

I was so excited to come back and share another story with everyone after I won the StorySLAM Blunders in November of 2009. I invited all my friends and family; my mom and sister came down from Wisconsin. I really didn’t have a good story for the theme “Into the Wild” though. I almost told a story of how I got ticks when my car broke down on the side of a deserted highway. But instead I decided to stretch the theme a bit and share the story of how I met my (now) wife. I knew the judges might ding me for my tale of falling, “wildly in love” but it’s my personal favorite story and I think it is plenty wild! I hadn’t told anyone, not even my fiancee, that I was going to share our tale, but once I started, I knew I had made the right decision. I had a blast. It was just like taking with a few hundred of my closest friends. Hopefully, it also  gave some hope that they too will find their soul mate when they weren’t looking for them.

The other stories that night were amazing  and it was pretty cool to meet Peter Sagal. I often listen to The Moth podcast on my way to work and I now appreciate more than ever how brave you have to be  to get up in front of the microphone. It is also an awesome rush.

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Lisa Nigro

Lisa Nigro is the founder and co-chair of The Inspiration Corporation, a Chicago-based nonprofit that helps people affected by homelessness and poverty. Lisa says:

I love the magic of telling stories and how each listener picks up and holds tight to certain parts of the tale.  The Moth series is amazing because the stories are true. When I attend Moth events I play a game in my head when each person gets up on stage.  I imagine what type of story it could be based on the tempo and rhythm of the storyteller. Do you know what? I am usually WRONG!! I have been blown away by meek women who portray themselves as housewives and then reveal a tale that is so intense I keep looking around to see if everyone else is blown away as much as me. Or burly dudes who tell a tale of love and fate and tears are welling up in my eyes. At one Moth reading I heard a story that I still can’t retell without crying. It was by a nurse/mom whose child had cancer and in her story she interweaves the story of the Cat in the Hat. (She was one of the finalist at this evening). The revelations in that story dug so deep into me I had to hold myself back from yelling at the top of my lungs… “I Friggin Love the Moth!”

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Byron Flitsch

Byron Flitsch is a freelance writer and storyteller originally from Chicago, now living in LA. He’s founded a magazine, The Everyday Gay. Byron says:

There’s nothing quite like arriving to a sold out concert hall to tell a story about dancing in a naked shower contest that really tests your wits! As a writer, I get to hide behind the page and tell my story without actually seeing an audience reaction, but The Moth takes that shield away and offers a rare raw experience that has taken my storytelling to a whole new level. Life is all about getting small moments to connect with people, and you have to love a friendly competition that celebrates that.  Also, I’m honored to have had the opportunity to share one of the “proudest” (ahem) stories about how I attempted to make extra cash during my twenties –  hey, being a young artist is tough, you gotta pay them bills somehow! (Sorry, mom!)

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Shannon Cason

When Shannon Cason isn’t telling stories, he’s writing them. Shannon is currently seeking publishers for his first crime novel. He has a podcast named Homemade Stories. Shannon says:

I had been in my office (small closet in the back of the apartment) writing more, going to storytelling events, and literary readings. My fiancee, Cindy, had been watching me spend all this creative time with a supportive but skeptical eye, because I’m terribly underemployed. I have a MBA, but I sell women’s shoes at Macy’s. I probably should be sending out more resumes, instead of writing and telling stories at coffeehouses.

Cindy hadn’t been able to go to any evening events because we have a small child and I get nervous when someone I know is in the audience, but when I got invited to The Moth GrandSLAM at the Park West Theater, we got a sitter, and we both went. It’s funny because I didn’t care about the other 900 people in the room, the only opinion that mattered was Cindy’s. It was her first time seeing me tell a story. I did okay. I won. Cindy went crazy. It was a great moment.

I still do a lot of writing in my office/closet in the back of the apartment. I probably should be sending out more resumes.

Congratulations to Shannon Cason and the rest of our fantastic Chicago storytellers! We hope you enjoyed it as much as we did. Let us know what you think of this podcast format in the comment section below or by emailing And thanks again for your support – we couldn’t have done it without you!

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