5 Types of People Who Ruin Every Story
A couple of months ago, I wrote that laid-back Irish pubs were my favorite kind of bar, but I failed to mention why: It's because they're the best place for telling stories. Some of my favorite memories involve just sitting back with a beer in some place quiet enough to speak and hearing a good yarn. Man, that makes me sound old, but I was always like this.
Me on my 23rd birthday.
Anyway, I like stories -- telling them and hearing them, provided they don't suck. But a good story requires more than just a talented tale-telling; it needs a good audience. And that's harder to find than you might think, because there are so many people who suck at hearing stories. Here are five of the worst.
The Devil's Advocate
I had a friend in school who was one of the sweetest, kindest dudes I've ever met. He was a mild-mannered, soft-spoken Asian dude. Always polite and kind and quick with a favor. I also hated his guts, because he was the most infuriating person to tell a story to. Especially if it was a complaining type of story, because every problem you ever had was always somehow your fault. He would never support you. We'll call him Adam, because I've forgotten his real name, and because only weasels are named Adam.
Your Story: Oh, my God. I just got back from Best Buy, and right as I bought the computer, I realized I had to return it for a different one. I hadn't even left the store yet. I was literally getting handed the computer in line when I realized, and they still charged me a 15 percent restocking fee for the return.
The Devil's Advocate: Well, y'know, that makes sense, because there are a lot of people making returns and sometimes that increases overhead because a;lkfna;lskdfj a;sdfkja;lsdkfjalfa;l.ad.fa.sdfka'sdfkja ...
"a;lkfna;lskdfj a;sdfkja;lsdkfjalfa;l.ad.fa.sdfka'sdfkja ...": phrase indicating a lazy Internet writer's attempt to convey worthless words.
It really didn't matter what the story was; it was always somehow your fault, especially in the service industry context -- mostly because Adam worked in a camping supplies retail store and hated everyone all the time (despite being so sweet and kind and seemingly mild-mannered). Eventually, it became sort of a joke among us and we tried inventing stories he couldn't possibly pull his Devil's Advocate bullshit on. But he did, over and over, until the day I bested him. It was glorious.
"Hey, I just got back from Burger King and they totally messed up my order," I said.
"Well," Adam replied, "did you have like a special order?"
Yes," I conceded. "I ordered my Whopper without onions."
A slow smile spread across his face. "Yeah, well, y'see, there you go ..."
"Adam, this is America. I'm allowed to ask for something without onions without inviting a 20-minute delay and a still-messed-up order."
"Well, y'know, that's not really what fast food is about."
"It's not? Burger King's slogan is 'HAVE IT YOUR WAY'!"
*For younger readers: It totes was. Totes. That's what you kids say, right? Totes? Yeah, it totes was, fo sho. Tru dat.
The True Believer
The True Believer lets you tell your story. He might even laugh at all the right parts and listen patiently for the ending while you tell it. But that's because he has a point to make. See, the True Believer is a devout Christian or an ardent vegan or a strict libertarian -- it doesn't matter. He is a member of some belief that systematically runs through every single thing he does in his life. There is nothing, not even your story about buying shoes, that does not tie back directly to his central beliefs. So when you finish your tale, instead of having a laugh and a beer, you get this:
Your Story: ... so anyway, I was just about to leave the shoe store because they didn't have my size when a box fell off the shelf, nearly hitting me on the head. But when it hit the ground, the black Kenneth Coles I was looking for popped right out of the box. They'd been put back in the wrong spot, and by sheer coincidence one of the workers accidentally knocked them off the wall as I walked by!"
True Believer 1: Yep. It's funny how God is always looking out for you.
True Believer 2: Yeah, fucking corporate America, man, cutting wages so that no one does a good job anymore. Throwing boxes where they don't belong and nearly killing customers.
True Believer 3: Wait, you still wear leather? Do you know what they do to cows to get that?
"You lost your thumb using a table saw without a guard? Thanks, Obama!"
You don't even have to read this one, right? You know who the One-Upper is. He's the guy prodding your story along with his head nodding, not because he agrees, but because he's waiting for you to get to the end so he can tell an even better story. Aside from that being rude, the One-Upper's story usually isn't better. It's the same or worse. It just has the added benefit of having happened to him.
"Get to the part of your story about me."
Your Story: So anyway, I had no money in my wallet. I also had no idea how I was gonna get home. Then suddenly, I find a hundred-dollar bill in the street!"
The One-Upper: Oh, man, I'll do you one better: I once found a 20!"
These next two work together, and they both have exceptions, but let's start with the Interrupter. In his simplest form, the Interrupter is merely rude. He cuts you off or changes topic just because he's a self-centered douche who hasn't been properly socialized. I don't have a lot to say about that kind of Interrupter.
"You don't? Good. That gives me more time to talk about me!"
But there is another kind of Interrupter who's a lot harder to define. He's the clarifying kind of Interrupter. There's a good chance he is paying attention -- even actively listening. He's not interrupting so much as clarifying. See, he wants to make sure he gets every vital detail so that when you get to the big finish of your story, he gets it. I can appreciate that. Sometimes, I'm even the Clarifier, because I don't want that whole story to get told with no payoff. And sometimes, especially if you're dealing with a weak storyteller, the Clarifier can be helpful for all. For example, someone might be telling a story about how some woman in a crowd was describing the shape of the birthmark on his ass without ever first explaining to his audience that he went to the Thanksgiving Day Parade without wearing pants.
But more often than not, the Clarifier is asking for clarification on worthless points that are completely irrelevant to the story.
Your Story: Did I ever tell you guys about that time I got a Mercedes-Benz for free? Oh, man, you won't believe it. OK, so I was in Bethesda, Maryland, to visit my aunt, and-
The Clarifier: Wait. Father's sister or mother's sister? Or by marriage?
Your Story: What? Oh, father's sister, I guess. Anyway, I got lost on my way, so I drove my shitty 1988 Honda Accord into this dealership just to get directions, and-
The Clarifier: Was it an automatic or a shift? I just want to make sure I follow ...
Your Story: Automatic. It's not important. Anyway, this salesman takes a liking to it. He apparently has been restoring a 1988 Honda in his spare time, part by part, because, and I shit you not, that's the car he lost his virginity in, and so he says-
The Clarifier: In Maryland?
Your Story: Yes! Who cares?
The Clarifier: Sorry, go on ...
Your Story: Nothing. He just gave me a car in a straight trade and blah blah whatever. I have to go fuck your mom now. Your mom in Chicago. I'm going to use Trojan condoms with spermicidal lubricant. I'm going to take American Airlines to get there and probably sit in business class. She'll reach orgasm in four minutes and nine seconds. OK? OK?!
The Not Getting It
Some people don't get stuff. It happens. Not everyone is as gifted as the average Cracked reader. That's just the deal, and you can't get too upset about the intellectually flawed. Let them go watch YouTube vids and be on their way. But there is a specific kind of Not Getting It guy who's particularly infuriating, and that's the guy who doesn't get stuff because he makes assumptions. So yeah, the Clarifier above is a drag, but for people who really enjoy telling a good story with a big finish, the Assumer is a bigger killer.
He'll sit there with a dim smile, making good eye contact and nodding at all the appropriate moments, assuming all sorts of details and conditions incorrectly. He's failing to appreciate all the setups to your story. Your dramatic finish will end in disaster as he looks up and goes "huh."
Pictured above: A man moments before being beaten to death by a storyteller.
I was going to do a little dialogue to illustrate this point as well, but I can't. The Assumer doesn't say anything except "huh" when your story's over. But what I can do is give you a peek into the Assumer's mind while he's hearing a story.
Thoughts of the Assumer: OK, so this guy's telling a story about Chicken McNuggets. I don't know what that is because I was raised by vegans on a commune in Portland. I'll just assume it's a kind of swimsuit. Oh, now he's talking about dipping sauce. OK. That makes sense. People in swimsuits take a dip. I guess they call public pools "sauce" in this part of New York. OK. So far so good. I'll keep nodding. Super size? I don't know what that means, but I'll assume it's not an important part of the story. Oh, he's done? I don't get it. Why is he complaining about getting hamburgers at a public pool?
If you're in New York City, come see Gladstone do stand up March 27, 2013 at Bareburger. Show starts at 8 p.m., two-drink minimum. No cover.
Watch the new HATE BY NUMBERS, where Will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas recruits Britney Spears to make even worse music.