Seven years ago, my roommate Jenny stumbled across my high school diary -- painfully obvious as a high school diary because it had every band an arty 15 year old in 1988 had ever heard of scrawled all over the outside of it (Love & Rockets...Tones on Tail...The Smiths!) -- and began conducting dramatic readings from it to dinner guests on a regular basis. Despite my initial protests (did I really want everyone knowing about my first grope session at a New Order concert?), I had to admit: it was entertainment gold. Nothing is more universally hilarious than the juicy tortured prose of teenage angst.
Taking this premise and running with it is David Nadelberg. He's created Mortified, a series of monthly performances in several different cities of actual people reading their actual junior high/high school/college diaries, poetry, notes and lyrics. At first I balked at the show's premise -- it sounded potentially treacle-y in a Zach Braff sort of way -- but my first Mortified was the best thing I'd been to since that fateful New Order concert. I've now been to a couple of them. The most recent one was last Monday at the Make-Out Room and I can say that while the shows may waver in hilariousness, they remain consistent in their heavy assault of sheer cathartic value. You've really gone through something with the performers by the time the night is over.
Some of the performances are cringeful. The highlight of last Monday's show was the diary a woman kept during her very naïve freshman year in college -- she had been a cheerleader in high school in Indiana and an assistant coach was now pursuing her, even though she was now in college in Ohio. "Are you still tiny and pretty?" he'd asked her, a line that rings so obviously creepy now, but at the time, it blew her mind. When she came home to visit, he romanced her with romantic evenings spent looking at pictures of games he'd coached and showered her with compliments like, "all the assistant coaches think you're top shelf." After they had sex, he inevitably dumped her and, in response, she wrote him a 50+ stanza poem "in a language he would understand" with lines like (I'm paraphrasing) "the game is over and the crowd is bored/you're not the victor until you've scored."
At a peformance a few months ago, a small, Jewish guy was up on stage giving us background on how the lyrics to the song he was about to peform (which he wrote at 13) were heavily influenced by his heroes, Mötley Crüe, but he had grown up in the Marina and had only a vague idea of the Crüe's fast-lane street life of lipstick, fish-nets and cocaine. The result was a poignant rhyming artifact of a thirteen year old's idea of "get down on your knees" sexy. Again, I paraphrase: "Suck it, suck it, suck it, bitch/I got the scratch only you can itch."
Angstier readers yield an amazing string of descriptive, angry adjectives -- "everyone is a bunch of retarded, Blossom-watching, stirrup-pant wearing assholes!!" A bitter poem read at one Mortified talked about the psychedelicized, Rastafarian reality of love being like a bunk bed, which is so totally deep.
The best Mortified I've seen had a theme of God and Horny. The diary entries were written by earnest, conflicted teenagers who were so sincere in their love for Jesus -- they just loved him sooooooo much -- but they also could not wait to give Josh a blowjob at the party on Saturday. This particular Mortified featured the bizarre, left field memoir of a Jesus-loving Amazonian girl who described running naked through a local field early in the morning, laying down breasts-first and thinking of all the Native Americans who had done this before her. Her diary made me realize that I had never known a liberated, free spirit like her when I was a teenager, but I wish I had.
Mortified peformers have a whiff of drama geek about them, but from the diary entries and poetry they read, you come to learn that drama geeks are people too. Also, like the practice of diary-writing itself, Mortified tends to be heavily female -- so much so that Nadelberg himself was the only male reading at last Monday's show (as I imagine he has to do when the shows are short on dudes) and there's a plea on their website for male readers. But, since everyone loves a good night of Schaudenfraude, the audiences are a healthy mix of genders. Mortified is catching on, too. The production has had exposure on NPR and Newsweek and has a book coming out in November -- so if you plan on dusting off your Cure show reminiscences for some public humiliation, now would be a good time to do it.
The next San Francisco Mortified is Friday, October 20 and Monday, October 23, 8pm at the Make Out Room. Purchase tickets online.