Meet Raconteur Papa Joe Gaudet

He dwells mainly in the forest, scouring for food, taking simple pleasures by a stream, likely just playing his recorder. He knows where all the wild berries grow. When the elements bite, he seeks refuge in his gypsy van. And he tells stories for a living. From toddlers to grandparents, he’s been enthralling people for 35 years. His arms soar and gesture, his face contorts to mimic the character, and his voice booms and bellows, then drops to a knowing whisper. Meet Papa Joe Gaudet, raconteur and gentle soul. He keeps his life unencumbered, liberated from those silly things that distract the rest of us. He has all that he needs. And he’ll make you smile.

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Photo by David Mendelsohn

  • The first story I told was Doctor Seuss’ “Horton the Elephant Hatches An Egg.” I was 4.
  • I’m often asked where the stories come from. The answer is, it depends. I tell about 30 tales I learned from my mother. Of those, a half-dozen were from oral tradition, passed on from other tellers.
  • Being an avid reader, I read every book in every library’s 398.2 shelves (the folklore section for those of you who don’t know the Dewey Decimal System).
  • I studied every book on plots and motifs (the guts and parts of stories) for years. And I collected my favorites until I had hundreds of stories in my head.
  • Stories can be viral and spread through time and space.
  • Anthropologists and folklorists study how the stories spread and change to learn things about cultures and societies that can’t be understood through archaeology, because storytellers use the mundane parts of life that are often left out of official reports.
  • I love to perform an energetic rendition to an enthusiastic audience of thousands on a festival stage. But it’s just as satisfying to murmur a sweet and gentle narrative to a single child as they slip off to sleep. And I could have used the same story for both. That’s art.
  • If you really want to influence your children’s lives, tell them stories every day. And sing to them all the rest of the time.
  • “Telling” to infants is easy. They respond instinctively and immediately, completely without guile. I can read their level of interest, adjust the hooks and enjoy the ride.
  • Living outside of the mainstream is difficult. I have no loans or credit cards or credit reports. To live the life of a swallow, one must accept what gifts are given gracefully.
  • Once I start playing on a sidewalk, and that sweet flute starts working its way down the alleys and around the corner, we begin redefining the ambiance of the city. Folks remember to smile. Maybe those difficult First World problems back up a little as our memories take a trip back in time while the notes of “Beautiful Dreamer” float past.

Deetx 2534 2 1Where is Papa Joe? When he’s not on a gig or foraging for fruit and mushrooms in the woods and fields, or playing his baroque tenor recorder by some gurgling stream, you can usually find him snug in his “vardo” (gypsy caravan), a 2013 Ford van (bought with the help of friends and fans) that he’s named “Grateful.” You can also find him on his website or on his Facebook page where he hosts a daily 10 a.m. “telling” for kids of all ages. Papa Joe says it’s important for storytellers to practice every day, even during (maybe especially during) a quarantine. “I believe that every day I indulge my art, I improve,” he says.

Categories: Q&A