Barry Smith: Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, or simply take this test |

Barry Smith: Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, or simply take this test

I remember being a child and noticing that the adults around me tended to tell the same stories over and over again, and, more important, that they didn’t realize it. I remember making a promise to myself that when I became an adult, I would be sharp and focused and would not repeat myself.

Now I realize the folly of this. At 6, it is easy not to repeat yourself, because you only know a few people and you only have a few stories to tell. At 36, I find myself saying things like, “Haven’t I told you my frog gigging story?” or “I told you about the time I took acid at Disneyland, didn’t I?”

My wife receives the brunt of this clash of obsessions: the love of telling stories mixed with the fear of repeating myself.

Recently, I have begun to suspect that my wife is falsely claiming to have already heard stories. I understand this basic survival mechanism ? a simple “You’ve told me that one already” will buy her precious minutes, if not hours, of quiet time ? but I think it’s unfair for her to exploit my phobia.

This is why I have created a simple, one-page questionnaire for her to fill out in the event that she claims to have heard a story before. If she gets 70 percent or more correct, then I don’t tell the story. Less than 70, which I think is a very fair cut-off percentage, and I assume that means either she hasn’t heard it, or didn’t retain enough of it when she did, and therefore it is due for a retelling.


1. This story is about A) Barry’s father, B) Barry’s childhood, C) Barry’s trip to Europe or D) something funny/clever Barry once said or E) all of the above.

2. At some point in the story A) something slapsticky happens, B) somebody says or does something that Barry judges as stupid, C) Barry talks in a funny voice, D) all of the above.

3. As you know, Barry tries to end each story with a moral. The moral to this story that you claim to have already heard is: A) Deep down, everybody just wants to love and be loved, B) you can’t judge a book by its cover, C) our thoughts create our own reality or D) Barry is way smarter than everyone else in the story.

4. The first time you supposedly heard this story, what did Barry do when he came to the “big epiphany” part of the tale? A) Stood with his mouth slightly open to emphasize the staggering significance of what he just said, B) stood with his arms outstretched to emphasize the staggering significance of what he just said or C) repeated “You know what I mean?” a few times to emphasize the staggering significance of what he just said.

5. On a separate piece of paper, create a brief outline of the story you are trying to get out of listening to. Use different colored markers for each subcategory.

6. Essay: Compare and contrast this tale of Barry’s which you are trying to weasel out of with Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero With A Thousand Faces.” What elements does Barry bring to his storytelling that Campbell skips over? Where does Campbell falter and Barry excel? How do Barry’s dynamic storytelling skills make Campbell’s mythical archetype mumbo jumbo seem as interesting as watery oatmeal? Explain.

7. Field assignment: Using a shoe box, create a diorama of Barry’s story. Make sure your work accurately represents the main characters, the setting, the action and any other details you recall as being important. Remember, the life of a story is in the details, so don’t skimp on the little figurines.

Extra Credit: Say, with sincerity, “Even though I think I may have heard that one already, I’d love to hear you tell it again. I could just listen to you talk all day long.”

[Barry Smith’s column runs in The Aspen Times on Monday and Thursday. His e-mail address is, and his very own Web page is at]


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