I sat in the passenger seat with a bag of books on my lap as the headlining comic, Jenny drove me back to the city. We had just performed a fun and well attended show in a restaurant somewhere in southern New Jersey, close to the Pennsylvanian border. I had $80 in my pocket and was feeling pretty good after what I felt was a successful show. As I shifted under my bag seeking a more comfortable sitting position, Jenny looked over and said “You know you’re not a stand up comic, right?”. I was a little taken back “What do you mean?”. “You’re a storyteller, all that shit you’re doing with those books is storytelling. There’s no real jokes there, but it’s funny.” She was sincere and explained to me that there was such a thing, a growing scene in fact called storytelling. She liked what I was doing but was a little bit confused at seeing me do it on a traditional stand up comedy show. I was told about The Moth and several other storytelling shows around the city and how they worked.
Jenny was in the process of producing a storytelling event at The Starlight Room in the back of the Mayo Theater in Morristown New Jersey. That was my first ever storytelling event. She asked me to do my “Spock bit” and that’s exactly what I done. “Spock bit” was about my childhood hero, Spock. In my notes I had it written down as ‘Chaos & Logic’ and it could run up to 20 plus minutes if time permitted. I talked about my childhood, its sometimes internal and external chaos, heroes and their function and the hope that a flawed character both real and imaginary could bring. Leonard Nimoy was not the best actor or writer but he kept at it, finding success very late in life. He totally owned what he loved regardless. In a strange way it seemed that we had everything and nothing in common. An almost comical underdog and beloved, structured and flawed. Seemingly in control but more often lost and grasping. I used several of his books of questionable poetry and both autobiographies, I Am Not Spock (1975) and I Am Spock (1995) in my act. The latter two have titles alone that hint to his life’s story arc. I utterly loved both the character and the actor.
In boiling it down to 8-10 minutes in later tellings it lost its core meaning and was a little on the jokey side. Eventually I stopped telling it all together unless specifically requested. On that first show, I remember walking out with my books, placing them on a chair and talking to over a hundred people like we had always known each other. It seemed like the most natural thing in the world. It was a stark difference to the anxiety filled, rigidly structured stand up routines I was used to doing. Storytelling was an enjoyable experience. I loved it. And that was the end of that, or so I thought.
The New York Times reviewed the show and soon after I was asked to perform on another show in the city. At that show, two producers from two separate storytelling shows liked what I done and asked me to perform on their shows. Producers at those shows asked me to perform on their shows and so on. Those gigs went really well and I remember working incredibly hard on editing, polishing and improving my pieces in any way I could. I wrote more stories, some worked, others not so much but I was still getting booked. At the end of the first year I had a new circle of friends and was regularly doing the same shows from time to time. I enjoyed it and never looked back at stand up ever again.When I noted the date of my last stand up gig (a roast at a friend’s wedding-it was more fun than it sounds) I had been doing stand up for almost five years to the day. That’s a whole different story.
During all this time I had always been working on my music. I had friends who knew me solely as a musician and those that knew me solely as a storyteller/comedian/bag of books guy/whatever. Few knew me as both. I met Daniela through mutual friends via this new world that was storytelling. At that point I already had songs written and was looking into recording studios to make a record. I didn’t relish the idea of spending large quantities of time alone with strangers, I had done enough of that. Storytelling is such a solitary endeavor, sometimes romantic in adventure but mostly melancholic. I asked Daniela to join me and we created Supersmall together. Songs were rewritten, Daniela stamped her influence upon it and our debut This Other World was released a year later to positive reviews. It was even nominated as one of the top thirteen independent releases of 2013. We couldn’t have been happier.
We’ve since recorded, worked and performed with some impressive names in music while clocking up some serious miles gigging wherever we could. I don’t think I’ve ever been happier than doing what I do right now. As I write this we are in the last throes of our follow-up record. I’ve joined two other bands through storytelling and the musical adventures never fail to surprise me. I still perform on storytelling shows around the city but have found a balance in also playing with three bands. Supersmall is still my main focus and I am constantly amazed at the doors it has opened and the opportunities it has brought us. Never a dull moment.
So why am I writing this? Well, everything I’ve mentioned stems for that one story I told on stage over five years ago. All the musical adventures, good times and friends I’ve gained along the way are because I told a story I intended to tell just once to a room full of strangers in New Jersey.
Thank you Leonard Nimoy. RIP. LLP. Colin.
“Rocket ships are exciting, but so are roses on a birthday” – Leonard Nimoy, Come Be With Me, 1978.