Bil Lepp is a five-time winner of the West Virginia Liars Contest, but the wildly imaginative tales he tells to make us laugh have a moral dimension that many would likely accept as truth. You might say he tells funny fables or playful parables. A lesson leaps up from among the laugh lines.
Kim Weitcamp, another former pastor and storyteller at the Flatwater Tales Storytelling Festival last weekend at Oak Ridge’s Historic Grove Theater and a former owner of a yarn shop, introduced Lepp, after talking about laps, and said this about his implausible yarns: “Bil runs over the laws of physics with a Mach truck and constantly redefines Darwin’s theory of evolution. It is only a matter of time before the word syndrome follows his name. ” She also mentioned that he has three award-winning albums (CDs) of humorous stories.
His first story was about himself as a five-year-old who experienced his “worst Christmas ever” starting at age four in the tiny town of Halfdollar, W.Va. He asked his dad then why he has a bald spot, and his dad character, who also has the liars’ gene, said he heard a noise on the roof on Christmas Eve, and when he left the carport, a reindeer “had licked the hair right off the back of my head. ” He recognized the deer as Rudolph so he told his son, “If I ever see Rudolph again, I am going to shoo him away.” Bil said, “I was not familiar with that expression so when I ran it through my limited vocabulary, I came out with ‘If I ever see Rudolph again, I am going to shoot him, anyway.’ Dad is going to kill Rudolph! ”
Toward the end of the year, he looked forward to creating a good Santa Claus ornament in kindergarten so that “even if Dad killed Rudolph, Santa would know how hard I worked on his graven image and maybe Santa would not visit the sins of the father on the son. And mom would hang it where the best ornaments go – on the back of the Christmas tree. ”
Unfortunately, he missed two weeks of school when the ornaments were made because while playing hide-and-seek with friends at home, he stupidly crawled under the blanket of the bed where his brother with measles was resting. After Bil recovered, his mom told him she had tickets so the whole family could see “Elephant Gerald” at the Charleston Symphony Hall. He knew that only the greatest elephants had names, like Dumbo and Jumbo, so he looked forward excitedly to the event. To him it featured a count (Basie), a duke (Ellington) and the first man on the moon (Louis Armstrong), but unfortunately for him, no elephant.
So, what’s the lesson from Lepp’s “shoo away” and “Ella Fitzgerald” misunderstandings? He argued that too many people today are “deliberately” misunderstanding and not listening to what others say because of not liking “what they love, how they identify, the color of their skin, the way they worship, who they voted for.” His conclusion: “We should at least try to listen to some people and understand where they are coming from. If we did that, I bet we could solve 85% of the problems in the world. ”
In his hilarious story about him and his friend Skeeter, Lepp described a joint Vacation Bible School experience involving seven-year-old Methodist kids like themselves and the Baptist kids in their “natural habitat” at the Halfdollar Baptist Church, which had thousands of bats. in its attic. He and Skeeter were looking curiously at the baptismal when they heard the pastor behind them say, “Boys, I know you want to get in there. When a man does things purely for his own enjoyment and not for the benefit of others or the glory of God, he will be stained and tainted so that others may know. ”
After a Skeeter prank that caused a hole in the sanctuary ceiling, an invasion of bats and evacuation of the sanctuary, the two boys sneaked into the baptismal area and dunked themselves before discovering someone had “dyed the water red. When we joined everyone outside, we were dripping, limping, dyed pink. ” A voice reminded them that they “had been stained and tainted so that others may know.”
In his story about his ascent and descent of the spiral-staircase-like trail along the famous 2,425-feet-tall waterfall at Yosemite National Park, which Lepp admitted that he had not prepared well for, he admitted that he had underestimated his ability as a fit jogger for “hiking” this steep, three-and-a-half-miles-long trail in a record time starting at 1 pm He did not know he would encounter ice and snow, but he felt prepared because he wore running shoes and brought with him a lighter, pocket-knife and driver’s license “so they could identify my remains.”
His hike took roughly twice as long as he had estimated and he returned exhausted, partly frostbitten, dehydrated (he never carries water) and starving. He recognized that his wife asks smarter questions about a trail before hiking it, such as, “What is there to see – a scenic view, a rare flower, lightning bugs that light up all at once? I ask, what’s the record? ”
He concluded that completing a hike can help some people see God, think that their life has changed or that they had a major accomplishment, or feel happy they did not wear flip-flops.
“The King of Big Things and the King of Little Things” is the title of the original published bedtime story that Lepp wrote and presented to end the festival and that his 18-year-old daughter is directing as a play. After the King of Big Things, named King Normous, declared himself king of the world following his conquest of all the kings of cities, counties, countries and continents, he was enraged to learn from a servant that he had not yet overthrown the King of Little Things. So, King Normous and his army found the King of Little Things in his cabin, where he “was doing the dishes because he knew the little things matter the most,” including keys, coins, needles, beetles and small kindnesses.
That’s the lesson of this story because the subjects of the King of Little Things caused chaos, inflicting the soldiers of King Normous with chiggers, mosquitoes, ticks and fungi and making their equipment and weapons rusty. The soldiers couldn’t keep the King of Little Things locked up in a jail because the keys refused to work. The soldiers couldn’t starve him to death in a cave blocked by a boulder because ants brought in crumbs; bees, honey; birds, seeds, and water droplets dripped down into the cave.
King Normous suffered as the jewels rolled away from his crown, fillings fell from his teeth, his coins left the coffers and his belt broke, so his pants fell down. He surrendered as his subjects revolted because everything quit working when, Lepp said, the “springs sprung, the bolts bolted, the cookies crumbled and the ticks and tocks left their clocks.”
That’s how Bil Lepp proved that a little laughter does us a lot of good.
Carolyn Krause is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to The Oak Ridger.