Great Storytelling Advice from Moth Founder George Dawes Green


If you have ever attended a Moth event (or tuned into their Radio Hour), and found yourself fantasizing about getting up on the lone stage and telling one great story, then check out our recent interview with the organization’s founder George Dawes Green, in which he lends his personal advice on great raconteuring. Who knows, you could be their next StorySLAM champion. For other exclusive celebrity interviews on the art of storytelling (including Darryl “DMC” McDaniels, Mike Birbiglia, and Matt Bomer) from the 2012 Moth Ball honoring Martin Scorsese, see our slideshow re-cap.

What’s the key to a really great story? Vulnerability. Great storytellers really never tell about triumphs — they always focus on weakness and loss, and their own humanity, their own clownishness. So, anytime a storyteller really opens up and is really vulnerable, the audience immediately responds.

Do you have a favorite Moth story? Almost any Edgar Oliver story. He has a way — he just dives so deep. You know I’ve heard thousands of stories, but I really think he’s the most brilliant raconteur in the world.

It’s pretty well known that The Moth was inspired by the nights you spent on the porch with your friends, and the moths, circling the lamplight. Is this true? It’s all true. I was a young man in Georgia, getting drunk at night, and sitting around with my friends on Wanda [Bullard’s] porch. And we used to tell a lot of stories and then years later I was in New York, and I just missed the idea of being able to be expansive with stories. And so I thought, “Well I’ll bring people around and just, you know, keep other people quiet — and let them tell their stories.” … And now there are Moth offshoots in Amsterdam and Berlin, and we went to Turkmenistan last year — it’s really amazing, the response.

Getting other people to be quiet — this seems very poignant today, with Facebook and Twitter, where we’re continually putting information out there. You know I’ve been going out on tour a lot, taking this art form of raconteuring out to little towns, and wherever I go there’s this hunger that people have — to get together in these groups and listen to stories and get away from the Internet. I call it “being buried alive” because you crawl into this little grey coffin, and there you live for hours and hours, with you know, Lindsay Lohan and the Kardashian sisters, and there’s no joy in it. And there’s all this joy to gathering and telling stories. There’s a whole world of people out there, who still love those quiet arts, those homemade arts.

And what’s your personal recommendation for pitching The Moth? Make sure that it really gets to some interesting place in your character — that it’s not just about how great you are, because that’s it, that’s when we cut you off.