9.1 Better Than Grisham

People kept asking me what I was planning on doing for my 40th birthday. Birthdays have never been that big of a deal to me. When you’re born around Christmas, your birthday just sort of gets folded into the rest of the holidays. Fine with me. I’m not someone who has to have any big celebration - it’s just another day, right?

But I seemed to owe myself some kind of recognition for staying alive for 40 years. I went through a few scenarios in my head but came up with nothing. I’m not good at planning my own parties. Then it popped into my head: why not put on a show and invite all of my friends?

Last summer, the international bestselling author John Grisham came out with a podcast. Trust me, this all makes sense in the end. He went on his first book tour in almost fifteen years and recorded these live events for the podcast. I quickly became obsessed with this podcast. As I got deeper into the episodes, I got deeper into the psyche of John Grisham. Here was a man who had gotten everything he had ever hoped for, and yet he was so angry and bitter. I kept asking myself, “Why are you so sad, John Grisham?”

Around the same time, I had wanted to put together a live show with two of my favourite performers: comedian Monica Hamburg and musician Arlene Paculan. Last year, Monica and I wrote and performed a story together for Stories We Don’t Tell where we moonlighted as private detectives. You might remember Arlene from The Walking Man launch party (click on the video below for a preview). I trust Arlene and Monica more than almost anyone and we know how to bring out the best in each other. Also, they are enablers when it comes to the various weird ideas that crop up in these shows.

The Walking Man - Book Launch

There are enough storytelling, comedy and music shows in the city and I wanted to figure out something a little different. We landed on combining storytelling, comedy and music into a scripted show that had an overall theme and narrative arc. In my humble opinion, these three arts can be combined, but in a way where they are integrated together.

What would the show be about?

Cue: John Grisham. I found myself thinking about John Grisham a lot. I wondered if we could create a show about his show, poking fun at the many ways he unintentionally revealed himself to be, well, kind of a jerk. Talking with Monica, I said that we could do a show similar to John Grisham’s podcast, but better. Monica suggested that we’re Better Than Grisham - the show was born. However, we didn’t have a deadline and the show was just something that was vaguely in the background.

Until people kept asking me what I was planning on doing for my 40th birthday. Let’s not just do a show, let’s do the Better Than Grisham show. I work best with deadlines and we got the script in shape quickly. No, you will not need to know anything about John Grisham going in, but you’ll know everything by the end. The show starts with us profiling John Grisham and re-creating a condensed version of his podcast, illustrating six key things we learned from listening to it. Monica and I each of our own segments, telling our own stories about our hopes and dreams. Music is woven in and out of the segments and it all comes together in an excerpt from a musical theatre production based on the early life of John Grisham.

Looking for a place to perform, the manager of the Bell Tower Cafe offered free event space for storytelling-related shows. I went to check out the space and meet the manager and walked into an old church. The cafe was in the foyer and seating was inside the church, which is also the event space. Like, the alter is the stage. Immediately I knew this was the right place. A bit strange, a little weird - perfect.

We’re opening this show up to anyone, not just my friends or people related to my birthday. On Friday, January 5th, 2018 - come one, come all. RSVP on the Facebook event page and come check it out. You’re in for a night that is not quite like anything else you’ve seen before.

Paul Dore