My interior critic sounds like Jackie Hoffman as Mamacita and for years she grimly told me I’d never be a writer or performer. My exterior champion Mama Jean—part Auntie Mame, part Mama Rose—relentlessly chanted, “you should be a writer, that’s what you should be doing!” When I put down the bottle I finally silenced Mamacita and listened to Mama Jean. Every time I perform Dangerous When Wet: Booze, Sex, and My Mother, my solo show based on my memoir, it reminds that I’ve finally become both a writer and a performer.
How do you turn a 230-page memoir into a one-act solo show? The same way I wrote Dangerous When Wet the book: one story at a time. All storyteller performers are writers (even if they’re not published), and all writers are storytellers (even if they never perform their stories). My road to becoming a writer and a theatrical storyteller was circuitous and decades long, but guess what? I amassed several good stories along the way.
During the early 1990s of my salad years in New York as I began my publishing career, I did some freelance writing and stand-up comedy on the side. I remember thinking to myself, I’m not a traditional comedian. I tell comedic stories. I wish there was a forum for my performance style. By the late 1990s my two careers— publishing and drinking—took off, leaving little room for anything else. I ceased performing and writing. After those careers crashed and I was two years sober, in 2010 I started writing the memoir that became my first book. The writing led to storytelling. The book is told episodically in chapters that are stand-alone stories. Before it was finished I discovered The Moth and started performing some of those
stories. Eureka! That’s the forum I’d been searching for since my stand-up comedy days.
The best stories, whether on the page or the stage, reveal universal truths through the particular. The first time I won a Moth was the story of how Mama Jean’s all-consuming love for me (a love that cloaked me like a cashmere blanket. . . in August) ultimately saved me on my journey to getting sober—a Reader’s Digest version of my memoir. It’s a darkly-comic story filled with humor, punch lines, gut punches, and I’m changed in two significant ways: I get sober and I come to understand Mama Jean’s kind of love.
As I racked up more Moth wins and became a regular performer in the New York storytelling world I found that the core audiences for my stories were the same as the book: the Will and Grace crowd (gay men and straight women), GLBTQI+, boozers and users (both active and in recovery), Southerners, and mothers (especially mothers of gay men).
After two years of performing true stories mostly adapted from Dangerous When Wet, in the summer of 2016 I was accepted to do a 60-minute solo show based on the book. I wrote and directed the theatrical storytelling show myself. It went well, but it needed blocking, tightening, shaping—dramaturgy. Like all writers need an editor, all performers need a director. When the show was accepted for 2017 FRIGID New York, a fringe-type festival, I hired Obie Award-winning director David Drake.
The work Drake and I did together paid off. After a successful run, I performed at several other theater festivals in New York. Capital Fringe marks the premiere of Dangerous When Wet at a Fringe festival and Capital Fringe audiences will get a fifteen-minute bonus of new material.
Every time I perform the show it reminds that I’ve finally become both a writer and a performer. By reliving on stage the highs (loss of virginity in Acapulco and drunk dialing Peggy Lee) and lows (alcoholic suicide attempt inspired by Joan Crawford in Humoresque) that made and nearly unmade me it reminds me of my promise to Mama Jean (and myself) to stay sober. However, my catharsis isn’t the point of theater. Creating an emotional experience in other human beings is the point of art.
The most rewarding moment since I’ve been doing the show came after one performance when an older woman with moist eyes asked if she could hug me and said, “I’m the kind of mother Mama Jean was and you’ve taught me what a son’s love for his mother can mean.” I knew my particular stories had created universal catharsis in that woman. Moments like that remind me of why I am storyteller, whether on the stage or the page.
Jamie Brickhouse is an award-winning solo performance artist, voice actor on Beavis and Butthead, three-time Moth SLAM champion, and the New York Times published author of the critically-acclaimed Dangerous When Wet: A Memoir of Booze, Sex, and My Mother (St. Martin’s Press) upon which his solo show directed by David Drake is based. The show was a 2017 FRIGID Festival New York Audience Choice Award winner and “Best Bet” (Theater is Easy). Jamie is also a Literary Death Match champ, has been featured on both the live stages and national podcasts of Kevin Allison’s Risk! and Story Collider, is a fixture on the New York City storytelling circuit, and has performed in Los Angeles, Asheville, and Mexico. He’s also a speaker on memoir writing and storytelling, alcoholism/recovery, and suicide prevention. His next memoir and solo show, I Favor My Daddy, about his father Earl will be part of the New York International Fringe Festival in October. Visit Jamie at www.jamiebrickhouse.com, friend him on Facebook, and follow him on YouTube, and on Twitter and Instagram @jamiebrickhouse.