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The wisdom of the least of us

April, 2010

The Fool gets a bad rap, according to JD Hobbes.

“Fool stories are often underdog stories,” says Hobbes, who has been entertaining audiences as a storyteller for almost 14 years.

“It’s the third brother who wins the princess, the simple peasant, the old lady, the innocent daughter. It’s not always brute strength, or even wit, that wins the day. It’s the simplicity and kindness of the Fool. They can see the truth because they aren’t bound by rules or expectations.”

Storytelling is a thriving part of francophone culture, with many packed events in Montreal. Eric Michaud, a Québécois storyteller, was crowned the 2009 King of the Liars in France, the first North American to win the title. He performed at the Pointe à Callière museum March 21 as part of the Sur le chemin des légendes exhibit.

Musician Shayne Grynn accompanies JD Hobbes’s storytelling last month. Photo: Laurent Castellucci

Hobbes led a cadre of storytellers on a two-day exploration of spring and the wisdom of the Fool at an April event called 92 Degrees of Foolishness. It is part of a series of events he started last year at the 92 Degrees café in N.D.G. The events, founded with musician Shayne Grynn, are based on a theme (February’s was love, in honour of Valentine’s Day) and provide an all-too-rare stage for anglophone storytellers to perform in Montreal.

Hobbes notes that while the term “storyteller” is applied to musicians, moviemakers and dancers as a compliment, when it refers to someone just telling a story, it doesn’t get much respect. This isn’t a universal phenomenon.

The situation is similar to that of animated works. In North American culture, they are primarily viewed as works for children, while in Europe and Japan they are often serious adult works. Animation is starting to gain some adult credibility here, and Hobbes sees evidence of storytelling moving in the same direction.

In the meantime, the Fool continues to serve the role as speaker of truth to power, most often in the form of the comedian.

“These days, it is the comedians who are the only ones that will speak truth to power,” he says, pointing to the success of such people as Jon Stewart and Rick Mercer. That’s been the traditional role of the Fool since time immemorial, to be the voice willing to say the Emperor has no clothes.

“We will always need our Fools,” Hobbes says. “The Fool represents the wisdom of the least of us.”



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