First Person Arts Fest a Feast for the Ears

By Eric Smith
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Nov. 7, 2012

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Funny girl: Janeane Garofalo is one of the hosts of "RISK!" at the First Person Arts Festival.

The folks over at First Person Arts spend all year inviting storytellers to share their tales with audiences around Philadelphia. And somehow in the middle of all those story slams at L’Etage and World Cafe Live, they manage to host fantastic events, special classes and put together their annual First Person Arts Festival every fall. Luckily, it’s that time again.

Running from Nov. 7-17, this year’s First Person Arts Festival boasts an impressive schedule, with more than a dozen must-see shows, including an appearance by acclaimed chef and bestselling memoirist Marcus Samuelsson (Nov. 7); a workshop and performance featuring Philadelphia poet laureate Sonia Sanchez (Nov. 11 and 14); Adam Wade’s new Family Hour (Nov. 9 and 10); and a six-word memoir event with Larry Smith, founder of SMITH magazine (Nov. 11).

And then there’s RISK!

Toward the end of the festival—on Fri., Nov. 16, to be precise—the Underground Arts at the Wolf Building will host a number of storytellers for RISK!, a final, fantastic storytelling extravaganza, featuring the talents of locals Bernardo Morillo, Jamie J. Brunson, Becca Trabin, and R. Eric Thomas. The celebrity hosts of the event are RISK! creator Kevin Allison (The State, Reno 911!, Flight of the Conchords) and actress-comedienne Janeane Garofalo (Reality Bites, The West Wing, 24).

PW chatted with Garofalo last week about her gig at the First Person Arts Fest, as well as her thoughts on storytelling and stand-up.

PW: How did you get involved in the First Person Arts festival this year?
With Kevin Allison and his show, RISK!. I’ve known Kevin since he was in The State. We’ve done shows together over the years, back when The State was The State, and we both lived in New York. We’ve even done stand-up together on a few occasions. When he asked if I’d be interested, I said OK. And that’s how it happened.

And you’ve worked with other State alumni before, correct? Like in Wet Hot American Summer, one of the best movies ever.
Yes. And on behalf of Michael Showalter and David Wain, I thank you.

So what can you tell me about RISK!? What can the audience expect?
Well, it’s an ongoing show for Kevin. Occasionally, I’ve done it with him in other places. It’s sort of a storytelling comedy show that he does a lot. He mounts the show in different places. He has it on his podcast, and he’s been doing it a while. It isn’t just a one-time thing; he does it fairly frequently.

There are a number of people who do it. Some are comics, some aren’t. Kevin hosts it with four or five other people, gives them a theme, and they just go with it. The theme changes all the time, and this one, the one in Philadelphia, is guilty pleasures. It’s incumbent on the participants to come up with a true story that involves that concept. And hopefully, it’ll be entertaining.

So you’ve done storytelling before! Is there a difference between storytelling and stand-up?
For me, the medium of storytelling, spoken-word and stand-up are not very different. I’m not a “jokey” type of comic, a strong joke writer. I just don’t have that discipline, to write those strong short jokes. So I have a style that’s, much to the chagrin of the audience, very chatty. It’s a lot of me just talking to you. I talk about things that are going on or have happened, and there are certainly jokes in there, I hope.

I enjoy doing shows like RISK! because, for me, it’s just like doing stand-up. I enjoy it. And also what’s nice about it is the audience is much more patient because they aren’t expecting make-me-laugh jokes; they are there just waiting to hear what you want to say.

And some stories aren’t meant to be funny. Some storytellers get poignant, shocking and unexpectedly melancholy, which can be really interesting. And while people aren’t always expecting jokes, they also aren’t always expecting someone to reveal a personal, painful thing.

Since we’re on the subject of storytelling, read anything good lately? Anything you’d like to recommend?
I just read a book called Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce, and I’m starting Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots by Deborah Feldman.

Any interesting projects in the works we should be looking forward to?
I’ve been doing this show called Delocated on Adult Swim. I play a network executive on it, responsible for a reality show about a family in a witness protection program. It has John Glazer and Eugene Mermon in it, there’s lots of improv, and it’s very funny.

There’s a final episode coming up that’s pretty good. It will be airing soon, a parody of The Bourne Identity. Keep your eyes peeled.

And lastly, this year, the First Person Arts Festival is encouraging audience members to share six-word memoirs. Any chance you have one you’d like to share?
Only six words? Can we hyphenate them so it counts? “Hi-I’m-Janeane. You-may-remember me from the 90s.” There.

For a full schedule of First Person Arts Festival events and venues, visit

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