Storytelling is one of our oldest art forms, and oldest urges, dating back to the Stone Age, when the ancients told their stories by carving them on the walls of their dwellings. Millions of years later, native Indians would carry on the tradition, gathering in a circle around a fire, while their tribal leader told them a tale to end their weary day.
Storytelling is how we learn our history. It's how we trace our families. How we pass on our religions. And, of course, it's how we share our lives with each other. Because life -- with its ever-rotating cast of characters and unexpected plot twists -- is really just one long and colorful story, isn't it?
On Sunday, we celebrate another National Tell a Story Day, an informal but delightful holiday whose sole purpose is pretty simple: for people around the country to gather -- whether in a living room or a library -- and engage one another other with some fabulous tale. It doesn't matter if the story is real-life or fiction, folk lore or tall tale, or comes from a book, a memory or that special place in our brains where the imagination takes charge. All that matters is that you've got a story to tell -- and that you tell it.
I have a personal fondness for storytelling. It's in my DNA. I grew up loving -- and living for -- a good story. My father earned his fame as a nightclub comedian not just by being able to tell a killer joke (which he did very well), but by his trademark talent for holding audiences spellbound while he would take them on a journey of a story, sometimes for as much as 15 minutes, with many characters and, of course, many laughs along the way.
It was fascinating to watch him weave his spell. Dad had an ear for the rhythm, the music, of storytelling -- and I loved to see how he used that special gift to make his audiences not just laugh, but listen enraptured.
But no crowd in the world was as appreciative of my father's craft as I was. I remember when I was a teenager and out on a date, I'd always be checking my watch because, even if I was having a good time, I couldn't wait to get home and see Dad and his best pals (Sid Caesar, Milton Berle, George Burns, Phil Silvers) gathered in the den, smoking cigars and telling each other stories. The laughter would go on for hours, and I loved being there.
It's still my favorite way to spend an evening with my friends -- after dinner, over coffee and dessert, sharing our stories, hair-raising experiences and some flat-out jokes. Just like the cavemen and the Indians of old, to me, the camaraderie and the sharing is the most wonderful way to unwind and reboot from our weary days.
Today, I'm happy to say, the tradition of storytelling lives on, not only in the unprecedented throng of comedians and monologists who continue to beam into our living rooms daily, but also in the countless blogs and websites and YouTube channels devoted solely to serving up stories of all stripes for anyone willing to listen.
There are also organizations that are devoted to keeping the legacy of storytelling alive -- like The Moth, which since 1997 has grown from a small band of diehard yarn-spinners into a worldwide movement that has spawned jams and slams, books and radio shows, broadcast and podcasts, and an avid following of celebrities and literary stars alike. Georgia-born novelist and poet George Dawes Green, who founded The Moth, gave the group its name in memory of the fluttering bugs that would swarm around the porch light when he and his friends would gather to gab on balmy summer nights.
Over the years, I've collected anecdotes from some of my favorite friends (and yours!), all of whom know how to tell a story. So in honor of National Tell a Story Day, here's a sampling. I hope they give you a smile -- and, most important, I hope they inspire you to tell me a story of your own.
Happy Tell a Story Day, America!