On Saturday night, audience members packed themselves to standing-room-only capacity at Full City Rooster to watch a comedy show. Throughout the night they heard heartbreaking tales of loss, isolating periods of self-doubt and tearful recollections of moments that forever defined a life. They also laughed hard. These are the sharp swings of emotions presented at the monthly Truth In Comedy show.
During each show, three storytellers share an experience from their life. After each storyteller finishes, Byron Stamps, the creator and host of the show, leads the audience to say, “Thank you for sharing your truth.” A comedian then comes on stage to perform a stand-up set inspired by and created specifically for the preceding storyteller.
An intimate show requires an intimate space, and Full City Rooster, a coffee shop on Akard next to Lee Harvey’s, has just that space. In the back of Full City Rooster is a brick-walled room adorned with local art and mounted animal heads ranging from deer to a moose. The eclectic decor matches a show that marries radically different types of performances.
For the latest Truth In Comedy show, the stories ranged from revelations about a relative, gaining confidence in the face of unhealthy relationships and a diagnosed illness, and the life-changing decisions that needed to be made with an unexpected pregnancy. These aren’t the confessional narratives typically heard in a comedy club, but the stark honesty and openness of the storytellers unites a room full of strangers who can relate to being at similar crossroads in their own lives. The tension is released when the comedian reminds the audience that laughing when dealt those moments of visceral pain is not only acceptable, it’s an integral part of the human condition. To laugh is to move through and move past.
For a storyteller to share something so deeply personal requires them to have great faith and trust in the comedian who interprets their story. Some storytellers, like Leah Byrd, who shared her experiences Saturday, were not concerned.
“I wasn’t worried about him making fun of me," she says. "I can take an actual joke in good spirit.”
That doesn’t mean it makes it any easier to share.
“It’s not something I talk about other than my inner circle," Byrd says. "Even then, I have a hard time vocalizing my experience. I still have some residual PTSD.”
The comedians carry the responsibility of honoring the stories of the night, being careful to treat the emotional accounts with respect. Barry Whitewater, one of the three comedians for the night, acknowledged they have to prepare for a Truth In Comedy show differently than they would a more traditional set, not relying on their normal material.
“You have to go off someone else’s life experiences," he says. “It was very scary. It’s like definitely [performing] without a net.”
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Stamps has been running the Truth In Comedy show for a year, growing it from a rough concept into an event that repeatedly sells out each month. To make each would-be storyteller comfortable with sharing, he encourages them to preview a show and see for themselves the safe space in which their truth will be heard.
The roots of the show come from one of Stamps' experiences.
“I think a lot of it came from a bit I have about my mother and her passing," he says. "It is a special bit to me and deals with a very serious issue for me. I wanted to see if I could pull off a show where people were open, honest and vulnerable discussing things that they carried silently.”
The next Truth In Comedy show is April 7 at Full City Rooster. Tickets are $15.