Have you ever read an old diary from your adolescence and had vivid flashbacks to those angst-filled years? Now think about reading that diary on stage, in front of an audience. It's supposed to be cathartic. We think it sounds mortifying.
It is one of the biggest unspoken rules in life: You never, under any circumstances, read someone else's diary without permission. And even with the go-ahead, which you are unlikely to ever receive, there is a good chance you won't be overjoyed at what you read. Diaries are the novels of the soul. They are where one keeps deep, dark secrets; blatantly honest thoughts; and desperately lame observations, predictions, and viewpoints. They are the place where one keeps things to themselves, things they don't tell their friends, their significant others, or even their pets. After all, some things are better left unsaid out loud. But what if someone were to volunteer the information to anyone willing to listen? And what if what he said was told from the awkward perspective of the vocabulary-challenged and laughably pathetic child we all once were?
This is the premise of Mortified, a live-comedy reality-theater event that originated in Los Angeles and has since expanded to San Francisco, New York, Boston, and now Chicago. Its creator and producer, David Nadelberg, believes that putting one's childhood lameness out there for the world to hear is cathartic and entertaining. He even takes it one step further: Nadelberg thinks it's slapstick comedy as well. So what once were your most embarrassing, shameful, and degrading moments from adolescence - things you only wrote in diaries or in poems or in love letters never sent - can now be transformed into a seven-minute stand-up comedy routine that is performed in front of a room full of strangers who paid hard-earned cash to wallow in and laugh along with the most mortifying moments of your young adult life. Hilarious, right?
I suppose all kids go through a diary stage at one point or another during adolescence, so I feel no shame in admitting that I kept two in the mid-1980s, though I never really enjoyed writing in them. Today, one would think that, as a travel journalist, I'd keep a meticulous travel journal, but every time I try to do that in addition to writing my assignment notes, I realize that I can't be bothered. I'm normally paid for this sort of thing. Who wants to write down the details of his trip three times (notes, diary, and story)? Not me. So it's no surprise that my diary from the fifth grade is full of entries (like the one at left) that are no longer than a paragraph: short and sweet and oftentimes completely ridiculous. I guess I didn't like writing for free then either.
But since this magazine has put me up to actually auditioning for Mortified, I find myself reaching up into the far heights of my living-room closet, looking for my fifth-grade diary. You see, fifth grade was a rather traumatic year for me. I had managed to finagle my first girlfriend, who, in an even more miraculous feat, also managed to become my first kiss. Her name was Tommy York. Go ahead and pause here to laugh. I've heard it all before … to this very day. So, as if my being the only guy in Marion, Indiana (and perhaps in the world), with a girlfriend named Tommy wasn't bad enough, she actually made it worse.
Transcript from my Mortified audition: She owned me. She was more experienced, more street savvy, more assertive. When she said, "Boo!" I nearly jumped out of my parachute pants. When she said, "Jump!" I didn't even wait to find out how far. My mother always called her "hard," which I'm still not sure the meaning of today. She dumped me nine times in fifth grade. NINE! But I loved her and kept going back for more.