For one group of people in the area, this Valentine’s Day will be all about exes — and no, it’s not Taylor Swift fans bittersweetly singing along to her latest breakup song.
The sixth annual First Person Arts Ex-Files StorySlam will give 10 audience members the chance to compete at Underground Arts on Valentine’s Day by sharing their real-life stories of romance gone wrong.
The contestants are chosen at random from those who sign up at the door, and the winner will receive a $100 prize and a slot in the 16th Grand Slam lineup this May.
New York City-based comedian/storyteller and Ex-Files host Robin Gelfenbien said the theme is almost like an anti-Valentine’s Day, which she’s sure the audience will get a kick out of.
“People don’t like to see people in love,” she laughed. From an entertainment perspective, she added, “you want conflict. You want drama.”
Gelfenbien will share a few of her own personal dating anecdotes in between those of the contestants. She jokingly described them as the “highlights and lowlights of my love life,” which most people can connect to in one way or another.
Gelfenbien writes comedic stories and songs often based on real-life experiences, especially Jewish ones.
Her critically acclaimed solo act My Salvation Has a First Name (A Wienermobile Journey) — and yes, there are a few kosher hot dog jokes in it — premiered at the New York International Fringe Festival in 2010. She’s also performed at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and on Sirius Satellite Radio.
Although she didn’t originally intend to become a Jewish comedian, she incorporates a lot of cultural Jewishness into her act, using Yiddish phrases and influences from her family.
Her family is Italian and Jewish, which adds to her storytelling. She said some family members embody “that classic Jewish stereotype, but in the loveliest way.”
Gelfenbien’s mother is Jewish and her father is Catholic. Ironically, her father’s father was a Russian Jew who converted to Catholicism for his wife.
Aside from the confusion of being sent to church camp as a kid, Gelfenbien was raised Reform.
She grew up near Hartford, Conn., and never really lived in a city with a noticeable Jewish population until she moved to New York.
“I don’t think I ever really explored Judaism in a more social way until I moved” to New York, she said. “When I moved here, I was like, ‘I’ve got to embrace everything.’ ”
So that’s what she did.
One of her anecdotes in the festival comes from her experiences with Jewish dating after moving to the city.
Open to new experiences, she went on her first-ever blind date.
“This Jewish lady wants to hook me up with her Jewish friend, and my Jewish aunt will be very happy,” she joked.
They met at a restaurant, and to her unhappy surprise, her date was about 20 years older than her.
“At the time, I always had this fear that somebody [I knew] is going to see me if the date wasn’t going to go well,” she explained. “And that fear came to life.”
And how: In a scene straight out of a movie, she ran into four girls from her high school as she made her way back from the rest room.
As the night commenced, she finally realized who her date reminded her of: Gargamel, the evil villain from The Smurfs. Although he turned out to be much nicer than his diminutive doppelganger, it wasn’t a match.
But Gelfenbien learned from it, and at least got some new material to work with.
“I think there’s something really interesting about Jewish dating,” she said. “For people who are a little bit more serious about it, it’s really important for them to find somebody who is of the same faith. So that gives you some limitations, and those limitations alone sort of bring out a lot of humor.”
Gelfenbien hopes the audience sees that humor, too.
“I hope people feel a sense of connection, because on Valentine’s Day, everybody kind of comes into that with mixed feelings,” she said. “There’s so many things about storytelling that end up being so relatable. The hope is that the audience experiences a range of emotions, and if you’re single, you don’t feel alone. I think that’s kind of what we all want from storytelling: You don’t want to feel like you’re alone in this world.”
Gelfenbien is not currently in a relationship, but she’s been on a few dates recently.
“Maybe by the time I show up I’ll be like, ‘Hey you guys, I’m off the market!’ ” she laughed.