I was having an extremely tough time after the death of my mother, Dorothy Stamps. I began doing a joke discussing things she said to me in her hospital room knowing the end was near. While setting up the premise of the joke, I could feel the seriousness and tension in the room. The punchline of the joke was a huge sweet release after such build-up of tension.
I decided to see if I could replicate that with individuals telling their stories, typically heavy in nature, and have comedians use those stories as inspiration for their comedy. This was the genesis of Truth in Comedy. The visual art portion of the show came about a year later.
– Byron Stamps, creator of Truth In Comedy (TiC)
Truth in Comedy is a storytelling, stand-up comedy, and art show. Individuals, a.k.a. storytellers, share deeply personal stories with the audience, which are the catalyst for the stand-up and art portions of the show. After each story, a comedian performs a set inspired by the story. At the end of the show, a visual artist presents a triptych during the show, inspired by the stories.
“I consider it emotional art where humanity is the muse,” says Byron Stamps, founder / creator of Truth In Comedy (TiC). “There will be tears, there will be laughs, there will be tears from laughing. It is a very unique experience.”
TiC debuted March 2017 in Dallas, Texas. Today, Byron hosts monthly shows in Dallas along with bi-monthly shows in Kansas City and Topeka.
“[I’m] Looking forward to seeing the support for Truth in Comedy grow as Topeka does,” says Robin Bonsall, vice president of the Jayhawk Theatre board of directors. She was integral in bringing Truth in Comedy to the Jayhawk Theatre. “This event was a new kind of experience for Topeka. The concept of real people offering to share and being vulnerable enough to bring their personal tragedy to the surface… pairing each story with a comedian’s flair, then a local artist getting an opportunity to highlight the hidden beauty of these tragedies… It’s not easy for all people to embrace emotionally.”
Amy Eff participated in the inaugural TiC Topeka show last February and explains why she did: “I participated in TiC because, as a writer, I don’t often get to interact with the consumers of my work. A significant portion of my essays revolve around my experiences with infertility—it’s still a pretty taboo topic, even in this day and age. I knew that if I was strong enough to write about it, that I was strong enough to talk about it.” Amy, like myself, is a TiC alum. We both agreed to participate in the first show in Topeka at The Break Room located downtown. She shares her invitation to the TiC family, “I was participating in an artist development program that had just started the week before Byron contacted me. The first night of the program, the facilitators asked us what our biggest fears were. I said, ‘Not finding an outlet for my story.’ Nine days later, I got a message from Byron. I looked up at the sky and laughed. Then I Googled him, cuz that’s what it’s like. He seemed legit, so I just went from there. I had a great experience! Byron was extremely supportive, offering feedback and insight. He is definitely dedicated to TiC, and it shows.”
“If you get a chance to participate in TiC, DO IT!! It’s such a beautiful and amazing experience, definitely one that’s freeing and worth taking,” says Jayme Perez-Flint. I asked her what she may have taken away from her Truth in Comedy experience: “What did I take away? I think it was more a re-enforcement to me, really… We’re all connected in some way. One of those ways is many hide their pain and always persevere through that pain. They usually have the biggest smiles and are always trying to keep moving to keep the hell they’re going through at bay. In the end, we never really know what’s going on behind someone’s smile.” Jayme Perez-Flint is an actress from the area and participated in the second TiC show in Topeka at the Jayhawk Gallery Theatre as a storyteller, “Truth is a funny thing… You can deny it all you want, but, in the end, it has a way of coming to the surface. Facing the truth is uncomfortable, but it’s freeing. You don’t have to hide when you’re just up front and facing it.”
“I was afraid that if we laughed at the pain inherent in our human condition, that we might lose a bit of humanity. I could not have been more wrong.” -Huascar
Staci Dawn Ogle was the artist selected to visually portray the stories shared on stage at the Jayhawk Gallery Theatre on May 9. She discussed what she felt during the creative process, “There were a lot of moments where I felt a connection with each individual storyteller. There was a lot of pain, emotionally and physically, and that kind of hardship can take a tremendous toll on someone, I know this from experience. I also know the triumphs that happen after freeing yourself of the stigma that’s attached with the struggle, and learning to find happiness with your truth. I definitely wanted to tap into that because this was their night, to let go, to grow, and to shine.” Staci gifted the storytellers the artwork she created at no cost. “I know it was surprising- not every artist will willingly give their art away, nor should they be expected to. However, this was their story,” explained Staci. “To me, being an artist is so much more than selling my artwork -it’s my philanthropy. If there’s a moment that I can tap into that and it is going to impact lives, there’s no price tag I can attach to that kind of value.”
I can attest to the value of Truth in Comedy. I shared a deeply traumatic story that I have only been able to share with a handful of people in my life. A story I had kept buried inside me for over a decade. When I walked off that TiC stage, I was free from that story. It no longer had a hold on me. I was able to remove, as I described in my story, the “halo of lead”. At first, I had my concerns with sharing my story and having a comedian I never met make jokes about it. I remember confiding in my close friend Rebeccca Radziejeski that I was afraid that if we laughed at the pain inherent in our human condition, that we might lose a bit of humanity. I could not have been more wrong. Humor really is a shield, weapon and psychological salve in the face of suffering.
[originally published Summer 2019 | VOL XIII ISSUE III]