Andy Christie is the founder and host of LIAR. I had the opportunity to see the show in the city recently (with most of the tellers that will be performing for us on March 17th) and it was an artful and completely fun evening. I asked Andy some questions and am sharing the interview with you here. Call me an innocent, but his answers seem pretty sincere...
-- Anna Becker, Producer of The Insights & Revelations Performance Series
AB: "Liar" adds a whole new dimension to the current storytelling explosion. Can you tell us what gave you the idea?
AC: To tell the truth, the first Liar show came about by accident. I was scheduled to do a half-hour monologue at The People’s Improv Theater. I’d performed there once before and they were happy with the response so they asked me back. So about a week prior to the new show, I’m sitting at my computer reading over what I’ve got ready and, well, it’s not ready. I’m excited about doing new material but, clearly, this isn’t it. So rather than panic--or learn to dance and juggle--I asked myself what was missing from the NYC personal, true-story community. What did I have to offer that would be more reflective of real-world storytelling; the kind we all love to do around the kitchen table? The answer of course was: the lies.
That’s when I asked Mike Daisey, James Braly and Joanna Parson if they’d like to participate. They all loved the idea, so we put on a show. We built it and they came. I told the lie that first time out. It was about writing an award-winning headline for Forbes Magazine--five minutes of pure baloney and about 90% of the audience fell for it. Just like my mother always did. It felt great.
The prizes in the first show were a bunch of “I’m Not Bald” baseball caps I had laying around, which seemed appropriate to the theme. After the first show’s success, I printed up the “I Can Tell A Lie” prize t-shirts and began formulating a better rationalization for the show than, “It was all I could come up with.”
AB: Okay,so now that you have a better rationalization ... What do you think Liar brings to the art of storytelling?
AC: Probably the most unique thing Liar has to offer (besides the one big lie) is audience participation. In life, people like to get involved, to monitor what they’re being asked to swallow. How often do you actually sit still for a friend while he unloads one exaggeration after another? In the real world, you’re likely to say, “Wait a minute, how’d you eat 300 figs without throwing up?” There’s nothing better than catching someone in a lie. (Again, ask my mother.) While at the same time, there’s nothing more impressive than a well-constructed fish story. “Your boss believed that? Way to go.”
At Liar all the stories (true or false) are intriguing, well-crafted and entertaining. But in addition to the fun of hearing about how someone else lives, of being taken to a place that’s unfamiliar or even exotic, or recognizing parts of yourself in a stranger’s story, you get a chance to rip apart what you’re listening to. During the second half of the show, after all the stories have been told, the performers are subjected to some pretty nit-picky scrutiny from anyone who wants to question things that don’t quite add up. “You mentioned buying a DuraFlame Log in the early 1970s. But they weren’t available until the late 1970s were they?” That’s a real question from a recent show. As it turns out the inquisitor had her dates wrong, but it was a nice try and it had the storyteller rattled for a minute.
AB: What do you think is so intriguing to people about lying?
AC: Kurt Vonnegut said a story is like goulash: the truth is the meat and lies are the spices that make it so tasty. Actually, he never said that. Or if he did, I never read it anywhere. But it sounds familiar, doesn’t it? I should Google it. Anyway, I think it makes a good point. If you're going to be honest, lying has always been a central part of all storytelling. People want to be hypnotized into believing. Fairytales are lies. Literature is dishonest. The Brothers Grimm, Dickens, John Cheever and Tostoy all were liars. That's why they’re fun and compelling. That’s why as children, they send us off to dreamland wondering what’s going to happen next. Or why, as adults, they put us to sleep wondering why Dostoyevsky can’t just pick one name per character and stick with it. Are Pyotr Alexy and Ivan Alyosha the same person or did I lose track? But I digress.
AB: How true are the true stories?
AC: I'd like to say 100% true, but probably a point or two less than that. There’s an unspoken pact among storytellers--and between a storyteller and an audience--that certain small details may be fiddled with. Time may be compressed for the sake of brevity, characters’ names may be changed, etc. But the essential truth (all my siblings were born with a full set of teeth, or whatever) remains untouched. And I’d guess, memory and embellishment being what they are the ratio of true-to-false shifts a bit as you get older. And... wait... what was the question?
AB: What do you think makes a good story, true or not?
AC: On the simplest, most childlike level, I always want to be waiting for what happens next. They say a good story is essentially this: You decide to climb a tree. You get stuck in the branches and people throw rocks at you. Then you find a way to get down. So you want something but there are obstacles that you need to get around. Need, conflict, resolution. Maybe something is learned, maybe not, but there’s a journey.
Of course there are also those stories that hook me on the pure novelty of their content. What’s it like to be a prison guard or a fundamentalist Mormon? The best tales combine a compelling narrative and exotic content.
I heard one of my all-time favorite true stories on NPR’s “This American Life.” A middlebrow, borscht-belt-type comedy couple finally gets its big break: a slot on the Ed Sullivan Show. When they arrive at the studio, the crowd outside is immense and rabid. The theater is packed. Maybe their publicist finally was earning her keep and got the word out? Well, it turns out that this is the night another act is also getting its first shot on TV: The Beatles. And this hapless funny couple is going on first.
Needless to say, their peak moment came and went amid the screams of berserk teenage girls waiting for the REAL show to start. So their act became a mere footnote to the biggest event in entertainment history. But they went on and had a reasonably successful career anyway. And they were a bigger part of history than they would have been if they were the headliners that night. That’s a good story. Which reminds me, Anna, you don’t have the Rolling Stones booked for March 17th do you?
AB: Well, not the Rolling Stones, no, but people are pretty excited that James Braly is returning to the Series in LIAR after knocking out our audience with “Life In A Marital Institution.”
AB: Why do you think storytelling is currently experiencing such tremendous popularity?
AC: Well modern technology has set up this kind of cyber wall between a lot of us. It’s easier to fire off an instant message or an email than to spend time face to face. And it’s more convenient to be entertained by electronic media than by real flesh-and-blood people. This is particularly true for the younger generation. But, whether we know it or not, we miss the real thing.
I recently overheard one side of a funny and interesting exchange on the street. I’m walking past a guy who’s talking on his cell phone and he says, "Yeah, I'm on 44th and 9th right now." Okay, only we’re on 86th and Broadway. Why was he lying, and to whom? I figured either it was a woman, or he thought someone was targeting a missile at him. Either way, that conversation wouldn’t have been possible in person. It would have gone something like: “Wait, I know where you are. I can SEE you.”
That’s what it’s about, I think. Whether you’re lying or being honest, up on stage, they can SEE you.
AB: Well, we are really looking forward to seeing you on March 17th. Thanks so much Andy.