Mandy Levy’s cathexis for creative city activities inspired the Slurring Bee, a boozy adult spelling bee held monthly at Brooklyn’s Last Exit Bar. A “cathexis,” for those not in the know, is an investment of emotional energy, and the word happened to be last month’s tournament ender. This Tuesday, Levy and co-host Billy Parker will celebrate the Slurring Bee’s first birthday with a special competition stocked with the past year’s champs. Besides defending the crown, the top speller will claim a $150 cash prize and a trophy made of empty beer cans.
“We’re treating it like our own Miss America,” said Parker. He and Levy will further the festive vibe by dressing up for their one-year hosting duties. At one year old, the Brooklyn Slurring Bee is a few years younger than the similarly successful Cinncinnati Bee that Levy founded with a creative collective in 2010 before she moved to New York. Both Slurring Bees are run like regulation Scripps National Spelling Bees, right down to their use of the official Scripps word list. But the famous National Bee, which began in 1925, doesn’t kick off each round with a free shot. And chances are, the example sentences aren’t quite as silly or crass.
“Mandy and Billy make it really fun,” explained children’s book editor Ashley Fedor, a May 2012 Slurring Bee champ. Fedor is one of ten former champs competing Tuesday. “They’re both really hilarious, and their jokes and interactions ease the competitive edge.” The pair boasts a solid comedic resume. Parker is a 10-year NYC comedy veteran, and Levy is an Emmy-winning comedic filmmaker – her parody YouTube video about the 2008 election won that year’s award for Advanced Media, a category that is now defunct. As hosts, Levy and Parker try to keep the mood lighthearted.
Although many spellers, like Fedor, come from literary backgrounds, others simply feel drawn to quirky events. December winner Frank Macreery, a website engineer, won that month’s title for correctly spelling “saturnine”– dark, moody, or mysterious. Impressed by his fellow spellers, Macreery attributes his victory to a slightly different skill set: “I think relative to the other competitors, my skill was probably more in the drinking than the spelling.” By the time the winners spell the final word, they are already several shots deep.
The year’s worth of spelling wizards might even be knocked out by a new competitor. If first-timers prove their prowess by correctly spelling final words of the past, they can compete for the top honor in the tournament of champs. For Levy, the Slurring Bee different than other bar nights, which is why she brought the event to New York: “it brings out such a particular crowd of fun, smart and adventurous people.”