Someone told me once that New York is the only city in the world that doesn’t project anything on its inhabitants. It’s the only city, that person said, which instead consists of its inhabitants’ own dreams.
But when we’re young, and have lots of thoughts and energy, it becomes very easy to live in New York in just the way that one always imagined — with more cliches than personal dreams in tow. Be it through attending rowdy parties, or visiting chic restaurants, or enjoying sky-sweeping and gravity-bending views, that imagined life in New York City can sometimes overwhelm the unexpected.
To fight this phenomenon, I try to let the city lead me from time to time. Manhattan is arranged in a grid, for instance, so if one knows one’s general direction it’s possible to zigzag arbitrarily and entrust one’s fate to the whim of traffic lights. In addition, this city with hundreds of events per day never fails to provide the reason and opportunity to try something completely off the cuff.
Last Friday, I took one such leap into the unknown and attended a monthly storytelling event called Slideshow Goshko.
Let me begin by introducing the evening’s hostess, comedian Leslie Goshko – who also happens to be a Manhattan Monologue Slam Champion, a recipient of the NY Fringe Excellence Award, and a once-performer on Broadway (with the cast of Hairspray).
Now, for the locale: Held at KGB Bar in the East Village, the evening walked the delicate line between hilarity and intellect. The bar is known as one of the best literary locations in this very literary city; formerly a haunt of actual communist sympathizers, today it handles Cold War paraphernalia with tact and charm. The walls are painted a dark red, and there is a hammer-and-sickle hanging over the bartender, but one really has to squint to notice the rest of the pictures on the walls. Instead, it’s easy to spend time observing the dark leather seats and the friendly, unpretentious clientele gathered here for a show and a strong whiskey.
Given her list of accomplishments, Goshko seems predictably well-connected, and the line-up of performers is impressive. Their task is to tell a real-life story – the only expectation set amongst their audience.
The evening I attended, Margot Leitman talked about the dangers of beef; literal, choking danger – especially relevant to beef skewers. Carter Edwards of the Upright Citizen’s Brigade introduced himself as someone who’s recently written an anthology of gay zombie stories (though I have yet to track this down online). And Dan Allen, of Comedy Central’s Premium Blend fame, started the evening with a story about losing his virginity… but not quite.
While it wouldn’t be true to humor to try and paraphrase these narratives, the evening leaves a strong impression. Storytelling can’t be called a dying art, because most art forms – writing, signing, film, and visual artistry – convey a narrative in some way. However, oral storytelling is becoming rare; the evening brought it back to life with wit and verve. Goshko’s contribution could be described as bringing artists together, and forcing them to talk – making them jump off the pedestal that we, their audience, often construct for them. Instead, we’re forced to think about their lives – and hence their art – with the same humor we might lend our own.
And, as a writer, this is liberating.