Category: Profile

Nerd Nite Madison is Looking for Presenters

Nerd Nite uses PowerPoints, but we don’t have to hold it against them.

Nerd NiteWe’ve got you covered one Friday a month, but the leaves a lot of Wednesdays. You should check out our friends Nerd Nite Madison​. Over there they have funny and informative presentations and you get to buy beer at the High Noon Saloon. These presentations are actually funny too, not like your high school science teacher. That guy was not funny. Even better you could sign-up to give a presentation about a nerdy thing you are enthusiastic about. Just follow the link to do the deed.

You can see one of their past presentations over at Tone Madison. Which, you know, is another resource for all kinds of fancy things happening in Madison. All kinds of fancy things that you could use your senses to put inside of yourself where you could make their fanciness part of your being.

Another also is that one time Ben Taylor, the Boss of Nerd Nite (yes, that’s his official title), told a story at one of our events. It was a good one and you should listen to it here. You know it is good because of the way Ben reads all of those dirty words with confidence and a total lack of shame.

Some Questions for a Storyteller: Brendon Panke

Each month or so, we profile a Story Night regular by asking him some questions about himself and his storytelling. This month’s “Some Questions” features storyteller Brendon Panke. Brendon is one of the three Madison Storyteller organizers and MCs our story nights. You can listen to Brendon’s past stories: Flagged, A Band Like Any Other, From November On, and Two Sides of a Bad Smell.


Brendon Panke

1. When and why did you come to Madison?

I moved to Madison in 2005 for grad school and to follow my then girlfriend and now wife, Sarah, who had come to grad school here the year before me. At that point in my life I was spending a lot of time doing whatever Sarah had just got done doing and by moving to where she was doing this stuff it made it look like I was doing the same thing as her instead of whatever she just finished doing.

2. What do you do with your time (when you’re not telling stories)?

Right now I spend my time being in the same place as my year old son. Usually I spend my time picking up whatever he just got done doing. We are part of a cohousing community here in town so I spend a lot of time working for that community in their garden and around their grounds. When I first came to Madison, in addition to spending a lot of time in grad school I also spent a lot of time performing with Atlas Improv Co.

3. What makes you want to tell personal stories in front of strangers and semi-strangers?

I tell stories and listen to stories because it is a fun way to relate to people. Most of my stories I tell because it makes people laugh, but in addition to making people laugh telling those stories also makes me vulnerable and when that vulnerability isn’t abused by the audience and is instead welcomed it makes me feel really great about everyone involved.

By sharing stories from parts of my life that were difficult I can transform those memories into something more positive. It helps me get a handle on parts of my life that are still painful for me. If I can take some painful or difficult memory and tell it to people in a way that makes them laugh their laughter in turn helps me transform my own memories into something more positive. It is something like psychic displacement. Fill a memory with enough positive emotions, even if they are vicarious, and painful emotions are displaced or made easier to deal with.

4. What was the first story you remember telling?

When I was a sophomore in high school I got shot in the eye with a BB gun. Which is still about the most painful experience of my life. Which either says something about just how painful it was or about how little pain I’ve experienced in my life. You’ll have to judge for yourself what my pain tolerance is. A short time after I was shot, probably within a week, I was telling this story to my friends for laughs. I was still wearing an eye patch and taking steroids for my eye at this point. Also, while I could see out of it, if I moved too much the blood and tissue loose in my eye would be shaken up like a snow globe and I wouldn’t be able to see again. I know I was telling stories before this, but this is the first time I remember telling a story to transform it from something horrible into something funny and positive. This is the first time I really remember telling a story well.

5. What is the first story you remember hearing?

I can’t remember the first personal story I remember hearing. My family were always telling stories. Stories from our lives and made up stories about our lives and just made up stories. I remember having this tape of stories my parent’s had recorded off the radio over some period of time, maybe a year or two. When we would go on long car trips I would listen to that story tape over and over again. There was a story on there about a scarred ship captain named Vaago and Vincent Price reading a recipe on how to turn yourself into a werewolf. There was also a story about a drifter who married a woman he met living in the middle of the swamp who turned out to be a cat wearing a woman’s clothes. When I came to grad school I bought a tape deck from this other grad student who I didn’t get along with and brought the tape from home. As soon as I put that story tape into the tape deck it got torn to shreds. Never should have trusted that guy’s tape deck.

6. What are some of your all-time favorite stories from the Madison Storytellers archive?

We have great regular storytellers and I’m always excited when they come back with something new for us. One of our regulars, Daiquiri, told a story, Awash, that I really liked at our event in the library last month. That was a great event and I can listen to most of those stories again and again. The library event before that was really good too. Last month’s theme was Escape and the earlier event’s theme was books. You can find stories from those events and most of the events in the last two years in our Recordings section.

Every month there is usually something good from the micro stories. Back in June there were some great micro stories. Lee Bishop, who used to run Nerd Nite here in town, told one that was a fun glimpse into his personality and my sister told one about a time she crashed a bike. Which is something we have in common since I told a micro story about crashing a dirt bike once.

At our Show-and-Tell event this first time storyteller, Mollie, told a story that I absolutely loved. I really identified with this precise moment of self-awareness that she was able to conjure up.

At our Quitting story night another first time storyteller told a hilarious story about racing the older girl who lived on her block. At our Protest event a late addition, Marty, told a story about leading a protest in his grade school.

Erika, one of the other co-organizers, told the first story I ever heard at a Madison Storytellers event and really loved when she talked about her fear of biking. That’s pretty much when I started coming to Madison Storytellers about a year and a half ago.


Our next Storytelling event will be December 5th at Arboretum Cohousing. The theme is Celebrate! Come tell us about your celebrations and things worth celebrating.

Are you interested in having a story night in your neighborhood? Find a venue and let us know about it. We love to tell stories all over Madison. Give us your ideas: madisonstorytells at gmail dot com.

Some Questions for a Storyteller: Jen Rubin

Each month or so, we profile a Story Night regular by asking her some questions about herself and her storytelling. This month’s “Some Questions” features storyteller Jen Rubin. You can listen to Jen’s past stories: Just a Handful and Madison’s Version of Ecotourism.


Jen Rubin

1. When and why did you come to Madison?

I moved to Madison in 1996 because my husband was accepted at UW School of Education for graduate school. The UW offered him a fellowship which meant we could have good health insurance during the years we planned to have kids so we moved here. It turns out that Madison is a hard place to leave.

2. What do you do with your time (when you’re not telling stories)?

I have mostly done social change work in Madison. Right now I am pursuing my mid-life crisis and writing a book. So I spend some of my time doing children’s advocacy work and I spend other time working on my book. I am also an obsessive maker of mixed tapes and am continuing my life long quest to develop arm muscles. I love to bake and it is quite possible that I bake the best challah in Madison.

3. What makes you want to tell personal stories in front of strangers and semi-strangers?

I come from a family of storytellers. By that I mean my family has a very oral tradition of telling the stories of our family, particularly the immigrant stories of my grandparents. As a result I am used to people holding the floor and early in life understood which stories held my attention and which stories didn’t. It was a useful education that a good anedcoate isn’t enough for a good story, if you want to keep the attention of the table there needs to be some craft to what your saying.

A few years ago I first learned about the Moth podcast and started listening to it each week. I loved the stories and really paid attention to which ones I thought were amazing and which ones were just ok. After a few months I thought to myself, I can do this. I am sure I can do this too. Whenever I walked the dog or went for runs I would sketch out stories in my head, just for the fun of it. About a year and a half ago I heard that the Moth story slam was now in Milwaukee, so I took a van load of friends with me to throw my name in the hat to see if I could get picked to tell a story. I didn’t get picked the first time I went, but did the second time. I was very nauseous and nervous about getting up on a stage and telling a story but wanted to do it anyway.

As for why I want to get up in front of strangers and tell a story, it is hard to say. It is a strange compulsion. I know my story writing is good and the most comfortable thing for me would be to hand people my story to read. But I love the communal feeling of a storytelling gathering and I love to hear other people’s stories. I decided to go to that first Moth because it was a chance to push myself past my comfort zone and because I had a sneaking suspicion that I would be good at it. I find it is pretty easy for me to go through life post 40 and not push myself to try new things or get out of my comfort zone.

4. What was the first story you remember telling?

I don’t remember the first story I ever told since I told many a story to try to keep myself out of trouble as a kid/teen. But I imagine my first successful story that wasn’t simply defensive, like the stain on the rug must be because of the incontinent dog and not because I had a party while you were out of town, involved my grandmother. She is really the gift that keeps giving in terms of stories. Whether it was her mailing me plaid flannel bikini underwear, offering me her meat grinder if I would just marry already or telling me that a handful was all I needed for breasts, I had ample material to craft stories around her words.

5. What is the first story you remember hearing?

The first story I remember hearing was from my dad. My dad is an unrelenting storyteller. No anecdote too trivial or too unrelated to the conversation taking place for him to insert a story. To hear my dad’s stories once it to hear them 100 times. My brother and I have them memorized. I learned a few things watching and listening to my dad – all important for me as I decided to get in front of small crowds to tell a story. The first is how much pleasure he took in telling the stories, that it is a wonderful feeling to be listened to. Another is that there is value in understanding other people and their stories and passing your stories down to the next generation. And while my dad didn’t intend to teach this I learned that a story needs more than an interesting or funny anecdote to be compelling. It needs an arc to it and ideally a punchy intro and ending.

6. You’ve been involved with some other story telling events, how do you prepare your stories? Do you have a stable of stories you turn to or do you create new ones depending on the event?

For the last year and a half I mainly have participated in the Milwaukee Moth story slam. Since it is like an open mic I don’t over plan for it. I have the story sketched out in my head and I practice it a few times since the set up of the Moth is that it is a competition and one person advances to the Grandslam. There is a 5 minute time limit so I need to time myself. I tend to have a very specific line I want to say for my last sentence so I don’t want to run out of time before I stick the landing. I did participate in the Grandslam in Milwuakee and I prepared more for that one since I knew for sure I would be telling a story that night. I was also invited to tell a story in Brooklyn at the Moth Main Stage and that was a produced event with a rehearsal so I did a great deal of preparation for it.

In general I think of a new story for each theme. It is a good writing exercise for me to think up new stories. I have a few stories I told at the Milwaukee Moth that I really like so I definitely re-use them when I have a chance. The story I told at the Bubbler is one I told at a Moth story slam – just tweaked to fit the new theme.


Our next story event is I Thought I Was Going to Die on October 24th at Arboretum Cohousing starting at 7:15. That should give you some time to have a really harrowing experience.

Are you interested in having a story night in your neighborhood? Find a venue and let us know about it. We love to tell stories all over Madison. Give us your ideas: madisonstorytells at gmail dot com.

Some Questions for a Storyteller: Jess King

Each month or so, we profile a Story Night regular by asking her some questions about herself and her storytelling. This month’s “Some Questions” features storyteller Jess King. You can listen to Jess’s past stories: State Street Scary and Sick for the Grand Canyon. She also told the second one at our quitting event.


Jess King

1.  When and why did you come to Madison?

I moved here from Illinois in the summer of 2006 to pursue my love affair with south central Asian food served in moderately sized Midwestern cities. I’m only half kidding. The first meal I ever ate in Madison was at Kabul on State Street. I quickly decided that any place that had an Afghani restaurant would be a place I wouldn’t mind calling home.

2.  What do you do with your time (when you’re not telling stories)?

Walking and biking around town, reading books, going to see live music, and in general trying to avoid sitting in front of a screen for more than 90% of my waking hours. It’s a challenge, as screens can be quite engaging. I work a day job in nonprofit health care communications and dabble in occasional creative projects.

3.  What makes you want to tell personal stories in front of strangers and semi-strangers?

I’ve been super into storytelling on the radio ever since first hearing This American Life in 2004. The art form has just exploded in popularity with so many amazing free podcasts full of interesting people: RadioLab, Story Collider, Risk!, The Moth.

More than anything, I like the feeling of shared humanity that comes from connecting through stories. Communicating our experiences can shrink the spaces between us. And making even one person laugh is a rush.

4.  What was the first story you remember telling?

As a kid I mostly told stories to myself. I would walk in circles around the yard and make lists of all the items I would need as a pioneer girl and what frontier life would look like. Or I would talk about what I would do if I stowed away on a pirate ship.

I also created pages and pages of drawings to correspond to these various scenarios. As you might have guessed, I was an extremely popular child with oodles of friends.

5. In addition to telling stories you take pictures of story nights; is it difficult to take interesting pictures of people standing in front of a mic?

My number one goal is to avoid catching the speaker in an odd grimace or scowl. This can be difficult as we have wonderfully expressive performers who are constantly moving their faces while entertaining us.

It is true that the photos can turn out kind of similar to one another. I try to look for moments when the speaker has interesting body language, but I don’t want to be too distracting scurrying around trying to find unusual angles. That said, please send me any and all tips to improve storytelling night photos! [Eds. – Jess does a great job of making all of our storytellers look engaging, interesting, and not scowl-ridden. Check out her work in our gallery. She’s been hard at work for us since our Quitting story night.]

6. We’ve managed to lose the recordings of at least two of your stories, do you hate us?

Nah, I’m just happy you guys haven’t kicked me off the stage yet. Not having recordings means I will get to tell much better versions in the future and no one will be the wiser.

Also, you didn’t ask this question, but if I could pick anyone (dead or alive) with whom to swap stories, it would have to be Mark Twain. That dude was hilarious.


We’re taking the summer off, but will be back in September. In September we are excited to be working with The Bubbler at Madison Public Library for another one of their Night Light events! The last one was a lot of fun. You can tell from the recordings we got from it. Jess told a story there that we lost, so maybe we’ll all have a chance for redemption this time around. See you all September 5th!

Some Questions for a Storyteller: Daiquiri Jones

Each month or so, we profile a Story Night regular by asking him some questions about himself and his storytelling. This month’s “Some Questions” features storyteller Daiquiri Jones. You can listen to Daiquiri’s past stories: Hair Apparatus, Whiskey, Women, and Worry, 5 Arrests, and Interwoven.


Daiquiri Jones

1.  When and why did you come to Madison?

I came to Madison because I felt disenchanted in the great disenchanting state that is Florida. At the glimpse of falling in love with a highly unique and lovely woman who I’d only met once, I decided to move to Madison for a relationship with her. This was almost 2 years ago. The relationship didn’t last through the first couple months.

2.  What do you do with your time (when you’re not telling stories)?

When I’m not telling stories, I’m working 2 jobs and reading, often at these jobs. I read and socialize, play banjo and think about what I’m reading. I also like dancing. I’m trying out new hobbies every now and then, like dollmaking but i rarely get far.

3.  You’ve told a few stories during Story Night. While there is a lot of humor in your stories it doesn’t seem like you are just out to get a laugh. You usually tell stories about points in your life during which you undergo personally transformation. What do you get from revealing these moments from you life to an audience of strangers?

I just like to tell stories, and I’ve gotten in the habit of telling a new one every week. Unlike what I normally do, these stories are nonfiction, so I’m discovering new ways of looking at myself and my life when I tell them. I also am kind of really into the idea of metamorphosis as a theme and most good stories do [use metamorphosis as a theme], I think. In a sense, I feel like I change a little with each story as I reevaluate bits of my life which is the payoff for me.

4.  What was the first story you remember telling?

I used to make up stories all the time with my siblings during long car rides. They were the goofiest stories. I remember one about a race around the world where no one got very far and everyone was subjected to diseases of “hmm”s. I really liked punishing heroic characters even then.

5. When you tell stories here you always accompany yourself on banjo. How does the banjo add to your storytelling experience? What do you think it does for the audience?

I really should start telling stories without the banjo. It’s not a crutch but it’s very comfortable. I feel like my skill as a musician drops when I’m telling these particular stories (other pieces it’s very banjo heavy). I think it goes back to why I started playing instruments in the first place. It was to create atmosphere for when I’d make up stories for friends of mine. It’s to wash out a thought or color a line. I think the audience sees it like an invitation to listen and there’s something a bit mysterious that’s going to happen. Most people associate banjos with fun and so might get excited. I like it because it’s like a life next to me, calling and responding to the words I’m saying.


This Friday, May 23, is the next Madison Storyteller event at Arboretum Cohousing. Come see some more fine, fine storytellers and tell a fine, fine story of your own.

Some Questions for a Storyteller: Erin Boyle

Each month or so, we profile a Story Night regular by asking her some questions about herself and her storytelling. This month’s “Some Questions” features storyteller Erin Boyle. You can listen to Erin’s first story: Notes from the Past.

Erin Boyle

1.  When and why did you come to Madison?

I moved here in the summer of 2009 to start my physical chemistry PhD.

2.  What do you do with your time (when you’re not telling stories)?

Five Questions for a Storyteller: Keith

Each month or so, we profile a Story Night regular by asking him five questions about himself and his storytelling. This month’s “Five Questions” features storyteller Keith. You can listen to Keith’s past story A Dog Named July.

keith2

1.  When and why did you come to Madison?

I came to Madison in 2000, for graduate school. I left in 2011.

2.  What do you do with your time (when you’re not telling stories)?