Being a queer, closeted goth kid in Texas left David Crabb with a lot of stories to tell, enough for a book and solo show. Ask him for a story now, though, and he probably won’t tell you about that.
“I’ve been telling stories for a decade, and man, my coming out process was interesting, but not that interesting,” Crabb said. “I think there’s only so much of that that you can bank on, and for me, I feel like that coming out stuff has sort of done its job. I’m moving on to other material.”
Tales ranging from his adolescent best friend to having an MRI to secrets have made Crabb a story-slam champion and host with The Moth, a storytelling organization with communities and competitions across the world, including in Denver—a RISK! and Snap Judgement podcast guest, a Fringe Festival favorite, and a storytelling teacher for groups including the Upright Citizens Brigade, The Story Studio, and Tisch School of the Arts.
David Crabb will hold two performances in Denver, the first at The Bakery at 7:30 p.m. on August 9, and another the next night at 8:00 p.m. at House of Pod. Up first is “Story Roulette,” providing a bit of spontaneity Crabb says is often lost in storytelling; the second, “Man in a Hole,” comes from the Kurt Vonnegut storytelling idea of “things can only get worse.” Tickets are available on Eventbrite here and here, respectively.
Crabb will also hold storytelling workshops at House of Pod on August 10. The first, from 10 a.m.-12:30 p.m., will cover how to find and structure stories. The second workshop picks up at 1 p.m. and gives participants the chance to tell stories and hear feedback. Tickets can be purchased here.
Storytelling is a young art form, with The Moth and other organizations only taking off within the last decade. Denver’s branch of The Moth began in October of 2014, with the inaugural event hosted by Crabb.
“With most storytellers I know, it’s funny; it wasn’t the format that inspired them as kids; it was just a thing they naturally did as people,” Crabb said. “It’s almost like culture caught up with a bunch of people I know like me who were just raconteurs already; they just never had a stage. The interest sort of precludes the craft a bit.”
Crabb spent his childhood telling stories, then got into theatre in middle school, which led to joining a New York theatre company in 1999 after college.
“I really appreciated acting for the stage, but I was always interested in solo shows, like John Leguizamo, Whoopi Goldberg, and all that; I always wanted to do that, and then someone introduced me to RISK! and The Moth kind of at the same time, and I was like, ‘Oh, that’s a way to get this part of me out that doesn’t have to do with memorizing someone else’s script or playing another character. I just get to sort of be myself.’ Discovering those platforms in New York was really the beginning of me translating that interest into something I wanted to do in the world.”
As a storytelling teacher for everyone from high schoolers to pharmaceutical companies to Wounded Warriors and United We Dream, Crabb has helped others manifest their interest. One of his former students, Vanessa Valerio, is a Denver-based producer and Moth winner who coordinated Crabb’s performances and workshops.
“Taking that class with David really changed my life,” Valerio said. “I went to that class not even knowing what storytelling really was; I just wanted to do something different and perform, because I’d always liked performing. You could tell a story about whatever day of your life, you just have to find that little thing that would make it interesting, because it’s interesting for you. He makes you think, makes you talk, and you’re like, ‘Of course, I have that story. That’s a great story.’”
Since moving to Denver a year ago, Valerio has been involved in the local storytelling community, hearing from both seasoned storytellers and those looking to start, and thinks Crabb’s visit will benefit them all.
“I want to bring people that have good, interesting stories that can resonate not only with the Denver community, but also with everyone,” she said. “I think Denver is awesome; it’s a great place; I love, love, love Denver, but I think it’s lacking a little bit of that, so I’m very happy to bring it.”
Crabb’s shows are for Denver’s queer community, but also for the city as a whole.
“I wonder if sometimes gay artists think that they have to exist in a kind of a ghetto, or that, because they’re queer, all of their work needs to be about being queer. When I released my coming-out memoir Bad Kid, I heard from a lot of queer people, most of whom I will never meet. There are gay and lesbian kids who I helped come out to their families long-distance via Instagram messages who I will never meet. And that makes me so happy.
“There are also a fair amount of people who emailed me saying things like, ‘I’m straight, and I was the only kicker who wore cowboy hats in my high school in Detroit, and when I read your book, it made me think so much of what it felt like to be an outlier in a culture that didn’t get me.’ That’s one of the a-ha moments that I had about coming out stories…”
Any story can be made universal, Crabb said, and the subversion of expectations can make for better, more accessible works.
“If I got to a storytelling show, and a Muslim woman comes out in traditional garb and proceeds to tell a story about being Muslim, then a young black woman comes out and tells a story specifically about being black, and then a white, straight man comes out and tells a story specifically about what it means to be white and straight in America in 2019, and then a gay man tells a story about being gay and how hard it is, to me that gets boring.
“I don’t want to feel like stories and storytellers are programmed that way. I’m excited by the idea of hearing a person that looks a certain way outside of my experience tell a story about, ‘Man, I’ve had the hardest time buying eggs that aren’t broken in the carton lately.’ Granted, I think there’s so much to be said for any storyteller sharing identity narratives and an origin story about their religion, the color of their skin, their sexuality, their political beliefs, etc.
“But, I also think there’s something to be said for seeing someone stand up and look so wildly different, and you make all these exotic presumptions about them if you don’t have exposure to that kind of person, and then they just tell a story about how hard it is being a mother to newborn twins. It’s universal. Any mother in that audience is like, ‘I hear you, sister.’ I feel like it’s a balance. That’s important to me, to have those stories that can exist for a really queer audience that maybe people outside that experience can get.”