Family Fiction Storytelling: Andy Offitt Irwin
& Paul Strickland
When I click the link for the virtual storytelling live streaming video just a couple of minutes after the starting time Saturday night, I don’t even realize the show has begun. A guy is singing what appears to be an original a folk singer, so I click to another web page. I am expecting to see storytelling. I click the link again a couple of minutes later, and folk singer is still on. So I wait. Could this be the comedy duo I was expecting and had read about on Facebook? He begins singing about Bic pens and their value. At the beginning of the school year, he says, you can get a package of 10 for just a dollar he says. Then he talks about the hole in the cap and its purpose, and the little man on the barrel holding a pen. The video screen divides again and again, as individual after individual appears each singing from their own homes about the pen, the cap, and the man holding a pen on the barrel of the pen. I get it. This IS the show. It brings me back to Steve Martin’s early days, playing a banjo, telling wild stories, and acting silly. Oh, yes, this is the show.
It’s title is “Family Fiction: You can’t choose your family, but you can make one up!,” and it features storytellers Andy Offitt Irwin and Paul Strickland. Its tagline is “tall tales, music, and fun.” Music! I had forgotten about that.
Performing live virtually, a week ago Saturday, Offitt Irwin played his guitar and sang outside in the dark night standing in front of a fence. Strickland played guitar and talked of the small town where he grew up while sitting on an overstuffed brown couch in what appeared to be his home.
Strickland introduced his story as a triptych revolving around growing up in a town whose name everyone has forgotten and was so small that the local newspaper was called “The Local Newspaper.” His father grew up raised by wool, which he carried on his back. It scratched his skin and died undyed. His father became a psychic who didn’t read palms or tea leaves but the oil on a dipstick. His father was fond of saying, “Just because the shoe fits, doesn’t mean you gotta wear it. Folks don’t like it when you steal their shoes.” On the wall next to the couch where Strickland sits is a framed mustard-yellow canvas with an old brown shoe stuck to its center. He also told a tale about his mother eating all the soup cans that were hidden inside a home wall. She tore the wall down and feasted on the soup for months.
Offitt Irwin later told a story about his Southern Aunt Marguerite going to medical school at age 85, her husband Charles and friend Sally Lynette. On her first date with Charles she repeatedly asked him to pull over to a gas station. He repeatedly said he had plenty of gas and wouldn’t pull over. Marguerite could wait no longer. She peed on the car seat.
Offitt Irwin acted out the roles so well that he became the characters as he described them and the words they had spoken years ago. When Aunt Marguerite was about 90, she was being honored at an event in a nearby town. Sally drove her there when suddenly Marguerite “felt something warm down there” and peed on the car seat.
Strickland has performed at the National Storytelling Festival and in comedy clubs across the country and in Canada. Offitt Irwin is a singer-songwriter, Shakespearean actor, and theater director who won a Storytelling World Award in 2020, and in eight previous years.