Your 2009 MAELSTROM Contestants

2009 MAELSTROM contestants
Left to Right: Amanda Rountree, Michael Lehrer, Regan Davis, Fuzzy Gerdes, Scott Whitehair, Henri Dugas. (Photo by Erica Gerdes.)

You might be able to discern by that Chicago Public Radio totebag, filled with CPR and Wait Wait Don't Tell Me swag, that Michael Lehrer was this year's MAELSTROM winner. And it was well-deserved -- Michael is a kick-ass solo performer. Don Hall called me "incomparable", which either means I did well or that Don is just having trouble coming up with similies.

I told three stories based on the audience suggestions of "He's been in there for three days", "Kung-fu Master", and "Two nuns, three hobos, and nine squirrels". Before the show I had talked here about a certain kind of pre-show nervousness, but once I was in the space for the show I started remembering how electric the whole experience was. I do plenty of improv, but something about the competitive aspect of it, about being onstage with five other great performers, not knowing when Don is going to call your name, about the time limits -- it all adds up to a thrilling evening for, at least, me.

And, oh, the time limits. I'm writing this down for myself in case I do next year: don't forget about the time limits. The three rounds are three minutes, two minutes, and one minute and Don rings a bell when you've reached that time and you have 15 seconds to finish up. I think the thing to remember (and I forgot it onstage) is that in this context 15 seconds is actually pretty long -- for the one minute story it's another 25% of the length. I need to not panic when I hear that bell and instead give myself a few sentences to finish up. (I'm not sure what can be done about the opposite problem we all seem to have with the three minute story -- everyone seems to finish at about two-and-a-half minutes and then stretches to fill the time. Sometimes interesting discoveries come out of that; sometimes its just stretching.)