2007_01_mikedaisey.jpgI first saw Mike Daisey at The People's Improv Theater at a live recording of The Sound of Young America. I didn't know what he was going to talk about, but, in retrospect, it seems like he could talk about anything and it would still be interesting, funny, intelligent, and insightful. His latest monologue Invincible Summer will run at the The Public Theater January 18th through the 28th.

Who are some storytellers, famous or otherwise, that influenced you?
I grew up in northern Maine, and had always been surrounded by storytelling as long as I could remember--my family are all voracious storytellers, so I think that's a primary source. The work of giants like Bill Cosby, Jean Shepard, and Joe Frank have certainly influenced me by helping me see what was possible in oral performance--as has some seemingly unlikely sources, like Southern preachers and foreign city walking tour guides. I'm interested in extemporaneous speaking in all its forms--it's the natural expression of spoken narrative, and the world's most common form of performance.

What's your first memory of doing any sort of public speaking?
In high school I was a speech and debate geek, and I did a lot of Foreign Extemporaneous speaking, which involves composing mentally and then delivering a short piece taking a foreign policy position. You had to juggle many different elements in performance, and each speech was required to always have a driving point--they were never allowed to simply be rhetorical or demonstrative, and I think that synthesis stuck with me in the monologues.

How much preparation does one of your monologues require?
Hard to say, really--I don't script in any way or set what I'll say, but it takes a lot of reflecting and thinking to let the threads of the story settle out. Short pieces are effortless, and I could do a new twenty minute piece a day, but the longer monologues come in their own time--lately I'm doing about two new pieces or so year, sometimes three. At the moment there are nine monologues in repertory, all of which I perform at theaters around the country--the variety keeps me limber.

How would you describe Invincible Summer to a potential audience member?

Invincible Summer is a personal map of New York City from the ground up, starting with the history of the subway system and passing up through my Brooklyn neighborhood, tracking the changes the last few years have wrought on the local and national stages. It's about my parent's divorce, Paris Hilton, cities dreaming of architecture, subway face, the New Jersey shore, war, loss and democracy. Finally, and often the most important detail for many audience members: it's about eighty minutes.

When you go onstage, what sort of outline do you have in your head
of what you want to say?

I try to have a very clear sense of my story, and how I want to address it, and I bullet point resonant moments for myself, though no one would ever be able to actually understand the outline in any logical fashion--it's crossed-out, overwritten and covered in post- its like a Christmas tree. The truth is that the writing is just an act that allows me to structure and codify what I want to try on a given night performing a particular piece--in performance I almost never look down at the outline on the table.

Do your shows become more concrete as their runs go along, or do you tend to have each night be different regardless of how well particular stories were told the night before?
They do become more consistent, simply because that's the nature of stories--repetition makes us clarify and condense stories, until they become more and more set. There's no desire to "lock" a piece though-- they're allowed to drift and change over time, though the pressure of having to communicate the whole story and make it as sharp and succinct as possible tends to keep it from flying off into outer space.

How would you gauge how well a story was told?
Did I communicate and connect with the audience? If I achieved that connection, did I say something honest, clear and meaningful? Did I achieve all of that without sanctimony, pandering or sucking up? If the answer to all three is yes, then I usually feel like I'm on the road to doing my job. I also really like there to be an uneasy mix of comedy and tragedy, so that the very funny is as close to possible with dark moments--I feel like that more closely reflects life, at least the way I see it.

What would you say the difference is between a monologist and a
stand up comedian?

Well, a stand-up comedian doesn't have to explain what he does, which is a big plus for stand-up. I think most of the difference has to do with audience expectation and my intentions--as a monologist, the story and its communication and communion with the audience is what's paramount. In stand-up, it's laughs--even if you decide it isn't all about laughs, the audience comes in expecting exactly that, and that changes the terms of the deal. Stand-up is like haiku--a beautiful, difficult art form that is incredibly prescribed as far as how you are permitted, by the audience, to deviate. That's why masters of stand-up who change the rules for what people can do in that form on stage are rightly hailed--it's extremely difficult to change those ground rules.

Have you ever performed stand up?
I have, just few times with folks like Michael Showalter and the Variety SHAC--it's a different set of responses than monologuing, but relies on the same muscles. There's less emphasis on narrative, and the scale is much smaller--as a monologist I often deal with subjects like L. Ron Hubbard's entire life, or the nature of the NYC subway system. Stand-up favors smaller situations--dissecting one incident can envelop an entire act, and be totally hilarious. It's interesting comparing them side-by-side.

What do you like to do after a performance?
Talk with friends at a quiet bar where I feel at home, like the Grassroots Tavern on St. Marks, and then eat at the weird Japanese restaurant across the street. I like to get Unidentified Meat #7 In Broth while listening to my friends talk to each other--after a show, I've been speaking for 90 minutes, and I like to go off duty and just listen to everybody else.

To purchase tickets to the Invincible Summer, visit Publictheater.org and visit Mike online at Mikedaisey.com to sign up for his mailing list and to learn more about his monologues.