West Virginia Wesleyan's Homecoming activities will include the appearance of Bil Lepp, a professional humorist and public speaker for over two decades, at 9 p.m. Friday in the Culpepper Auditorium of the Virginia Thomas Law Center for the Performing Arts. Admission is $5.
Lepp has been compared to Mark Twain, Bill Cosby, Bob Newhart and Jeff Foxworthy. Lepp has the insight, wit and delivery to live up to those comparisons. He was inducted into the National Storytelling Association's Circle of Excellence in 2011.
Children are taught that we should not lie; that making up stories can only hurt someone. However, Wesleyan alumnus Bil Lepp, a 1992 graduate, has made a career out of making people laugh by being a good "liar."
In fact, he began telling exaggerated stories on stages in 1990 when he was pursuing a degree in American History as a student at Wesleyan. Lepp's older brother, the late Paul Lepp, had participated in liars contests, which got Bil thinking he, too, could weave his own made up stories for audiences. After all, Lepp grew up with a family who had been telling far-fetched stories each year recounted tales became more and more exaggerated, he said.
"I just kind of fell into it," Lepp said.
For nearly a decade Lepp remained an amateur storyteller until an encounter during a storytelling festival at Jackson's Mill in Lewis County eventually elevated him to a full-time fibbing career. It was in 1998 when he met nationally-known storyteller Ed Stivender, who told the National Storytelling Festival about Lepp's talent.
Lepp spends approximately 180 days each year entertaining audiences all across the country to date he is 11 states shy of visiting the entire Union.
"It's kind of like being on permanent vacation," Lepp said of the profession. "It's a nice way to live under the guise of work."
Almost all of his stories are based on something he's done or thought about doing with his friends, but knew better than to follow through. Lepp has fond memories of his Wesleyan years, and, yes, his alma mater is part of his tales.
"I loved it," he said. "I thought even then that I loved it."
His graduating class was one of the last to not have a computer one of the last before the instant, digital days. "We didn't have email if you wanted to talk to someone, you went to see them," he commented. "It was good to have a college experience without computers."
As for what aspects of Wesleyan he twists into his stories, well, McCuskey Hall dormitory, where Lepp lived, is where some of his stories begin. He said four or five of his tales start in the dorm and as many as 20 have been inspired from his years at the college.
Although Lepp says he doesn't necessarily use his history degree in a conventional sense, his well-rounded education and classes at Wesleyan, however, filter into his lies because he has a basic understanding of science, philosophy and more.
Ultimately, though, Lepp wants to make his audiences laugh and enjoy some good, clean fun for about an hour.
"People want to laugh it resonates nationwide," he said. "People want to have a good time and feel better for having laughed."
Lepp currently lives in South Charleston, with his wife, Paula, and their two children, Noah and Ellie. And, the tall-telling talent runs in the Lepp family because both Noah and Ellie have won liars contests for the 17 and younger division.
In addition to his live performances, Lepp pens books, and his newest children's book is scheduled to be available in 2013. His newest collection of stories on CD should be available this fall. For more about Lepp, go to leppstorytelling.com.