Home » Improvisation » JEAN SHEPHERD–more improv–Mike Daisey

JEAN SHEPHERD–more improv–Mike Daisey


classic shep image

Jean Shepherd

Shepherd enthusiasts are very familiar with the improvisational nature of his work. To grab a bit of what I wrote in EXCELSIOR, YOU FATHEAD!, “What his engineers, coworkers, and other observers all tell us is that he had nothing with him in the sound booth, or only  a few notes, maybe a news clipping, a couple of items appropriate to the themes he intended to deal with–but never a script.” Barry Farber commented to me, “Never had a script or anything. Good Lord! Don’t ever use the word ‘script’ anywhere in your book! Jean would be so offended. Everything was off the top of his head.”

Also in EYF! I wrote, “Shepherd was not the only monologist ever to sit at a table and talk about himself–and make a living at it. Others followed this public journey into self-absorption and analysis. For example Spalding Gray, twenty years younger, sat before audiences performing his theater pieces.”

spaldinf graySpalding Gray

Every so often I encounter an article about some other performer who does a similar thing–talk about himself, gripe, improvise. The New York Times of September 12, 2013 has a theater review by Charles Isherwood titled “What’s Bugging Me? How Much Time You Got?” He writes about Mike Daisey’s “All the Faces of the Moon” performances in a review.


See if you recognize Jean Shepherd in what Isherwood says of  Mike Daisey:

He writes, “His facility for impromptu asides and entertaining digressions is formidably effective. the aplomb with which he could weave his way back from a seeming dead end almost felt like a magic trick. His sheer storytelling prowess ….”

Isherwood continues: “Mr. Daisey does not work from a prepared script….It became clear early on that he wasn’t necessarily going to connect the dots between his stories….If you let go of any expectations of linear progression, it’s pretty easy to lose yourself happily in the eddying rapids of Mr. Daisey’s endless flow of anecdote and reflection. The most pleasurable aspect of the performances was the sense of spontaneity he managed to sustain.”

On the internet page, Mike Daisey–“His Secret Fortress on the Web,”upon clicking on an audio intro to his “All the Faces of the Moon, a voice says, “As a theatrical novel told over 29 nights.” [Remember that McLuhan wrote that Shep referred to radio as “a new medium for a new kind of novel that he writes nightly.” ] 


mike daisey

Mike Daisey

Info on web page about Daisey:

“He’s been a guest on Real Time with Bill Maher, the Late Show with David Letterman, a longtime host and storyteller for The Moth, as well as a commentator and contributor to The New York Times, The Guardian, Harper’s Magazine, The Daily Beast, WIRED, Vanity Fair, Slate, Salon, NPR and the BBC. In a brief, meteoric career with This American Life, his two shows are the most listened to and downloaded episodes of that program’s eighteen year history.”


Also encountered:

“He’s been hailed as “the master storyteller” by the New York Times, and compared to a

modern-day Mark Twain for his provocative monologues that combine the personal

and the political, weaving secret histories with hilarity and heart.


Free ipod audios of his recent stage performances, under a heading,

“ALL STORIES ARE FICTION,” begin with a 21-minute intro

titled “HOW TO BEGIN,” of Sept 3, 2013. I recommend it

–similar in kind to one of Shep’s more “philosophical” broadcasts.  


When I read something like this Times review about a creative art, I’d like to see some reference to the background out of which it arose–its antecedents, rather than an implication that Daisey just jumped all the way from Mark Twain to himself in our time.  I’d like to see even a small reference/tribute to what Jean Shepherd did. Something that connects to predecessors, something that might include such names as: Twain, Shepherd, Gray, Daisey. None of what I write is a criticism of Daisey–The little I’ve read and heard him, I like–I should pursue his audios. I’ve listened to a bit more (admittedly not enough, so I withhold any judgement) and it all seems, so far, of a consistent story-telling mode, without the incredible variety and unanticipated mind-tickling variety of Shep–commentary, grumpiness, kazoo, jews harp, nose flute, etc., etc., etc.

I’m still hoping to find a possible connection between Shep and Daisey. and I seek a response

from Daisey to my question on his facebook page regarding his familiarity with Shep’s work.


(As Shep is so different so frequently night-to-night,

I’m wondering–how many Shepherd broadcasts would one have to hear

in order to get at least some overview–some feeling for what

makes us so rabidly enthusiastic about him?

Certainly at least 50 to 100?)


FLASH!   Comment from Mike Daisey:

“I’m a huge fan of Shepherd—he’s absolutely one of a kind, and wonderful.”


I’m so delighted!



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