Literary Death Match: Marshmallows, Comedy -- and, Oh Yeah, Literature

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Timothy Faust
Geoff Bouvier (left) reads from Candide while getting a faceful of marshmallows from Will Franken

Friday proved once again why Literary Death Match is San Francisco's premier literary series for people who don't like to read.

"Episode 36," like all Death Matches, featured host Alia Volz, and a guest co-host -- in this case the extraordinarily funny Will Franken. As contestants it featured four moderately well known authors (Jennifer Solow, Geoff Bouvier, John Scott, and Monica Nolan). As judges it featured three moderately well known authors (Oscar Villalon, April Sinclair, and Sam Barry). It brought a large and very boozy crowd into the Elbo Room.

Put it all together and you get a two-hour show with 28 minutes of reading -- some of which was done through mouths of sugary confections.

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Timothy Faust
Alia Volz
Each competing author gets seven minutes to read a piece that will then be judged on literary merit, performance, and "intangibles." (Perhaps inevitably, Sam Barry, the judge responsible for "intangibles" spendt most of his time asking "What, exactly, are intangibles? Can somebody point one out?"). Based on these judgments, two authors are selected to compete in a final round, where they go head to head in a contest that has absolutely nothing to do with their writing.

The rest of the time is devoted to skits by the hosts, stand-up comedy by the judges, and crowd members shouting things like "Wooo! Lesbians!" at opportune moments.

It's a hell of a good time, regardless of who's performing.

In fact Literary Death Match is a hell of a good time in spite of who's performing, precisely because they get to perform so little. Most literary events ... let's be honest here ... are a crap shoot because they depend entirely on the line-up of authors. Unless you specifically know and are following one or more of the performers, you never know what you're going to get. Fairly often you find yourself looking at your watch, thinking "Truth and beauty's not going to happen. I could be hitting on strangers at a bar right now."

By making the format the star of the show, Literary Death Match provides a consistently excellent ... or, at its worst, acceptable ... good time. The format is genuinely funny, Volz is a great presence on stage, and the Elbo Room's a great place to hit on strangers.

Friday night's installment came down to a contest between Nolan and Bouvier to see who could best speed-read Candide, a complicated 18th century text, out loud while having marshmallows stuffed in their mouths.

The idea of that alone is enough to make you laugh.

Nolan was able to out-mallow Bouvier to win the evening's crown.

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