True Lives, Under a Spotlight

Suji Brown and Matt Sherman share humorous stories from their lives. Video by Courtesy of SpeakeasyDC
By Tara Bahrampour
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 15, 2009

"What's your favorite Smiths song?" she described asking him. ¶ "The Smiths have sooo many good songs," was the hesitant reply, delivered by Brown in a namby-pamby voice. ¶

"Name one." ¶ "Uh. . ." ¶ The audience snickered. ¶ " 'Dancing Queen'? " ¶ They roared.

Many people don't like to advertise that they date online. But Suji Brown, a self-described "IT wonk" in black-framed glasses, stood under a spotlight in a U Street lounge Tuesday night and told a room of 200 strangers about weeding through the misspellers, the married men and "the guy who asked me if I had a fat" posterior.

Matt Sherman told of a terrifying ride on a Bangkok motorcycle taxi whose driver sang the John Denver song "Country Roads" while delivering him to a sordid nightclub. Meredith Maslich admitted that she had enjoyed tormenting her Mormon college roommate with raunchy music. The audience, slouched in sofas and lounge chairs in the darkened room, ate it up.

This is SpeakeasyDC, a monthly gathering of storytellers that has become so popular it has had to change venues to accommodate the crowds. The stories are autobiographical, often funny, sometimes painful. And in a city where many feel they must erect emotional walls to get ahead, they can be cathartic.

"It's got me to relax a bit about sharing parts of me," said Shaw resident Joseph Price, a fresh-faced young man whose repertoire includes an embarrassing story about going home with a married woman. "There is something in just saying, 'The devil may care.' "

SpeakeasyDC is modeled after the Moth, a regular gathering of storytellers in New York. It has a few rules: The stories have a seven-minute limit and must be true. Details can be tweaked for a tighter narrative, but the main facts should have what the organizers call an "emotional truth."

Each show is organized around a theme, such as coming of age, cyber life or the kindness of strangers. This week's theme was "Mix Tape" -- stories about a single song that made an impact. Each storyteller approached the stage accompanied by a loud, prerecorded blast of his or her song.

As waiters swooped around the couches with plates of burgers and drinks in plastic cups, Brown explained to the crowd what happened to a potential suitor who professed to share her love for the Smiths.

"What's your favorite Smiths song?" she described asking him.

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