Last night, Supermans, Batmans, and many Gothamites in sequined capes filled Capitale for The Moth’s superhero-themed gala. In its fourteenth year, The Moth Ball celebrated storytellers like honoree Louis C.K.
As superheroes mingled with the Moth’s GrandSLAM winners over pre-dinner cocktails, the stakes were pretty clear. The gala aimed to raise $320,000 to support The Moth’s programming in 2015, which includes 472 live storytelling events worldwide, a radio show heard on 390 stations, and a weekly podcast heard by more than 27 million listeners, and workshops and slams in high schools, colleges, and prisons.
Guests had the opportunity to further support The Moth at the gala by bidding on 40 auction items, including tea with Neil Gaiman, drinks and life advice with Molly Ringwald, a superhero lunch at Marvel, a poker lesson from Annie Duke, coffee with legendary New Yorker “comma queen” Mary Norris, or the chance to pick the next Moth theme.
The superheroes theme was designed to let attendees have fun with their cocktail-wear, but also to highlight The Moth’s donors and storytellers, “true superheroes,” per Catherine Burns, The Moth’s artistic director. “I just look forward to having everyone in one room,” she told us. “It often feels like a family reunion.”
The familial glow extended into the dinner and storytelling program, hosted by NPR’s Ophira Eisenberg. The entertainment started with a violin performance from acclaimed musician Mazz Swift, followed by one-minute stories told by eleven GrandSLAM winners from across the United States. Matthew Dicks had us fighting back tears with a story of finding family after a brush with death, Randi Skaggs surprised us with a mugging turned hugging, and Neshama Franklin had us laughing with her “hippie dance of love” (watch her full story here).
Andrew Solomon, who has appeared on The Moth’s curated Mainstage show, then charmed the crowd with a full-length story about finding himself abandoned in the ocean with no land in sight during a scuba expedition. “These may be my last moments–I should think something profound,” he deadpanned.
The final storyteller of the night was honoree Louis C.K., who had been on the top of The Moth’s list for a long time. “He’s truly a raconteur,” Burns told us. “A lot of his comedy comes from really telling on himself, and great Moth storytellers are all willing to do that.”
“He is us. This is what gives him his power,” said Dawes Green, who presented Louie with the award. “It’s really his honesty that gets us.” The one-of-a-kind trophy–a white hand designed by Jonathan Adler–was inspired by the superheroes theme.
After accepting the honor, Louie, who is an avid Moth listener, said of the show, “It’s nice to know you can reliably cry by listening to something.” After the laughter died down, he briefly turned serious. “Stories is the only thing that you have that’s really only yours,” he said.
True to The Moth’s emphasis on vulnerability and honesty, he then told a story about a trip he’d taken to Moscow when he was 25, thoroughly burned out and feeling like life was pretty bleak. He had threatened to quit his job writing for Conan, but his boss convinced him to take two weeks paid vacation instead. So, after a youth spent reading Russian novels, he went to Russia in the middle of December. Alone.
As he tells it, the trip was mostly a bust. He spoke no Russian and, overwhelmed by the strangeness of the place, spent most of the trip in his hotel, watching dubbed versions of Dynasty. One day near the end, he entered the subway and saw a man approximately his age sitting on the ground. A group of young boys wearing mens’ overcoats and looking “like in Oliver Twist” approached, and the man began asking them for something in Russian. One of the young boys pulled a tube of glue from his coat sleeve, and gave it to the man, who used it to glue his shoe back together. The boy then took the glue back, huffed it from a paper bag, and walked away. Louie and the man looked at each other and then started laughing at the absurdity of it all.
“I realized this is why I came here, to find out how bad life gets,” Louie said. “And that when it’s this bad, it’s still fucking funny.”
Check out the video below for the C.K.’s acceptance speech in all its glory, including the Moscow tale.