On The Avenue

Here’s the Story

by Ben Diamond Photographed by Ben Gabbe/Getty for The Moth
Thursday, June 7, 2018
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“I didn’t ask for your life story” is one of the all-time classic put-downs, a great way to signal that somebody is long-winded, boring and without consequence. But for The Moth, life stories are the only thing to ask for. In its 21-year history, the storytelling organization has become more than just a place to vent and amuse. It’s become a force that empowers the voiceless in the United States and abroad; an important part of many school curriculums; and a wildly popular radio show and podcast.


 And at the annual Moth Ball, held at swanky Chinatown ballroom Capitale on Tuesday, it was a force for something else—partying! The always inventively themed gala has long been one of the city’s most fun, and this year’s was no different. This year’s Alice in Wonderland-themed benefit (“The Hatter’s Mad Tea Party”) featured men in striped jackets and top hats, women in floral headdresses and lace, and eccentric performers, like a Tweedledee (or is that Tweedledum?) muttering to himself and a Queen of Hearts with champagne flutes balanced on her hoop skirt.


But, as with all Moth Balls, the emphasis was on the stories, not the spectacle. As emcee R. Eric Thomas said, “Storytelling in the best cases makes us feel like we’re not alone in the universe.”


And what stories they were! This year’s highlights included a man who had come out of the closet, but continued to wear the temple garment underwear of his Mormon upbringing (his story concluded with their joyous destruction—“I built a huge bonfire, and finally came out as flamingly gay,” he said); a teenage girl who discovered body confidence from streaking at camp; or a woman who joined her high school basketball team to impress her mother, but was terrible (68 technical fouls!). 


This year’s Ball also honored cartoonist Roz ChastAdam Gopnik introduced his New Yorker colleague, saying, correctly “You will never hear anybody criticize Roz Chast.”


And though it was an unusual setting for a cartoonist, Chast acquitted herself admirably. Unlike last year’s honoree Aziz Ansari, she did not grouse about having to tell a funny story, but was warm, funny and gracious. “I feel a little shy telling a story without pictures,” she said at the outset, “but I will do my best.” Her charmingly rambling speech touched on Kafka—“I’m still in the middle, but I don’t think he’s ever gonna get to the castle!”; hypochondria—“the best you can hope for is that you don’t choke on a hot dog at Papaya King and die”; and concluded with a long story about New York’s safety, mental illness, and the dangers of picking chef’s knives up from the ground. (To summarize the story would do it a grave disservice—the whole thing is up on Youtube, and is well worth the watch.)


And when all the stories had concluded, guests returned out to Capitale’s main room for hours more of dancing. It was still a ball, after all.


In addition to the evening’s many storytellers, the Ball also featured a performance by Monique Brooks Roberts. Additional guests included Darren Aronofsky, Rosanne Cash, Molly Ringwald, Suzanne Vega, Lili Taylor, Adam Gopnik, Lawrence Burstein, Ari Handel, Lucy Sykes, Boykin Curry, Anne Maffei, Nina and Mike PattersonJody Arnhold, Judy Dimon, Bob & Suzanne CochranBethany Millard, Katherine Snyder, Robie Spector and Melanie Whelan.


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