A Friendly Chat with Sarah Maria Griffin & Damon Blake of Words With Teeth

Words With Teeth is happening in the Workman’s Club, Dublin on October 18th as part of the Lingo Festival. Author Sarah Maria Griffin and Humourist Damon Blake will be pitting six Irish writers against each other as they read brand new material in front of a live audience. Sarah and Damon are cool, trendy people so we met in a group DM on Twitter instead of a cafe and talked about what the audience can expect this Sunday, spoken word vs standup, and what Harry Potter houses we’d be in.

HeadStuff: So what are the rules for Words With Teeth? Who decides the winner?

Damon Blake: So for the show on Sunday after I’ve had my insatiable blood lust temporarily sated, there are three battles, audience-voted by the smacking of hands together to produce sounds (ie clapping) with an audience member to officiate for tie-breakers (my favourite ship from Star Wars). We hope to have a special mention, like a Rose of Lingo sort of thing. While each round has a “winner”, everybody gets a small prize. It’s as competitive as people want it to make, I’ve not seen much reality TV so I assume most people aren’t insanely competitive for small prizes.

Sarah Maria Griffin:  Even if they are, there’s nothing like a little mild competition to up the community spirit!

HS: Who are the competitors? Who do you think will be insanely competitive?


Comedian and Author Tara Flynn - HeadStuff.org
Tara Flynn. via taraflynn.ie

SMG: Oh goodness well, our lovely squad are: Comedian & author Tara Flynn, writer Jeanne Sutton, storyteller & humorist James Moran, authors Dave Rudden & Deirdre Sullivan, and storyteller & writer Ceri Bevan. Competitive-wise, I’m hoping at least one table gets flipped, but who flips it is up to the ambience of the Sunday afternoon. I’m open to being surprised!

HS: Why did you decide to make it a competitive event rather than six nice people reading the things that they wrote? These kind of battle events are more common in America and mad places like that right?

DB:  Last year myself and Sarah were both in San Francisco and did lots of shows but the ones that had a great energy were competitive, so when we were putting together how we wanted the show it seemed like a good fit to bring it here. Also, Dublin is already divided into North and South so it’s not thaaaat American. It’s all about asymmetric insight, a thing I heard about on a podcast, which is like radio but on VHS tapes (as I explain it to my grandmother).

SMG: I also feel like, while learning about slightly learning about alternate literary formats in the States, there’s a real logistical part too, like, competition makes the audience listen harder. Slam Poetry was founded in The Green Mill in the 80’s, as a way of getting crowds to Listen to poems. Make it a little bloodthirsty and the drama’s suddenly up, it’s a new way for listeners to participate. For me, bringing the audience a different new way is vital. The reader by reader format has been perfected here, I’m up for messing things up a little, running a few risks.

DB:  eg, standing on stage with me, etc

HS: What do you think separates this from standup? Do you think there’ll be a different energy to a) a stand up gig and b) a more serious spoken word event?

SMG: I hope it’ll be a mix of both, and not unlike a pugeranian, it’ll be a really Instagrammable crossbreed.

DB:  I was talking about this last night in Nandos after dropping a glass and screaming for everybody to shut up that what makes it different to a) is that it removes a certain amount of pretence, like, people often believe that a standup is riffing on things they just thought about, while here – because it’s upfront that the work has been pre-written – it removes a worry that they don’t know what they’re going to say next. So you can instead focus more on the story or the flow, as opposed to the rhythm of standing up and talking comedy, as it is formally known.

SMG: We actually got a Nando’s Black Card for that information, you know. Can we get a HeadStuff Black Card?

Deirdre Sullivan - HeadStuff.org
Deirdre Sullivan

DB: Alan, can we get a HeadStuff Black Card?

SMG: I’ll make it a really integral part of my online brand.

HS: Yes. You both can now read as many HeadStuff articles as you like without having to make any additional blood offerings. We’ll keep your kidneys on file as a security measure.

DB: That leaves me three spare kidneys, deal.

SMG: I’m so glad someone is keeping kidney files. Rebrand to KidneyStuff imminently now that this Hot Info is on the Web.

DB: When do we get to flip the script on Alan, ask him where he wants to be in five years?

HS: The young people are all about their funny tweets and snapchats these days. It seems like there are fewer avenues for long-form comic writing. Why do you think that is? Boom! A question! Flipped the tables right back!

DB: ~table flip emoji that won’t play nice with HeadStuff’s formatting~ That’s you Alan, that’s you.

SMG:  That’s definitely a Damon Blake query. I’m not funny because of my chromosomes and what have you but I am so into all this table flipping. Can I just show you my favourite emojis? Ok here they are, in order:

Just in case.

DB:  Armando Iannucci made a really good point about attention spans, how people keep saying they’ve less but will happily watch several boxsets of TV shows over a weekend. Podcasts are about an hour in length. No soap radio jokes are sorta popular with me. What I’m trying to say is I’ve forgotten the question.

(At this point in the chat, HeadStuff needs to leave for ten minutes so Damon and Sarah take over)

DB: Now that Alan is gone, I can focus on what I really wanted to talk about….”Can women be funny?” Answer: Yes, constantly. Next question.

SMG: We’re goddamn hilarious tbh.

DB:  Like, no word of a lie, tbqhwy, we have a lot of fun.


DB:  I think the show will reflect that, it’s got terribly funny people performing and if you have a goddamn problem with the genders of anybody involved don’t bother showing up, because you’ll only be uncomfortable with how great everybody is.

SMG: I wish I could answer all of this in Emjos. Emjos! Emojis. See this is why they’re better than language .

DB: “Emjo’s Emojis…they’re better than language”™. That’s trademarked Alan, but we’ll swap you for another HeadStuff Black Card on top of the other ones.

HS: Done. I don’t know how to put emojis into HeadStuff articles (Ed. note: I figured it out) but I have a range of Emjo’s Emoji gas station attendant shirts with emoji name tags designed and ready to go


HS: Ok, here’s something I wanted to ask you about the difference between reading comic writing and hearing it read aloud. I think your experience of reading comic writing depends on how good your internal comic timing is. If you can’t tell a joke, you won’t get the full benefit when you read jokes. Forgot to put a question in there. The question is: I’m right aren’t I?

SMG: That’s a really interesting angle to take on it. I can count on one hand the books that I’ve read that have made me laugh, I remember them distinctly. Essays and online writing lives in a different tonal landscape, say Mallory Ortberg for example, and a different rhetoric – You are seeking it in a different way online, in reading online, I think. The live experience is like striking a wonky match. It either lights or it doesn’t. That tenuousness is part of the experience, I think. Like, I don’t write jokes, but some of my work gets big laughs because the audience is surprised by the directions things take. Laughter live comes from all sorts of factors, rather then the gentle internal ‘lol’ of things. (I hope that makes sense)

Dave Rudden - HeadStuff.org
Dave Rudden via northernsound.ie

HS: It does! Thank you. One Black HeadStuff Card to Hufflepuff.

SMG:  YAAAAS. Damon is a total Ravenclaw. What’s your house, Alan?

HS: I’m 100% Hufflepuff.

SMG: Yaaaas.

DB: Edward de Bono says humour comes from thinking something is going A to B, but it goes to C and you laugh because while the connection makes sense in some way, it’s unexpected. I assume I get a prize for referencing de Bono. Come on, gimme one of those sweet Black HeadStuff cards for Slytherin.

HS:  You win a copy of Not That Bono: The Writings Of Edward De Bono.

DB: Bono Petite, a cookbook on how to stay slim. A chef’s hat is just one of the many hats that de Bono wears.

SMG: Omg Damon you’re a Slytherin? Yo I think we have to like Declare A Truce or something because my house is the sound house and your house is like, an actual snake.

DB: A Truce Has Been Declared

HS:  OK, final question. You’re doing this as part of Lingo but do you have any plans to make it a regular event?

DB: We’d love to as we both have great respect and admiration for shows like The Monday Echo, Brownbread Mixtape and the Monthly GM…but for realz we’re so excited for this show on Sunday we haven’t even thought about it. Do you think about next year’s Christmas on Dec 22nd? Personally I’m too busy trembling with excitement at the chance to open my present (which is the same thing every year: a new calendar). Ask me again next week!

Words With Teeth takes place in the Workman’s Club, 10 Wellington Quay, Dublin 2 as part of the Lingo Festival. Some tickets are still available here