This is Part 2 of 5 with Timpanogos Storytelling vs. FanX. You can find Part 1 here. Please note that I am wearing a turquoise Timpanogos t-shirt at FanX.
I was in no mood to laugh when the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival and FanX landed on the same weekend of September 5-7, 2019. What about the humor itself found at each of these events? What do the professional storytellers versus the special guests decide to do to entertain their fellow humans and earn some giggles, chuckles, or guffaws.
The Timpanogos Storytelling Festival has a built-in comedy time called “Laughin’ Night,” which is the grand finale concert on Saturday night. The most common use of humor at Timpanogos: puns and wordplay.
Due to the “Laughin’ Night” concert, sometimes people have a hard time distinguishing between stand-up comedy and storytelling. For stand-up comedy, the comedian is expecting a laugh about once every 10-15 seconds. If that doesn’t happen, uh-oh! For storytelling, the storyteller is not concerned how often that laughter happens….unless, perhaps, when in the line-up for “Laughin’ Night” at Timpanogos.
The Saturday night concert for Timpanogos draws in the biggest crowds, at least 6,000 people strong, so there is certainly pressure for the storyteller to deliver on that theme of “Laughin’ Night.” No matter what the theme, International Storyteller Ed Stivender says he tells humorous stories to allow people a moment to laugh. At least during that story, the audience could take off their burdens of everyday life. That alone is what Ed sees as successful when he performs before each crowd.
That said, I never liked the forced “you will be funny” theme of this concert. I had plenty of times that I laughed during the daytime. Do I go to “Laughin’ Night”? Sure. If there was another option for that night with the storytelling festival, would I take it? Yes. Now Timpanogos does have two evening concerts happening simultaneously with the largest at the Ashton Gardens Ampitheater in Lehi, Utah while another large crowd gathers at the Electric Park underneath the Pavilion. The storytellers are transported to both so that the first storytellers in one place are at the end at the other and vice versa. Either place, it “has” to be funny.
Please know that I still extremely enjoy the “Laughin’ Night” concert.
Puns are known as one of the easiest tools of comedy. We had plenty of these through Anne Rutherford and how the Sandwich Shop turned into the Handwich Shop and all the hands, finger, thumbs idioms and phrases you can think of. There must have been at least 20. I couldn’t help but laugh. My younger son, aged 9-almost-10, was groaning from the first pun. I asked him how many puns were too much? 10? I think he said 3. Well, he got his quota for a few years then. Anne Rutherford also told stories as Calamity Ryder who “appeared” on stage whenever Anne put on a fringe leather jacket. That is more of a hoot-n-hollerin’ type of tall tale. I enjoyed the twist of when she–I mean Calamity–saw Big Foot.
We had Don White with the craziest song about a wife putting up with her husband and dog now that the kids have grown up and moved out of the house. The husband shared how much he and the dog are alike. I enjoyed how both like to be rubbed on their bellies. It was so weird…it was delightful. As I said in Part 1 of the Series of 5 Blog Posts, he convinced 6,000+ people to howl. Don did warn the English teachers in the audience that the song had a double negative and wanted the English teachers to feel like they were still in a “safe space.”
Storyteller Andy Hedges played his guitar and sung about Long Johns. It was the most family-friendly one I can think of involving Long Johns. When he got to the last verse, he needed to pause and remind us that this is STILL family-friendly–in case any of us were nervous. The Timpanogos crowd did a bit of a nervous laughter while an older man to my left was crying tears of mirth…it was that funny to him. I had more fun laughing and watching that person cry with delight than myself–and I had fun from the beginning.
Motoko had to warm up the crowd with her stories from Japan about a Miser and the Miser’s Apprentice. She had the audience say “Money, Money, Money” in English and Japanese with gestures from both cultures. As there were many bizarre money-saving moments, each episode meant the audience was cued to do these words and gestures. Each time we did it as a group, it became funnier. This audience participation let me reflect on the humor of each episode.
Bil Lepp rounded out the concert with his “Egg Babies” story where he was given a 5-pound bag of flour instead of an egg like his classmates. Then his “baby” got stabbed. Bil is a beloved storyteller of the Timpanogos crowd with his sessions filling to capacity and beyond as people anticipate his tall-tale-larger-than-life view of the world. Often these adventures involve Bil and his friend, Skeeter. Whenever Bil is the last in the line-up, he takes his story and merges it with words or phrases from all of the other storytellers. So “long johns” and “handwich” made it in as well as references to English Teachers and grammar.
Tim Lowry won this year for the most intelligent humor at Timpanogos. My quick standing ovation (as well as everyone else in that tent) was during his one-hour set featuring “A Christmas Carol” by Dickens. Yes, Christmas in September. That piece is full of drama, and I experienced so many emotions. The jumping of emotions allowed me to delight in the humor that much more. I had more of an “Ah ha!” when Tim told of the “organ of benevolence” and explained to us that it meant the mouth. Even if you did not have any money to give to a charity, you could use your words to pronounce a blessing or good wishes. Tim had a feigned tirade about the 16 items found upon the table to feast upon. We laughed that he could remember so much as well as how he complained in a fun way that “Why wasn’t it 13 for Christ and the 12 Apostles? But 16!!!” Towards the end of the piece, there was a portion from Dickens that ends a sentence with “which” and Tim shared in an exaggerated defensive way that Dickens had to get the story out by Christmas time and there was no time for editing and apologized to the English teachers. It wasn’t “Ha ha” every 10 seconds or so but, when I did laugh–and laugh I did, it was a more lasting laugh that brought me closer to appreciating the words from Charles Dickens, the interpretations and asides from Tim Lowry, and the overall delight in what it means to be human.
A story may not be a funny piece though even the most dramatic pieces usually have some level of laughter. For what is comedy but shared grief from the small to the big?
The FanX special guests had two main tactics for humor: swearing (or lack of swearing) and story snippets.
Being that FanX is based in Salt Lake City, Utah, I am not surprised that the panels are more family-friendly than let’s say…San Diego, California. I have a sense that the FanX Administration either directly or indirectly shares with their special guests that this is a more conservative audience.
Katee Sackhoff, best known for playing Kara Thrace on Battlestar Galactica, said after session, “This was the first panel where I didn’t swear!” She sounded impressed with herself in a delighted way. The audience cheered and laughed at this feat—and I added a loud “Thank you!”
Though that does not mean that swears do not exist at FanX. When John Cleese came last spring for FanX, he said the F-bomb. Some people laughed, and it was enough for John to continue. He was rude and simply a curmudgeon in any response to the questions from the audience. Luckily, most of his time was not of swearing though this language distracted me enough to not remember anything else from that encounter. I thought my husband and I walked out…but it is a blur and I don’t know if that is what I felt like doing or if I really did it. It was obvious that John Cleese purposely swore when he got a reaction.
Yet, when Dolph Lundgren, best known as Ivan Drago in Rocky IV, was on stage, he accidentally swore. I was not offended by this as I was with John Cleese because made a choice to use bad language where it felt more of like a habit with Dolph. Even John Rhys-Davies swore once–more of the most minor of swears–and humbly caught and apologized for it. As he already started his session with a keynote level on making people comfortable throughout life, we could see him doing that very thing with that apology. I sensed an increase of endearment from the audience towards John. Instead of the loud and irreverent laughs, we had more of a delighted chuckle all throughout the time with John Rhys-Davies.
The storyteller side of me honed in anytime a special guest at FanX use a story or story snippet to complete their answers from audience members or as part of their presentation.
Carlos Valdes, known best for playing Cisco Ramon/Vibe on The Flash, had a hostess who wanted him to answer random questions with one word or phrase answers. Rarely could Carlos follow that request. He wanted to justify his answers, and what better way than through a story? I looked forward to anytime he hesitated, leaned back in his chair, and guiltily said, “Well, you have to know…” or “You have to understand…” and then we enjoyed a story snippet. The audience got used to this and practically cheered him on while laughing to get a better understanding of this person before us. Jason Isaacs, who played Lucius Malfoy and many other characters, told stories about encounters with fans. For some reason, he is asked about Harry Potter all the time. Hmmm. Without all the make-up and garb, Jason looked like anyone else. I am guessing this relaxed the audience and made it easier for us to laugh with him as if we were hearing fun stories from a neighbor or friend.
Although from last FanX, one of my favorites has been the panel with Warwick Davis. He has amazing stories including a crazy one about how, for a friend, he had on his Ewok Wicket garb on. A girl kept wanting to feed Wicket cake and Warwick was unsure how long he could stay in character while practically choking on cake as the hole for the mouth already was small. So. Many. More. Crazy. Stories.
The best of comedy is a celebration of being human despite mistakes, misunderstandings, and accidents. It is not a degrading mockery of our fellow beings.
For this round of humor, it is a close call though I would say Timpanogos wins on account of more intelligent humor (even with puns). Tomorrow we discuss the spine tingling tales shared at each of these events and how they compare.
Interested in Part 1? That can be found here. Want the next installments of 3, 4, or 5 on Timpanogos vs. FanX? My final verdict with Part 5? Come back tomorrow. And the next day after that. And after that.
Until we tell again.