Bellylaughs and Beyond

by Bob Reiser

bobreiserMe? Tell a funny story in public?! I could die out there!!!” That’s what folks say. Whether you call yourself humorist, raconteur or comic storyteller you may die many times – This is your chance to learn to live like a cat.

I died in nineteen eighty. My friends and I were about to get our big break – a high-class showcase for a comedy show we’d been touring! 130 journalists, booking agents, potential investors filled a drafty club in lower Manhattan.

The lights went down. The audience laughed. They clapped. They were ours…. Then it happened! The laughs faded to giggles, then to whimpers, then to silence. We looked up. The audience seemed puzzled. So, we went faster. Now they looked confused. We began to shout. Now they looked like a scene from The Producers – Their faces frozen in a rictus of horror!

Then, a terrible sound: the scraping of chairs. They were walking out.

I wanted to jump up and down and cry; I wanted to stage a full-blown temper tantrum. But, there is no crying in comedy. The audience’s exit had become The Exodus, and we still had three quarters of the show to do.

Finally, the house lights rose on an audience of eleven – my wife, bless her, my aunt, and a few stony-faced friends.

It was official — We had just died.

A week later we met and tried to figure out what had gone wrong. Comedy was a blood sport. Time to learn the rules. Here are a few that we figured out:

Pace yourself!

If you want to keep the audience with you, take it easy! When we saw that we were dying, we did the normal human thing – we ran like hell! Wrong! When you lose the audience, slow down. Give folks time to catch up with you. Don’t get louder; get softer. Show them that you are relaxed, and they will relax, too.

Rule Two: Move like butterfly, Sting like a bee.

Mix up your moves. You are a dancer, not a pile-driver. Use the laughs to accent the story, to give it rhythm. Keep the audience attentive to your every word – just where you want them to be.

Rule Three: Use your head, and not just to butt your opponent.

Learn the high points and the low points, the sweet parts the funny parts of your tale. A story is like a roller coaster – you need that long, clanking, chug chug chug up the hill so you can get to the wild shrieking whoop that follow, and after the climax, let your audience slow down and come to rest.

Rule Four: Be a lover, not a fighter.

As every teenage boy finds out, when you grab a girl, all you will get is a concussion. Likewise, no audience wants to be grabbed. They need to get to know you first. Bill Cosby begins his routine just sitting on the stage, smiling at the people. When they have quieted down, he begins to chat – like a favorite uncle. Soon he is on his feet, and his rubber face springs to life, and before you know it you are you are caught in the story’s web. Watch master-storytellers like Laura Simms and Donald Davis at work. You never see them coming,

Rule Five: Come out fighting!

Your way of telling is yours! Do it with all your heart! If you are loud and raucous, go for it! If you are quiet and intense, do that. Don’t apologize. Good comic storytelling is never having to say you are sorry. Remember the motto of the Undershafts, the munitions-makers in Shaw’s Major Barbara: “Unashamed!” A storyteller is Unashamed!!

OK, Rocky, you are almost ready. You probably know much of this. But going out there and risking a well-timed spit-take takes guts and practice. Come to “Bellylaughs and Beyond” at the 2015 National Storytelling Conference in Kansas City, MO (July 30-Aug 2). What can you lose? Bring a favorite funny story with you – Especially one you’ve never told on stage. The world deserves to hear it!

About Bob

Bob Reiser’s enthusiastic storytelling style was shaped by a misspent youth rooting for the Brooklyn Dodgers, performing with Second City and doing street theater. With six books under his belt, including the award-winning Everybody Says Freedom, written with Pete Seeger, he finally calls himself a published author.

Next year he expects to unveil his new book, Story Fever, about the art and madness of a life in storytelling.

He tells and teaches from his base in Western Massachusetts. Contact him at or write via


Enough is Enough

told by Harriet Cole

click to listen

Harriet Cole

coleOnce upon a time I wrote an historical novel called Macbeth’s Mother. Yes, that Macbeth. I was intrigued by his (probable) half-brother, Thorfinn the Black, of Orkney, who had an equal claim to the Scottish throne. Thorfinn was the son of a Norseman and I told his story through the eyes of his personal skald or storyteller (and poet). That skald needed stories so I did some research and came across “Froði’s Mill.” I loved the tale of the girls who rebel and grind out an army to defeat the king who demands unlimited gold from the magic mill. Unfortunately Macbeth’s Mother ultimately collapsed under its own weight.

All my research had gone to waste!

But when I turned to storytelling, I encountered the folktale “Why the Sea is Salt,” which is pretty much the same story as the Froði myth. When I crafted my very own version, I added a guest appearance by the god Oðinn and a clear warning against greed. Every time I tell this story always reminds me of that research is never a waste of time. Macbeth’s Mother never saw the light of day, but here is Enough is Enough.

About Harriet

Harriet Cole has been a performing storyteller in Arizona for almost ten years. The story connections she is building between the South Mountain Community College Storytelling Institute and the Boys and Girls Club of Metro Phoenix will be highlighted during her workshop “Community Youth Story Journey” at the NSN Conference in Kansas City this summer. (Part of this work has been funded by an NSN Member Grant). Her favorite stories tend to come from the Norse, her favorite workshops are built for teens, and she loves every single one of her audiences!

Contact Harriett



A Return to Oz

by Mary Margaret

marymargaretStories keep us alive, in more ways than one. They bring us back to ourselves, our desires, our needs and possibilities as humans living in this strange yet significant world.

As I continue the journey of self-discovery in 2015, I continue to ask questions about what it means to be a 20-something on this earth, here in the southeastern corner of the United States. And in all honesty, I am finding that it means something different for everyone, for each unique beating heart and thriving mind.

In the bottomless basement of my thoughts, I sense a fusion of culture, of beginnings and ends, of chaos and beauty. I sense a merging of stories.

I remember a conversation I had with my mother over a year ago when she stated how curious, hopeful, and imaginative I was during my college years. She mentioned it as a longing, as though she was secretly asking, Where did that person go?

I am fairly certain this exchange occurred when I was job-searching and becoming increasingly discouraged with the cards I had been dealt. The game of life was not working in my favor and I felt belittled and wronged because of it.

wizard-of-oz-picWhile I had not rejected my inner Dorothy entirely, adulthood had somewhat stained me. I was letting it rob me of my creativity and charm like the tornado that captured Dorothy on her way to Oz.

I do not know what it looks like, completely, for my stories to merge but I must ask, What if we, what if I took the time to settle into my own narrative without shame or abandon? What if I refused to be troubled by my asymmetric detours and simply sat and observed?

Our stories collide together like waves in the ocean. We must celebrate the chaos and turmoil of our stories. They do not always make sense but they always require our attention.

This year, in 2015, I commit to this collision. I commit to becoming an observer and learner of myself, a listener to my stories no matter what agenda or assumptions the world throws at me.

Let the waves speak.
Let the stories emerge.

About Mary Margaret

Mary Margaret is passionate about stories: story-telling, story-sharing, and story-collecting. She finds layers of narrative in everything- in the swirl of cream circling inside of her coffee, on her beloved and treasured yoga mat, and in the hilarity and simplicity of everyday life. NPR is her favorite friend and passenger as she does a great deal of driving and avoids traffic like the plague. During her college years, Mary Margaret founded the Black Warrior Storytelling Festival and brought storytellers together from all over the state of Alabama. She believes stories are the thread of life and create human connection like nothing else.

Currently residing in Nashville, Tennessee, Mary Margaret is pursuing a Master’s Degree in Organizational Leadership and serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA Volunteer at the Tennessee Literacy Coalition. Some day she hopes to create an after-school program for youth that is focused on building creativity in the forms of Creative Writing, Dance, Drama, Music, and Art.

You can find more of her writing here:


What is Wikipedia saying about your Storytelling Festival? NOTHING! Unless YOU change that!

by Norah Dooley and Carolyn Stearns

Norah Dooley photo by Susan Wilson

Norah Dooley photo by Susan Wilson

This link to a Wikipedia description of storytelling festivals for those who don’t know about them and to create conversation about them:

How can we have more storytelling festivals added to the Wikipedia listing? It is as easy as 1,2,3. Wikipedia is only as good as the people who contribute to it. An extraordinary resource and the source of free, widely consulted, constantly used information, Wikipedia also has worldwide reach. If the National Storytelling Network or any of the storytelling festivals who care to participate had to pay for this kind of publicity it would be very expensive.

Carolyn Stearns

Carolyn Stearns

What steps are needed to make better listings for storytelling a reality? We first imagined and then researched some steps to make Wikipedia listings for storytelling festivals robust and attractive. It did not take long:

Storytelling festival PR committees need to study how to add to a Wikipedia listing. This is in the help section at Wikipedia. I just spent one-hot-minute looking and found this link; to the following information:

“Wikipedia is a wiki, meaning that anyone can edit any unprotected page and improve articles immediately for all readers. You do not need to register to do this. Anyone who has edited is known as a “Wikipedian” and, no matter how trivial the edit may seem, can be proud that he or she has helped make Wikipedia what it is. All of these edits add up! Wikipedia uses two methods of editing: the new VisualEditor (VE), and classic editing through wiki markup (wikitext). The explanations on this page deal with wikitext editing (the method most used). For instructions on using VisualEditor see the VisualEditor user guide.

Some pages are protected from editing. These pages are denoted by a lock icon on the top right of the page and have a View source tab instead of an Edit tab. You can still edit these pages indirectly, by submitting an “edit request” – an editor with the ability to edit the protected page will respond to your request. You can submit a request by clicking on the View source tab on that page and using the “Submit an edit request” link at the bottom right.”

Here is a challenge! Make it happen sooner not later! Let’s aim for 12 festival listings in 12 weeks! Come on all you spring festivals, YOU need to be first! Then 50 festival in 50 weeks. Use keywords in the postings to help the page come up in searches, words like; kids, education, museum, performance, oral history, slam, festival etc.

The next really big part is getting the word out, so please share this NSN blog post. We will be watching for your updates to Wikipedia Storytelling Festivals!

Here is a link to help you get started editing on Wikipedia

This link teaches you how to add photos to an article

About Norah Dooley

Norah Dooley, storyteller, author, performer, and educator, is a co-founder of massmouth,inc.(NSN, Oracle Award 2012). As project director/ lead teacher of StoriesLive®, she’s introduced 6,000+ Greater Boston high school students to storytelling. Norah is adjunct faculty at Tufts and Lesley universities and has lectured throughout the US and in Japan.

Contact Norah:

Phone: 617.460.3544
Website: and

About Carolyn Stearns

Carolyn Stearns is a storyteller from Eastern Connecticut. She is storyteller in residence for an educational non-profit and books her own performances outside of that position. Carolyn serves on the board of directors for and is the producer of Campus Slammer for them. She has served on a committee for LANES and is the liaison to NSN from CT. She was the recipient of the 2014 Barbara Reed award at the CT. Storytelling Festival and the National Storytelling Network Oracle Award from the Northeast. Her CD “George Henry Story – The Man Who Painted Lincoln” recently garnered the Parents’ Choice Silver Award and the NAPPA Publishers Honors. Carolyn Stearns: makes a simple story, one you never forget”.

Contact Carolyn:

Phone: 860-690-4292


“The Cloud People Come to the Sonoran Desert” and “The Bobcat and the Saguaro.”

Told by Joyce Story

Click to listen

Joyce Story

joycestoryLike all the stories in Joyce’s book Tales of the Sonoran Desert, these two stories captivate the listener with the light they cast on the unique desert that lies in the southwestern US and in Mexico. Giving voice to the desert’s plants and animals, the stories intrigue audiences with their unforgettable characters, the unexpected twists of their narratives, and their blend of humor and wonder. With the introduction of venomous animals in the tale about the Cloud People, some listeners can be seen to visibly recoil, but by the end of the story, the western diamondback rattlesnake, the Gila monster, and the blonde tarantula have won even their smiles. Listeners nod with sympathy at the bobcat’s ill-fated love for the saguaro cactus and the difficulties caused by his unwanted affections, and they chuckle with approval when the situation is resolved. Along with the creative, fanciful journey they take into this land of marvels, audiences enjoy the subtle lessons and the factual information to be learned, and they praise Joyce’s stories for enhancing their understanding and respect for the flora and fauna of the Sonoran Desert.

About Joyce

Joyce has published two books, Tales of the Sonoran Desert and The Rhyme and Rhythm of Childhood, a collection of story-poems fashioned from childhood memories shared with her by family and friends in North Central Florida. As a storyteller, she is noted for sharing both these original stories and folk tales from various cultures. Joyce holds a Ph.D. degree, and as a public speaker, she frequently lectures on her experiences in the countries where she has visited and often lived and studied. CDs of her desert tales are currently in production. To preview a sample of her storytelling, please click here:

Contact Joyce