- Jeff Simmermon and Cyndi Freeman (Jeff Simmermon).
On Wednesday night, Jeff Simmermon will tell some stories at the Black Cat. Not the kind people tell for free at the bar; his "And I Am Not Lying" is a full-on experience featuring burlesque performers as well as three storytellers, including himself. Storytelling is about creating a moment that everyone in a room is able to relate to, Simmermon says. “We either laugh together, or get over some shit together.” His stories have appeared on The Moth’s podcast and This American Life.
It's a long way since he played Snoopy in You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, the summer after fourth grade. The Norfolk, Va., native and New York transplant’s show is based on his arts and culture blog of the same name, which he writes with storytellers Brad Lawrence and Cyndi Freeman. Freeman is also a burlesque performer.
Simmermon started the blog while living in D.C., and working a number of soul-sucking jobs. “I was 28 and broke and living at my parents house," he says. "I was pouring concrete with all of these unholy rednecks and making pizzas at a place right down [by] my high school, and I tried to do this Hunter S. Thompson thing,” he says. He moved to Australia, living as an illegal alien for a year. Immigration officials there kicked him out of the country, and his parents had to bail him out. “Supreme life failure,” he says. Simmermon moved back to the States, back to their house in Norfolk. He moved out after he landed a desk job in D.C. and convinced his Aussie girlfriend to come live with him.
He started And I Am Not Lying while at that job, and it started getting noticed in 2005, when he sneaked into a polling place for Iraqi expats with his girlfriend, saying they were from the foreign press. “It was my first experience with a viral hit,” he says. “I was really hooked about writing about personal experiences that were very moving in a personal way.” In 2008, his rant over being denied iced espresso at the now-shuttered Murky Coffee in Arlington was talked about by Gawker, the Washington Post, and the New York Post.
On his blog, Simmermon writes about how growing up, he was inspired by locally grown groups like Fugazi and Bad Brains. He spent 3rd through 7th grade in Herndon, Va. In high school and college at James Madison University, he spent many nights back in D.C. at Black Cat, “to pretty much see everybody,” he writes. He worries about screwing up this homecoming.
Storytelling and burlesque are a natural pairing for him. “That’s the counterintuitive piece of it,” he says. Storytelling sessions can get fairly heavy, regardless of how evocative it is, so audiences deserve to have another piece, something to get excited about — “to feel some way together that they don’t usually feel.”
“There’s still no money in this, but we want to do more with it,” he says. “You can’t wait on the world to give you permission to go somewhere.”