Letters . . .

Nov09

How to tell a story

One week ago today, I competed in the Toastmasters state-wide humorous speech contest. The competition was outstanding and I am proud to say that I was the winner! But there is another story that only a few friends are aware of until now.

When I was a student at the University of Missouri in the mid 70’s, I attended a seminar where the subject of Mark Twain’s ability to make the modern audience laugh was debated. The audience of today is used to humor that has a definite punch-line. Twain’s stories often were humorous, but did not have a defined punch line. Impersonators often add lines at the end of his stories to make them more appealing to the modern audience.

I decided to try writing a Mark Twain “inspired” story that could be delivered in the same style used by Twain. I have been studying the historical record to get clues on how to use the mannerisms, gestures, etc. consistent with Mr. Twain. The story I chose for this project is an incident from my own life. At Age 19, I worked at McDonald’s in St.Louis County. I crafted a Twain inspired speech using my own real-life experience. I have given the speech at least 10 times and audiences have found it to be funny every time. Following the Twain model, I pretend not to understand why the story is funny. Audiences find the result hilarious. In true Twain style, I confront the audience and almost dare them not to agree with my opinions.

I plan to use this speech when I do appearances as Mark Twain, so the audience can see how Mr.Twain would sound if he came back to life and told a modern story. My first efforts have met with success and it is a dream come true for me to try to bring Mark Twain back to life for the audiences of today.