You might think that an event that describes itself as "real people sharing their bona fide sexual exploits in 10 minutes or less" wouldn't suffer from dullness. But, indeed, a recent excursion to Bawdy Storytelling at The Blue Macaw club in San Francisco was so tedious that it could have been called "How to Make a Sex Story Boring in 10 Minutes or Less." Seven out of every ten audience members appeared to spend most of the performance text messaging.
How, you ask, does one drain the life out of a kinky sex story? Turns out it's not so hard. Just speak in monotone. Or punctuate every line with the words "So I says" (e.g., "So I says to the gal, 'You got a nice face. I'd like to frame it between my thighs'"). Or be a lecherous geriatric with a tall tale about how you got rimmed forty years ago.
Thankfully, last Tuesday's Bawdy Storytelling, held at The Uptown in Oakland, was better by a factor of ten. In fact, it wasn't boring in the least — well, save for the last performer, but more on that later. It seems that creator and host Dixie De La Tour finally instituted quality control. As in, don't invite every standard-issue pervert with a story to tell. De La Tour has plenty of examples. Like the person who "auditioned" for an event she held in Los Angeles by submitting an eight-page fantasy about a dominatrix who treated him or her as a worm. De La Tour said she never figured out whether the writer was a man or a woman. "It had a woman's name, but as I read it I was, like, 'Oh, this is a guy.'" Either way, the story sucked. It landed in her slush pile.
The performers who make it to Bawdy Storytelling these days have all been vetted, and many of them have name recognition. Best of all, they're forced to adhere to a ten-minute time limit, overseen by a woman named Sparkle Bottom, who won't hesitate to interrupt a riveting S&M story by holding up a large cardboard sign: "4 Minutes Left." Thus, the storytellers at last week's "Think Kink" event erred on the short-and-sweet side. For the most part, they weren't too self-involved, either.
And they weren't too explicit, which was nice for those of us who don't share the kink community's fascination with mouth gags, fisting, and other objects stuck in other orifices. (Sorry for that visual.) Indeed, the kink community appears to be pretty insular. The first performer, Sister Mable Syrup of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence (San Francisco's "leading order of queer nuns") asked the audience how many of them had ever been fisted, and only three hands went up. It turned out Mable had no license to criticize. "I've fisted a million women, and I've never been fisted myself — isn't that sad?" she asked, shaking her head woefully. De La Tour gaped.
So, apparently, we were all a bunch of prudes, and perhaps the other storytellers altered their content accordingly. At the very least, it was accessible to a mainstream audience. Accordionist Mark Growden set the tone with a grimy goth waltz called "Fuck Boy," and Mable enhanced the proceedings with the first truly dirty joke of the night. The punch line was "butt puppets"; I'll spare you the setup.
As always, some stories had an air of pomposity. And it wasn't just toppy Mable bragging about the many women she's had. "How many of you have that fantasy about having sex with your gorgeous identical twin?" a tall, willowy blond named Excelsus asked the audience, before launching into a story about shagging not a twin, but an eerily similar doppelganger. A petite Japanese-American sexuality educator named Midori — who was probably the audience favorite that night — recounted the time she slayed a room full of men in Tokyo with her virtuoso rope-tying skills. Another storyteller named Danarama described himself as an expert in "abductions."
With all that said, the performers were also remarkably self-effacing, which made their stories funny and endearing — more like actual narrative, and less like mere recapitulations of past sexual exploits. Many even had a standard story structure of presenting a problem, making it more complicated, and following up with an epiphany. Take Danarama's tale of a botched kidnapping, which went awry when one of the participants started throwing up everywhere. Or Angi Darling's story about the tall, gangly motorcycle dude she met at Harbin Hot Springs, whose big fetish, it turned out, involved popping a balloon in another person's face.
De La Tour launched Bawdy Storytelling in 2007, but at that time it was a private "pervert coffee klatch" held in one of the warehouses where people make art cars for Burning Man. Most of the attendees were folks who went to sex parties. The impetus was to get the latest juicy gossip in a semi-formal setting, De La Tour said. Eventually, it expanded to the point of needing an actual venue, an actual cover charge, and real curation. And the time limits had to be real, too, said De La Tour, who said she tried to institute a ten-minute rule at the Blue Macaw in March, but people weren't honoring it. Really, nothing says "Thank you, now get off the stage," like a big cardboard sign.
As a result of these changes, Bawdy Storytelling has gotten infinitely better, and it's well worth attending, even if you're not into kink. In fact, not all the stories at "Think Kink" involved real sex. Which brings me to the night's final performer, the beat-boxing flutist Tim Barsky, who surely had an anomalous presence at Bawdy Storytelling (even though he name-checked the Folsom Street Fair and prattled vaguely about "doing scenes"). Barsky would certainly have been the most familiar face to any non-kinky person in the audience, but he was also the only disappointment. Not for lack of talent, but because he didn't actually have a story to tell. Instead, Barsky attempted to discuss kink, as a concept, in spoken-word cadence. (Sample line: "There's a sense to me in which kink is caught up in the street, and violence, and getting fucked with.")
But the audience applauded anyway. Maybe perverts are easy to please.