Storytelling: A Performance Genre



Several years ago, our family was introduced to the world of storytelling.  Our previous experience with storytelling had been library programs for preschoolers and episodes of Barney the Dinosaur that included storytellers.  But at the urging of our librarian, a storyteller herself, we followed her into a world of creative professionals that were doing everything that we were doing at home, out in PUBLIC!  And, I might add, getting paid.  Astounding.

Many people are not sure exactly what storytelling is, and it’s much easier to demonstrate than to explain.  A few summers back, at the Smoky Mountain Storytelling Festival, one of the featured storytellers was Andy Offutt Irwin.  He tells hilarious stories, plays the guitar and sings and he taught a few of the workshops for the youth.  About storytelling, he says “I look at storytelling as a form of theater. I’m on stage doing what I’ve done for years, but now it’s just me. Now I can do all the theater I want without having to worry about sets, costumes, lighting and working with a big cast. It’s very economic, storytelling.”

The stories that are told by Andy and other tellers can often be side-splittingly funny and the question is asked how storytelling differs from stand-up comedy.  In answer to that question the wikipedia article about Andy Irwin, says this: “Prior to deciding to become a full time storyteller, Irwin worked as a stand-up comedian “for a few minutes”. During this time, Irwin won the Farber Invitational stand-up competition at the Punchline comedy club in Atlanta. However, Irwin came to see that the days of storytelling comedians, like Bill Cosby, had passed. Irwin also realized that his style of performance was at odds with the main venue available to comedians today; comedy clubs. (Irwin joking refers to comedy clubs as “evil, smelly places”.) Some of his stories are an hour in length and Irwin notes, “[t]here was a time when comedians could do that but they can’t anymore because the clubs give them three minutes, and they are timing the laughs per minute.” Using storytelling as a theatrical form allows Irwin to create more fully drawn characters and to explore darker subject matters as well. “Although I like to think of my storytelling as funny, I can have these serious moments. I’m not depending on the audience to laugh the whole time. . . I hope there’s content with the form.”

Besides Andy Irwin, at the storytelling festival, we were treated to very informative and thought provoking stories from naturalist Doug Elliot and lots of fun mountain music from him and his son Todd. Storyteller Donald Davis shared hilarious stories from his childhood.  Elisabeth Rose hosted the event and told stories as well, of folk and legends.  And all of the youth brought stories ranging from fantasy to real life to fractured fairy tales. 

Storytelling goes on around us everyday, and if you look, you will see opportunities to attend events where storytellers and listeners gather.  On the ‘Storytelling’ board of my Pinterest page, there are several links for some great storytellers and on each of their sites, there are things to see and places to go.  If you are a young person and are interested in storytelling competitions, check out your state storytelling association.  In Kentucky, we have the Kentucky Storytelling Association or KSA.  Visit the website at for information about our events and youth storytelling. There is a widget on the side bar that connects to the KSA Facebook page as well. For National youth storytelling, visit  If you go to that site, there will be info about participating in this year’s showcase…the dates, the rules, what to expect.  Check it out.  If you are interested in any of these things and you don’t know how to get started, e-mail me at for more information.


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