James Braly is, above all else, a storyteller. As evident from the languid tones in which he phrases his well-sorted thoughts, conversation comes easily to him.
The talent once found him work as a speechwriter. But Braly left that field long ago for the allure of the New York City theater district, and, more accurately, the allure of a story well-told. His story.
It could be labeled stranger than fiction, what with the tale of a kiddie-pool home-birth and placenta recipes counted among the excerpts from Life in a Marital Institution, billed as "20 years of monogamy in one terrifying hour."
Early versions of Life were first seen at The Moth, the famed and MacArthur Award-winning storytelling venue in New York City. Braly describes the place as "where the rubber hit the road" for his now-lauded show — although the initial groundwork was laid when a supervisor in his motivational speechwriting days told him to study Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's propaganda minister. He laughs at the memory. "That's when I knew I'd made a wrong turn."
And the real cataclysm happened years later, as he read a profile about controversial baseball player Roger Clemens. "I started to loathe him," Braly says. Clemens, roughly Braly's age, had already made a brilliant career from his passion.
His choice was clear: "You can go through the rest of life being pissed off at Roger Clemens, or you can make a shift."
And shift he did.
"My code, for writing and performing autobiographical material, is that I don't tell other people's secrets," Braly says. "I tell my own.
"You may have been serving me Brussels sprouts for the last 15 years and I have been feigning joy, and one day I get on stage and say, 'I hated every freaking bite.' But that's my secret."
Not a well-kept one these days. Braly's works have been broadcast on This American Life, he's spoken on The View and Today, and he's now writing a screenplay and memoir version of Life. After more than 120 performances off-Broadway in Manhattan, during which it was named a New York Times Critics' Pick, the show has been touring the States, a process which gives new life to the routine. "The script is the script, the stories are the stories, but I've gotten to know it in ways that I didn't know it when I performed it in New York."
His local visit is actually a homecoming; from fourth grade through his high school years, Braly lived in Denver. Though he appreciates Colorado now, he says it hardly prepared him for moving to a pre-Giuliani New York City. He says it took three or four occasions of armed robbery to attune himself to city life.
Sounds a little like his description of Life itself.
"The show is very dark, very funny," he says, "not necessarily in that order."