Metro Weekly

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SpeakEasyDC sends off Hanukkah at Sixth & I this Saturday

Amy Saidman got turned off of becoming a standup comic.

”Other comedians are cold and aloof and unfriendly,” Saidman says, ”telling homophobic jokes to 20 people in a basement. … It’s so not attractive any more.”

Certainly not since Saidman, a former teacher, discovered live storytelling through SpeakEasyDC some 13 years ago. Saidman quickly signed on as a program coordinator and eventually became artistic executive director of the organization, which has grown under her leadership to include a staff of six teachers offering classes and coaching in the art of storytelling. The past decade has ushered in a rise of storytelling organizations all over the country, but, says Saidman, ”The depth to which we’ve invested in classes and coaching is unique.”

Of course, SpeakEasyDC is best known for the storytelling performances it organizes at area venues, up to 25 each year, including a monthly event at Town Danceboutique, plus an annual LGBT-focused program. The emphasis is always on congenial camaraderie. SpeakEasyDC doesn’t offer competitive storytelling – no judged ”Story Slams” here.

”I prefer everyone comes out feeling like a winner,” she says.

SpeakEasyDC is now gearing up for its fourth annual event at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue on the last night of Hanukkah. This year’s My So-Called Jewish Life features mostly journalists, Jews and gentiles alike, sharing their amusing personal stories on the chosen theme – from the Washington Post‘s food editor Bonnie Benwick and her lifelong love of brisket, to ABC News’s John Donvan and his interfaith relationship and Jewish children. There’s also the story of Eliot Stein, managing editor of LivingSocial. Saidman, says Stein, whose family background is – get this – Quaker, ”has been mistaken for Jewish his entire life. His name has sealed his fate.”

As she does every year, Saidman will serve as emcee, keeping the crowd engaged during the stories, plus sharing one or two of her own. ”I’m not sure when I’m going to run out of Jewish material,” she says, laughing. ”But I am Jewish, so that does help.”

My So-Called Jewish Life is Saturday, Dec. 15, at 8 p.m. Sixth & I Historic Synagogue. 600 I St. NW. Tickets are $17 in advance or $20 day of. Call 202-408-3100 or visit

Doug Rule covers the arts, theater, music, food, nightlife and culture as contributing editor for Metro Weekly.