His mellow voice started crafting an unvarnished tale, with campfire simplicity.
I had never heard of the Edmonton Story Slam “Slam Off” until Dennis Allen posted that he had won the darn thing in February. It’s held on the third Wednesday of each month in The Common in downtown Edmonton. Ten storytellers are picked out of a hat and they have five minutes to spit out their story. No time is allowed for the title or any explanation about the story. The second they blurt out the first word, the clock is a tickin’. They start deducting points from your score if you go over five minutes.
The win in February launched Dennis into the March grand slam. He would faceoff against all the monthly winners for the past year. Shirley and I took in the event on March 15, after Dennis posted an appeal for northern backup. He was surprised to see us. Hopefully, some of our Mackenzie Valley gossip loosened him up to face the mob while onstage. I also suggested to him that he should try to find a new name with “elastic” in it because of his ability to take a grain of truth and stretch it a mile.
The evening got underway with the host informing us that The Slam was in its seventeenth year and we were a part of the largest crowd that it has ever had in its history. The first contender of the night was a fella who decided to read an eight-minute story in under five minutes. I was sure that he had missed the turnoff to the local auction barn. I made a desperate attempt to keep up with his lingo, but it wasn’t long before my two and a half brain cells were left in his verbal dust.
The next name picked out of the hat was Dennis. As he headed up to the stage, I wondered what wild story was coming our way. Within two paragraphs, it seemed as if he had already grabbed the packed crowd by the you know what, and then he tightened his grip. His mellow voice started crafting an unvarnished tale that was delivered with campfire simplicity.
They were experiencing a new style of storytelling. It was a glimpse at his upbringing where the tall tale was used as a way of winding down the day. He had learned it at places such as Whitefish Station, after a long, successful day hunting a Beluga whale in the 24-hour sunshine.
All the remaining writers left no doubt that they had the skills to herd the English language in any direction that they saw fit. I guess I have lived in the North too long because their writing seemed a little too perfect for the setting, and a smidge uptight.
To be fair, most of the writers managed to muster a few guffaws from us, and a couple were able to get us into a full-blown giggle using that tried and true crutch—profanity.
On the other hand, every word Dennis used (I hope this doesn’t ruin his reputation) was fit for the ears of a choirboy. You had to listen closely because he was his own worst enemy. He usually never managed to spit out more than three sentences before the full house was roaring with laughter. In my biased opinion, he was in a league of his own.
At the halftime intermission, the usual practice of passing a hat around for donations (with the whole shebang going to the winner) easily broke all previous records.
Dennis could only watch as each contender tried to eclipse his high score. They came and went, one by one. The final challenger climbed the highest, but fell short of her goal.
The northern storyteller was asked repeatedly, after the show, if he had a book containing all of his stories. Of course, they received a northern answer. “I haven’t gotten around to it yet. I’ve been too lazy.”
Knowing how to massage the truth and use it to produce high, explosive comedy is an art that few conquer. There is a fine line that separates plausibility from plain old goofiness. Most times it’s the plausible that creates the comedy. Dennis knows exactly where that line is. I know because I watched it play out after the show. He was approached, time and again, and asked, “Was that story true?”
They received an answer that would have made an ambulance-chasing lawyer blush. “It’s true somewhere.”