Who is the best liar this year? Well, the top two at the Bold-Faced Liars’ Showdown in Laurinburg last weekend were two fibbers from Eastern North Carolina. The were both winners last year.
Tyris Jones from Laurinburg took home second prize, a plaque and a check for his story about a talking mule.
Ray Mendenhall of Burgaw took home first prize for a story about skinny-dipping kids who narrowly escape with their decency — their fun spoiled on a Sunday morning by a baptism.
“I’m not sure how I’m going to explain this to my congregation tomorrow when I preach,” Mendenhall said after he won his award.
“He’s lyin’,” yelled someone in the crowd, an accusation met with laughter.
Honestly, I knew these people were lying, but I wanted them to do it more. The Bold-Faced Liars’ Showdown hosted liars from all over North and South Carolina last weekend, and it was great. It was hosted by the Storytelling Arts Center of the Southeast, who have set up shop in an old clothing store in downtown Laurinburg. The hangers that held suits are still on the wall racks. The two tone carpet is still on the floor, which probably once guided customers to the leather coats and other expensive merchandise.
As I looked around, it brought back memories of my naughty childhood hiding in the circular racks of coats and slacks, waiting for the perfect opportunity to scare unsuspecting customers. Unfortunately, I wasn’t good at scaring folks, because I didn’t take into account the fact that most people were tall enough to see inside the rack. As a short kid, it never occurred to me that people could be looking down on me from higher up. I’m sure there were tons of other 10-year-olds who also only saw the world in two dimensions.
I feel a strange connection with the liars who were on stage this weekend. In one of my later years of college, I spent the summer working for a newspaper called The Onion in New York City. They are famous for writing fake news stories. I submitted some headlines in their editorial meetings. My friends latched onto this and bought me a T-shirt that says, “I make stuff up.” I don’t do that anymore.
There were a couple hundred people in attendance at the Liar’s Showdown. Maybe there’s something to a show that features only people who make stuff up. Maybe we could send potential candidates for public office to a workshop for training. In golf, and in life, there’s nothing worse than a bad lie.
It’s not that people need to learn how to lie — I think most people are pretty good at it already. Most of us learn how to tell a story when we are children. When we interview for a job, we tell the story of our professional lives. Apart from the performance art form, telling a story is something we all need to learn how to do.
The liars on stage didn’t present a series of falsehoods in a list. Nor did they make up something so outrageous that it wasn’t believable. They told a story that stretched the truth subtly. The best among them did it so well that you didn’t even think twice about whether it was true or not.
Every time we have a beer and start telling lies to our friends about the fish we caught, the sale we made or the amount of mulch we can fit into our truck bed, we’re tapping into this oral tradition.
The liars’ showdown flirted with the line between truth and falsehood. The performers sought to blur the line to find out what they could get away with. Storytelling is a performance art that seems so simple, but is so apparent when it’s done badly. It is not about just writing a story, it’s about performing that story that makes the audience believe you were there or heard it from someone who knows. Whether it’s true or not doesn’t make any difference to most of us.
— Neal Timpe is the Features Editor at The Robesonian. Contact him at (910) 272-6149 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.