So there I was, shaking in my sandals, and sweating absolute buckets as the spotlight shone directly into my eyes. A fond one for erratic arm movements, facial expressions and exaggeration, I always enjoyed entertaining friends and family with a little scéal. But in front of strangers? And on a stage? Well, this was a different experience, altogether.
About a year ago I started listening to The Moth, a podcast that broadcasts personal stories told by members of the public in front of a live audience. Instantly I was an addict, thriving off the performers’ combined vulnerability and bravery, and hypothesising over whether or not I too could rustle up the courage to do something similar one day.
All it took was a Facebook ad highlighting The Dublin Story Slam for me to interpret it as a divine sign from the universe that now was my chance to feel the fear and do it anyway. I was hell-bent on getting up on that stage, and I felt woozy.
If you are not already acquainted with The Dublin Story Slam, it’s hosted by the very swoony comedian Colm O'Regan in Dublin’s The Sugar Club. Just like The Moth, it’s an open mic storytelling event that gives the audience the chance to share a true personal story inspired by a different theme every month.
Attendees of The Dublin Story Slam come from every walk and stage of life, and their stories range from hilarious, to devastating, to hide-your-face-behind-your-hands cringey. I think a special atmosphere fills the room when the people within it are willing to make themselves vulnerable, or at least, this was certainly the case the night I got up on that stage.
When the time came, however, not even the good vibes could stop my hands from shaking, or prevent me from downing two glasses of wine in the space of seven minutes. Good God, I was not expecting to be this nervous. I had told this story a zillion times (myself and a friend were mugged at knifepoint in Paris, only to embark on a manhunt with the French police and find the perps and get all of our money back - it’s a good story!), but still terrified about forgetting the main funny bits, jumbling up the plot, or somehow falling off the stage. And if anyone was going to fall off the stage, it would be me.
I brought my two sisters and a friend along for moral support. Despite their obvious efforts, they were not great at hiding their nerves for me. Between squeezing my hand reassuringly and making fierce efforts to guide conversation away from the event, at different intervals they would give into temptation, whispering “gosh I didn’t realise that there’d be so many people here!” and squealing “ARE YOU NERVOUS? EEEEK I’M SO NERVOUS!”.
The people who performed that night were something else. I remember the incredibly nervous woman from America, who stammered and stuttered her way through her story, only to get a rambunctious applause at the end. A different woman with an over-prepared performance and cringey narrative, unfortunately, did not fare so well. And how could I forget the 80-something-year-old man from Cabra, who had been attending open-mic nights for years and, only thanks to his daughters’ ceaseless encouragement, did he finally get up to perform his own story. That man was later voted winner of the night for his heartbreaking account of getting old.
But back to me. It was hard to enjoy the first few acts because I was so jittery as I waited for my own name to get picked out of the hat. Apologies to the people who performed before me, but you are just a hazy blur in my egocentric memory.
At first, it felt like I was bombing. Silence rang out in the room at the points that were supposed to be funny, and I was struggling to gauge the reactions from the audience because of the roasting spotlight. But then I started to catch the sound of a few chuckles, followed by murmurs of approval from the crowd, and with that my confidence grew and my flow gathered some momentum. I was only up there six minutes, but by the time it was over I felt like a bloody rockstar; what was probably just a polite round of applause genuinely rang out in my ears like a 20,000 crowd going wild.
I walked back up to my seat buzzing with delight and relief at having done this scary thing that I said I’d do. I had felt the fear and I did it anyway, and I didn’t fall off the stage. All-in-all, even if you don’t want to perform a story, this is a fantastic event to attend for the sole purpose of restoring your faith in humanity. That, and for getting a glimpse of Colm O’Regan in the flesh.
This month The Dublin Story Slam is teaming up with First Fortnight, a festival that's all about giving a voice to mental health through the Arts, and the theme is Voices. Tickets are almost sold out for this event, but you can find out more about future events, and ways to sign up to perform, here.