Telling Tales With a Tear and a Smile

New York Times (New York, NY), April 4, 2012


When she was 18, Ophira Eisenberg drunkenly cheated on her boyfriend with a guy she barely knew. This led to panic, lies, confrontation and, inevitably, a breakup.

It could easily be an operatic teenage drama, but Ms. Eisenberg, now in her 30s, told this story last week at Upright Citizens Brigade in Chelsea with directness, humor and understatement. Her point of view came across in the details: she described sex on the beach as “like grinding pepper.”

Wearing a leopard-skin jacket, her bangs swaying as her arms spun circles in the air, Ms. Eisenberg did not overhype or wallow. Instead she evoked a naïve kid indifferent to consequences. Told largely in flashback, the wry story ended abruptly. No lesson learned elbowed its way clumsily into the narrative. She let the story speak for itself. That was more than enough.

Ms. Eisenberg, a comic from Calgary, Alberta, works in a variety of formats: stand-up, radio, essay. But the one that most thoroughly shows off her considerable talents is storytelling. With more potential for expansiveness, this live art has become a kind of cultural counterweight to the enforced brevity of Twitter. What she demonstrates is that storytelling can give a certain kind of comedy a chance to grow.

While telling stories is about as old as life itself, storytelling, as a subgenre of comedy and increasingly theater, is relatively new, growing rapidly over the past decade. It now has its own stars, classes, open-mike nights and even its first national scandal. Most storytellers offer modest tales of 5 to 10 minutes that pivot on a personal moment. The Moth, which produces shows in cities across the country, remains the most popular showcase, but a dizzying number of quirky, diverse small-scale alternatives have emerged throughout New York.

Subjects Covered: personal stories

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