This month, The Moth caught up with Los Angeles StorySLAM host and Moth Mainstage storyteller Brian Finkelstein to talk about his relationship to The Moth and storytelling in general.
Moth fans might be familiar with his popular story How I Earned My Bitter Badge which has been been featured on the second season of The Moth Radio Hour, The Moth Podcast and our YouTube channel:
In addition to his hosting and storytelling gigs with The Moth, Brian is a comedic writer and performer. He is also a regular performer and teacher at The Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in Los Angeles. His last one-person show, First Day Off In A Long Time, was selected for the HBO/US Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen and chosen “Best In Comedy” by Time Out New York. The show was later developed as a sitcom for FOX. Brian has appeared in a variety of independent films, and on NPR, NBC’s Late Night with Conan O’Brien, TBS’s Cut To The Chase, and Comedy Central’s Upright Citizens Brigade. Most recently he was an Emmy-nominated writer for The Ellen DeGeneres Show.
MOTH: How did you find The Moth?
BRIAN: My friend Kimmy Gatewood took me to the Nuyorican Café in New York, I got picked, won, and loved it!
MOTH: What was the first story you ever told?
BRIAN: I told a story about how I once went camping naked for five straight days after getting my heart broke. It was frantic ‘cause I was worried about the 5 minutes time limit and talked super fast so I could try and tell a 10-minute story in 5 minutes. I think I still do that.
MOTH: What were your first impressions of The Moth
BRIAN: I thought it was cool that there was this ‘other’ thing. I had done some theater and some stand-up and was doing a lot of sketch, and improv at the time… but always felt like what I wanted to do most, was what I had seen Spalding Gray do. I just didn’t know how or where to do that. Now there are tons of these storytelling shows, which is great but at the time The Moth was the only one I ever saw and was happy to have a place to go do it.
MOTH: How did telling “How I Earned My Bitter Badge” in particular affect you?
BRIAN: Well, I had done that story as a 45 minute solo show for years at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, which was great. But the 10-minute Moth version showed me that a story could stand alone – and be this ‘thing’ without necessarily making a full theater show out of it.
Okay, I imagine the question wants me to answer ‘affect’ like… did telling the story give me a life epiphany. It didn’t. But I think it did help me in a weird way get over that relationship which kinda screwed me up for a few years. Or maybe it didn’t. I don’t know.
MOTH: As that story has gone on to have a life on the podcast, radio hour and is now online, has your perspective on that story changed?
BRIAN: Weirdly, I just re-told it for the first time at a Moth Show in Vermont (last week). Jamaica Kincaid was also in that show and she had a very animated and visceral reaction to that story. Her insights totally changed the way I see what happened. I mean, here’s the amazing author and she hears me in a rehearsal and instantly changes the way I see that relationship. Her reaction to me telling that story makes me wanna revisit it and write a longer version… Something I haven’t thought about in a long time.
MOTH: How have you used your experience as a storyteller to shape your role as a host?
BRIAN: Not sure, but I will say that when I first did the slams they were hosted by Dan Kennedy, Andy Borowitz, and Jonathan Ames. Those three guys are so amazing, that I think they kinda taught me how to host. How to always try and make the people going up on any given night look and feel as great as possible. Plus at the slams you have Jenifer Hixson who is the best of the best and she also slapped me in the back of the head if I did anything wrong.
MOTH: How would you describe The Moth community in LA? How does it compare to NYC?
BRIAN: Sucks. Everything in LA sucks. No, its kinda the same. It’s definitely grown a lot. When I first started doing it. The first slams we did out here, there was like 3 names in the hat and 5 people in the audience. I used to call friends and beg them to come down and tell a story. Now, it sells out and those same friends call me and beg me to get them a seat (I don’t!). Plus the producers out here Kerry & Gary are great and some of the regulars are now good friends.
MOTH: How has The Moth influenced your other dramatic and comedic work?
BRIAN: I think it’s helped a lot with my ability to tell stories when I write anything- screenplays, or a TV pilot, or theater shows. It’s also where I’ve met other writers and performers who have totally influenced me. For example the night I told the Bitter Badge story I met Cindy Chupack, an amazing writer who has become a great friend and also kind of a teacher/mentor to me. Okay, mentor sounds stupid I just mean she’s helped me a lot with some stuff I’ve written and some of the business aspects of it all that I still get lost in.
MOTH: If you could hear a Moth story from anyone in the world (living or dead), who would it be and why?
BRIAN: I’d like to hear someone I’ve never met tell me a story I had no idea I wanted to hear yet. Those are always the best. Wait does that sound pretentious? Um, what about Angelina Jolie? I’d like to hear her tell a story, any story.