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For the latest installment of Coffee With Friends, I’m chatting with Corey Podell, Laurenne Sala and Rahul Subramanian, creators/hosts/producers of Taboo Tales, one of the funniest, most well-curated and popular (they always sell out) storytelling shows in Los Angeles. The next show is June 3rd here in L.A., but you can listen to their podcast wherever you live, which features stories from past shows. And the show has developed such a cult following, they’ve recently begun offering writing workshops for people interested in writing their own taboos – the next one is June 7th (email tabooooooooo@gmail.com to sign up). The show is hilarious, vulnerable, emotional, shocking and ultimately, cathartic, and I am so honored and thrilled to be sharing their story with you!

Thanks so much for chatting with me! I know you’re super busy gals + guy, so let’s rock it out. For people who haven’t had the immense pleasure of attending a show (guys, seriously, go), can you talk a bit about what, exactly, Taboo Tales is?

Taboo Tales is a storytelling show that is based around the belief that the more we all talk about how fucked up we are, the more normal we all feel. In fact, that’s our show’s official motto! We wanted to give people permission to talk about things that society has ruled off limits. Things that might make strangers gasp. We tried to create an atmosphere where people can let go of their judgments and feel better about all the shit they’ve gone through in their lives. BUT… ultimately, Taboo Tales is a comedy show – all the stories have laugh out loud moments,  though some pieces still go to darker places.  Our audiences are always very supportive, which is important since our performers are getting vulnerable with a capital V. Ultimately, we’ve learned that laughing at the hard stuff in life is healing not just for the storyteller, but the entire community. So many times our storytellers (or we) are approached or emailed after a show by an audience member who says, “I thought it was just ME!” There are so many things in our society that we’ve been taught are too ‘taboo’ to talk about – especially in public! We’re trying to bust down that belief system one story at a time.

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{Laurenne + Corey onstage}

How did you all meet? And what prompted you to create the show? Why Taboo Tales?

Corey and Laurenne met in a writing class back in 2006ish, where we became fast friends due to similar life experiences and taste in writing. Seeds of creating a funny storytelling show together were planted but Laurenne left to travel the world for a year! Upon her glorious return in 2010, we went to a storytelling show (which will remain nameless – because we actually forgot the name) that was insufferably long and not well curated. In fact, the host ended up flashing her boobs to the audience to get something going. At drinks afterwards we were like, ‘yeah we could do a show at LEAST as good as that one!’ We came upon Taboo Tales as an idea because we both had stories of our own that were pretty ‘taboo’ and thought it could be a good theme. In addition, when Laurenne came back from her “finding herself” mission, she published a story about her father’s suicide, something she felt uncomfortable talking about until then. She realized how freeing it was to finally talk/write about it, and that was the final straw. We were like: We MUST do this!

Rahul and Laurenne met through their love of each other’s writing (they both had hilarious blogs at the time). Rahul performed in our very first show. We all clicked and we asked him to come aboard as producer about a year in.  He is a hilarious angel, and we’re happy to have a much-needed male spin on things sometimes.

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{Rahul}

How long have you been producing the show? How has it evolved over the years?

Our first show was in the Fall of 2010 and we’ve been doing them consistently (approximately 4 -5 shows a year) since. It has evolved from a spark of an idea over drinks, that we were hoping would just be a funny little show, to practically a movement! We certainly didn’t go into the process of producing to tear down societal walls and help others heal through story and humor, but that’s where the road has led and we are so grateful for it. We really didn’t know audiences would be so open and storytellers so willing.  We’ve also evolved into bigger theaters as we’ve grown our audience, but we’ve realized that for the purposes of our show, we want the atmosphere to continue to be intimate, so no Staples Center dates anytime soon.

The stories have gotten much deeper and more emotional since we started. And we are getting better at asking questions to get people to think deeper about their own stories. Plus, we’ve all become better listeners and way more accepting. Wherever we go, people want to tell us their secrets. The other day, a man sitting next to Laurenne on a plane explained his whole open marriage to her, sexy times and all.

There are a million storytelling shows in Los Angeles, but yours has a cult following. It always sells out, and any time I’ve gone there is a line out the door. What sets your show apart from the others?

There are so many awesome storytelling shows in Los Angeles – you could go to a great show every night of the week if you wanted. We’ve found that our process is different than other shows because we are HIGHLY collaborative – meaning we help the storytellers edit, add jokes, and get more vulnerable than sometimes they’re initially comfortable with. The result of that collaboration is a polished and thoughtfully curated show – basically, performers never go off on crazy tangents, no one resorts to their stand up act, and no one is unprepared. We really want the audience to feel like the ticket was worth their money and they had a full experience from start to finish. In addition, we’ve had a lot of first time performers in Taboo Tales and ‘non industry’ people. We definitely have actors and writers of course, but we are less concerned about a star-studded line up and more concerned with the best stories told in the best order.

Plus, our stage is truly a safe space. Ours is the place where people can feel comfortable talking and hearing about EVERYTHING. Lots of people cry on our stage (and laugh), and all emotions are accepted. We think it’s freeing to be in a very accepting place – even for an hour. The world isn’t always like that.

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I love going because some of the stories make me cry from laughing, other makes me cry from feeling all the feelings, and all are always beautifully written and performed. I’m aware this is a Sophie’s Choice-esque question, but what are some of your favorite stories that have been told at past shows?

Yes! Such a hard question, we’ve had so many fabulous people. Some favorites that come to our minds are Matt Van Fossen, a blogger who told a story (all by memory!) about what it’s REALLY like to be blind in the modern world. Debbie Jhoon and Michael Feldman are hilarious and have performed on our stage multiple times – they always bring the house down with howling laughter. Stirling Gardner read a piece last year about sexual addiction that had the audience on its feet the second he was done, it was one of the most powerful moments of live theater we’ve ever witnessed. Charlotte Robbins had never performed ever, and her story of being born without rectal muscles was both hilarious, honest, heartfelt, and so freeing for her.

You guys also have an amazing podcast, which is great for people who don’t live in Los Angeles and can’t come to a show. How does the podcast complement the live show?

Thank you! We use the podcast to go deeper with our storytellers, which is really fun for us. We’ll have a previous performer come on and read the story they read in the show, and then we get to ask them all the follow up questions we’re dying to know! We also talk about the process of performing and being vulnerable, but like most podcasts we end up talking about all kinds of things! Our moms would always complain that they couldn’t come to the show because they’re all out of state, so the podcast is a great way for people who don’t live in Los Angeles to share in and be a part of the Taboo Tales community— until we eventually take the show to other cities! (Anybody have a city we should come to?)

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What are a few of the podcasts people must listen to?

Jessie Kahnweiler & Paul Gilmartin’s are great because they BOTH somehow got Corey to cry like a little baby. Jesse’s is about food issues and Paul’s is about incest but somehow still got Corey to cry about food issues.

Azie Dungey: She talks about her time portraying a slave for tourists at Mount Vernon (spoiler alert: not a great working experience!)

Debbie Jhoon & Ian Alda: Debbie had talked many times on our stage about being a virgin in her 30s. Ian finally fixed that, and they tell us alllll about it. You’ll also learn about some interesting Persian customs.

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{Debbie + Ian}

What makes for a good Taboo Tale? What do you look for when sorting through submissions?

We look for stories that have taboo themes of course – and it’s interesting to see what ‘taboo’ means to different people! Some people think it’s taboo to use a vibrator, while others don’t think they’re taboo until they’re on their 700th Craigslist tryst and boning in a Dunkin Donuts parking lot.

We like to choose a variety of stories for each show so the audience is not totally bogged down with emotions. Some are deep and lightly funny. Some are funny and lightly deep. However, the commonalities in all of them are vulnerability, authenticity, and access to truth. We look for stories that have an arc and a personal transformation, and again it’s something that may not always be there at first, but with our digging and questioning we collaborate to get it to that sweet spot where it’s performance ready.

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The entire premise of the show requires your storytellers to be very emotionally vulnerable. How do you handle nerves and help people open up to make their piece as honest as possible? What is the editing process like?

We collaborate with story tellers for a few weeks, usually asking questions that force them to dig a little deeper or suggesting places for jokes or humor they may not have originally thought of. Some stories don’t need much work and others come to us as a simple idea and we help the storyteller build it from the beginning. We try to make sure that we’re transparent with our storytellers in terms of our collaboration process and attempt to work with people who are open to feedback and edits. Sometimes storytellers – first timers and pros alike – are nervous because they’ve never shared this with anyone before, much less a room of over 100 people! We do our best to encourage them and support them in any way – if they want to run it a million times, if they want to meditate, do jumping jacks or talk our faces off with nervous energy we try to be there for them. Most of the time, storytellers feel good after they share, sometimes they even look like completely different people walking off that stage after unloading a secret and having an audience love them for it.

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{Michael Feldman}

If someone wants to write a Taboo Tale but isn’t sure what, exactly, their taboo is, what advice do you have? How do you help people discover the story they need to tell?

That’s EXACTLY what we do in our Taboo write-it-out workshops – help people find their own ‘taboo’ and their own stories via a day of talking, laughing, crying, and writing. Our next one is June 7th and we still have spots! (Email tabooooooooo@gmail.com to sign up.) Short of that, we tell people who say ‘I don’t have a taboo’ to think about a secret, an experience, or something about themselves they wouldn’t typically tell people – even after a couple glasses of wine. What’s that thing you avoid thinking about, that thing that makes you feel like you’re totally alone in the world? In our experience over the past 5 years of producing this show, those are actually the things that bring people together to heal.

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We’re working on an ebook with a bunch of taboo writing prompts that will help you get writing no matter what stage you’re in. If you get on our mailing list, you’ll find out when it comes out. It’ll be free!

I love that when guests arrive for the show, they’re given the opportunity to write their own taboos anonymously on a slip of paper, and you guys read them throughout the show. What are some of the wildest people have written?

“I fucked a priest.”
“I fucked one of the hosts of this show.”
“I fart in my dog’s face because I think he likes the smell.”
“I don’t like to date people of my own race.”
“I’m in an open marriage and my boyfriend is here with me tonight.”
“I once left a tampon in for 22 days.”

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{Audience members writing taboos}

What is the craziest thing to ever happen at a show?

Suzanne Whang, a breast cancer survivor, bared her post-op breasts to the audience, scars and all. It was an incredibly powerful, and some might say a crazy, moment.

You’ve had some big-name storytellers in the past. Who were you most surprised/excited you were able to get onstage to tell their Taboo?

Honestly, we’re more pumped about the people who have never told a story before than a celebrity line-up. But we’re about to have Beth Littleford from The Daily Show in our next show June 3rd! We’ve had Paul Gilmartin, who used to host Dinner and a Movie. We’ve had Suzanne Whang, who used to host HouseHunters. Apparently, a lot of hosts like to do our show. Our dream is to get Tom Arnold, because he has an awesomely taboo past. We’d also love to have any famous person come up to the stage and just talk about what it’s like to be famous. Doesn’t it suck sometimes to have to always watch out for paparazzi?

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What’s next for Taboo Tales? I have a few readers in Canada, Australia and the UK who may be wondering if you’re going to take this show on the road. I, personally, am wondering if and when I can pre-order a Taboo Tales anthology? Do I sound like your parents yet? When are you having babies?

Haha! We are working on all of those things – we want to take the show to NYC and Chicago next, just looking for some good producers, and we’d love to go to some festivals next year, like South by Southwest or the Edinburgh Fringe. Basically, we want to reach as many people as possible in as many ways as possible! And as for babies? None yet, but Rahul just got married so maybe soon???!

A taboo that no one knows about you yet… GO!

Corey: Sometimes my dad still pays for my groceries. I’m 34!!!!

Laurenne: I’m scared to get pregnant, not because of carnage to my vagina but because I’m scared people will touch my bellybutton, and I suffer from omphalophobia – the fear of bellybuttons. AH!

Rahul: I cried when I got the hiccups. This was 2 months ago.

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Thank you so much for talking to me, guys. Signing up for that workshop and buying tickets for the June 3 show NOW.


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