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Issue Date: July 2009

Liar, Liar

Kelly Petryszyn
Five-time Champion liar Bil Lepp has been tirelessly researching artwork at the Cleveland Museum of Art in preparation for a storytelling series from July 31 through Aug. 2, where he’ll tell some of the back stories behind these pieces. We caught up with him while he was in his West Virginia home, where he now lies full time.

So you’re a liar?
That’s right. We have a contest here in West Virginia every year. It’s a tall tale-telling contest designed to perpetuate the art of oral history and storytelling in Appalachian culture. I did the contest for the first time in 1990. I won it in 1992 and then again from ’96 through ’99.
Give me a few tips on how to lie better.
The first thing is, you have to act like you believe it yourself, like you believe every word you’re saying. If you’re laughing along at the story, people are less apt to believe it. The other thing is, I always start out with a morsel of truth. So I start out with something small and give it gradual exaggeration. By the time people think I’m making up what I’m saying, they’re already invested and want to believe me.
Tell me something I don’t know about Cleveland.
I could tell you the way my brother used to describe it. He used to say it’s like an RV: sprawling, rusty, dangerous to go through and hard to get around. But you shouldn’t print that before I get up there. I could say something disparaging about your football, baseball or basketball teams, but that would probably put me in a worse spot altogether. No, I’d better just give you a “no comment” on this one.

What’s one thing you’ve always told the truth about?
Boy, one thing I’ve always told the truth about? [A woman’s voice is heard faintly in the background.] How much I love my wife. I was going to say that even before she prompted me.

Should I trust anything you’ve told me?
Absolutely not. Nothing at all.

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