There’s nothing quite as entertaining as a well-told anecdote. I find myself constantly disappointed by the small talk that eventually descends into drunken slobbering at social gatherings and remember distinctly the times there was someone with the storytelling skills to hold my attention. Those times were becoming too few and far between, so I looked to the Internet to find great personal stories.

What I found was The Moth podcast, on which people from all over the world tell real-life tales. The Moth is a platform for people to submit their stories; if these are selected, they get to narrate them to a live audience. Launched in 1997, The Moth has thousands of stories that have been “told live and without notes". These are then uploaded online as videos on The Moth podcast and are also aired on a radio show called The Moth Radio Hour.

Listening to the podcast makes you feel like you are at a party, in a gripping conversation with someone. And you find yourself relating to the storyteller. In the Little Lonely Bird, TJ McDonald, a New Zealander, talks about how he was infatuated with the US, but when he finally travelled to New York when he was 27, he felt extremely awkward, unprepared and out of place. Feeling lost and homesick, he told his friends and hosts how much he was missing home, and they said, “Let’s go to the zoo." The suggestion may have seemed odd but it had been made because the Washington zoo has a nocturnal house for a Kiwi, New Zealand’s shy national bird. The episode ends with McDonald sitting in the dark for over an hour without having seeing his national bird. But that, he says, is the most New Zealand thing that can ever happen to you. As you listen to McDonald, you are reminded of all the times you felt melancholic in a strange new place.

While some episodes are funny, some are sweet and sentimental, and some are gut-wrenching eye-openers. In Deah, Yusor And Razan, Suzanne Barakat, a family medicine resident at San Francisco General Hospital, tells the story of her brother Deah and his young new wife, Yusor, who were shot and murdered by their neighbour in North Carolina over a parking dispute. After reading out the autopsy report of the gruesome tragedy, she says: “To perform something so vile, so gruesome, so wicked requires acute dehumanization at the minimum. Hatred that is deep and well-rooted.... I realized that despite having been born and raised in this country, the climate that we are living in, one that allows public figures no matter where they are in the political spectrum, from Ben Carson to Bill Maher, to sweepingly bash Muslims, undoubtedly played a role in fuelling this hatred."

One of the best examples of masterful storytelling on the platform is by Janna Levin, a theoretical cosmologist with a PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), who talks about how she fell in love with an immigrant musician who “can’t spell words like ‘non-viable’ and ‘unfeasible’". To describe how improbable their match is, she says: “Warren is just everything I would never want in a man. He can’t drive, he’s never had his name on a lease, he’s by his own confession completely uneducated…. He comes from a really tough part of working-class Manchester. He writes songs like ‘Daddy was a drunk, daddy was a singer’…. You get the idea. It’s not good. So, naturally, I’m completely smitten." She goes on to weave you in and leave you smitten with her and, of course, Warren, and, oddly, also with astrophysics.

The Moth shows manage to live up to their promise of “dancing between documentary and theatre". In the recordings, you can hear the audience—you hear the laughter, but also the awkwardness in the room when a punch line fails or people laugh at something the speaker didn’t intend to be funny. All this comes together to truly create, as The Moth puts it, “a unique, intimate, and often enlightening experience for the audience".

You can listen to The Moth podcast on Themoth.org/stories.

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